A Conversation with Neeraja Ramjee on Broken Images at the Red Sandcastle Theatre

With Broken Imagess Canadian Premiere at the Red Sandcastle Theatre comes a unique, one-woman show starring Neeraja Ramjee, written by the contemporary playwright, Girish Karnad, and directed by Clinton Walker.  This psychological thriller is a commentary with many different layers, focusing on the ways in which we construct ourself in our current world.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Neeraja to discuss the context of the play and the way in which image dictates our self-worth in our current world.

Kimberley Drapack: How did you first get involved in theatre? What was your first production? 

Neeraja Ramjee: I went to acting school in New York, I wanted to put what I was learning into practice and auditioned to be a part of theatre companies in New York. I became a part of a couple theatre companies and started auditioning for parts and got more involved in the acting/theatre community. The first production I was part of was very special for me, it was my first time acting in front of a large audience, and it was equally terrifying and thrillingJ. It was a lovely one act play and I portrayed this character who wanted to commit suicide and through the play, she talks herself out of it.

K: Tell us about your experience in presenting a one woman show. What are the difficulties? What are the surprises? 

NR: This is my first time performing in a one woman show and also producing it. I wanted to do something where the story excited me, was different and challenging, and this show presented all of these elements to me. Any solo performance is a challenge, because you are the only flesh and blood actor on stage, with all eyes on you and you have to take the audience through the journey of the character and tell the story. There is a lot of technique, tact and authenticity that goes with it and you cannot afford to sit behind on your heels. When you have another actor on stage, you can play off of them and you get energy from them. In a one woman show, really the audience is the other character. The playwright has written such a masterpiece with such an arc for the character and so many levels of complicatedness – so to hit it, be present in the moment and move the story along, all by yourself is definitely a challenge. There is a technology element to this piece of theatre and a level of precision involved there, which is also very exciting and challenging at the same time. I surprise myself everyday by discovering something new about the character, and her underlying intentions. It’s been quite the journey discovering her, and quite frankly discovering parts of me through this journey.

K: Tell us about Broken Images. How did you stumble onto this play and what can it teach us? 

NR: BROKEN IMAGES is a masterpiece of self-delusion and self-worth, taking a cutting look at the Indian literary establishment, the desire for fame, and the need to win at all costs. When Manjula, a mediocre Indian writer gets international fame for a book she wrote in English, and not her native tongue,  she gets flak from her literary community, and is questioned without warning by her ‘Image’ to unearth the scandal behind her sudden rise to fame.

I had watched Broken Images staged over a decade ago, and it stayed with me because it was a unique storyline that was edgy and I knew people would connect to it.  Fast forward a decade, when the opportunity presented itself to produce a play, I knew I wanted to recreate Broken Images. . The play explores themes such as identify crisis (do we really know who we are), reality vs hyper-reality (do we live in a false reality, do we project ourselves to be different from who we really are?), and the desire for fame, which are all still very relevant in today’s digital/social media world.

K: It is said that with Broken Images, you hope to nudge diversity in the local theatre scene a bit further, as well as make people aware of the negative effects of social media. What does this mean to you? Why do you feel that people are unable to be within their present moment?

NR: As an avid fan of the performing arts, and most certainly theatre, one would be hard pressed to find many diverse actors in lead or one person shows. If this show could open doors, nudge diversity in theatre a bit further, wouldn’t that be great. There is so much talent out there, so many stories to be told from different cultural standpoints, it would be great to walk in and see more diverse actors in prominent roles, telling stories that hit us as human beings, irrespective of race, gender, caste, and creed.

I think social media and digital is great for a lot of things, it makes our life more efficient, makes the world smaller, gets us information way faster, helps us spread important messages, gets people together etc., however I think it’s great as long as it does not affect the emotional well-being of people. We are all performers in some way or the other, and the question really is do we project ourselves to be different than who we really are and is that false reality of ‘perfection’ impacting our emotional well-being, because we tend to evaluate our life based on a ‘false reality’ we see. I think, and I am as much prey to it J, sometimes we are so interested in capturing the moment, vs. actually being present in the moment and soaking it all in.

I was reading an article recently on how social media is harming the mental health of young people. There is a need to constantly feel a sense of ‘self-worth’ with the number of likes you get, and a fear of missing out and not being looped in with your friends. I think we chase ‘perfection’ that we see on social media/television/billboards, which quite frankly does not exist, and can be quite harmful, if it affects the emotional well-being of people.

The play touches on themes such as false reality, self-delusion, self-worth and the impacts of it is relevant to the current digital/social media world we live in.

K: At the same time, as being a successful actor, you are also a very successful business consultant. How do these two worlds collide? How do they intersect?

NR: The two worlds I live in are on either end of the spectrum. As a consultant, your emotions are always in check, controlled, it’s the exact opposite as an actor – emotions are raw, with no inhibitions. At the end of the day – art imitates life, it is about people, human behavior and there are elements from my personal and professional life that I bring to the characters I portray. The discipline, professionalism and analytical side of me helps me as a producer and actor, and my creative side helps me look at solving business problems with a different lens.

K: What is wrong with society’s obsession of image? What are the dangers, and how do we navigate away from this?

NR: As human beings, we are perfectly imperfect, which is beautiful. However, we project ourselves in society to be ‘perfect’ and quite frankly perception is reality J. There is a pressure to be ‘perfect’ . Most of the posts you see online are of people having a ‘perfect’ time, it’s the way we like to project ourselves. You seldom see posts about challenges in people’s lives on social media. I don’t know if our lives can be as perfect as Instagram J. If we chase this perfection which does not exist and it affects  our emotional well being, that’s when it becomes dangerous. What’s real and what’s not? Why does someone look so perfect at 7 am in the morning, when I look pretty crappy with my tousled hair and puffy eyes……if this leads to questioning your self-worth, if you begin to define yourself by a social media post, or a like or comment – then we have a problem.

K: How did your collaboration with Clinton Walker begin? What is it like working with a director in an intimate, smaller rehearsal space that makes up the one woman cast?

NR: When I knew I wanted to move forward and produce Broken Images, I knew I wanted a director who was talented, was on the same page as me in terms of the vision for the show and also someone who was focused and challenged me. My agent (we share the same agent) introduced me to Clinton who had directed a one person show last year at the Fringe and has been in the industry for close to 40 years. When I met Clinton, we had an instant connection, it’s hard to put in words and we bonded because we both don’t have patience for BS :D. I am very fortunate that he jumped on this journey with me. It’s been an incredible journey so far. We entered this maze of what’s real and what’s false, and the different avatars we play. It’s been a frightening and thrilling experience. We’ve shared laughs, tears and discovered things about ourselves and most importantly had fun as we navigated through this brilliant piece.

K: Not only are you starring in this production, but you produced it. What was it like to wear both hats? Were there any difficulties throughout?  

NR: This is my first time producing and it’s been a learning experience for sure. Very exciting and challenging at the same time. As an actor, I had more of myopic view to the entire production of a show. I understood the story, my character, how it fits into the larger storyline and did the best to take the audience through the journey. As producer, your pulse is on every element of the show – getting the right people onboard is one of the most important elements, if you have people you can trust and work well with, half the battle is won. Managing all elements of the production and the minutia of it has been challenging and then switching to actor mode J. But I love it, wouldn’t trade it for anything.

K: What do you hope audiences take away from Broken Images?

NR: I think a good play entertains you and hopefully affects you, impacts you in some way. Hopefully the audience walks away entertained, and also slightly impacted/changed or with questions to ponder on J.

K: What can we expect from you in the future?

NR: Depending on how we do, it would be lovely to take the play to New York. Continue to work on my craft and see what is interesting, challenging and authentic for me to take on J

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A Conversation with San Fermin at Wayhome 2017

There are certain artists that take many years to find a sure footing in the music industry and be recognized for their work. San Fermin is not one of them. A short while after getting out of university, Ellis Ludwig-Leone began composing music for his best friend, Allan. Soon after that, they gained a record deal and began writing for an entire band. Their numbers quickly grew and so did their success.

We sat down with San Fermin’s lead musician, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who writes and composes all the music the band releases, to discuss their festival experience and San Fermin’s beginnings. 

Kimberley Drapack: How did you meet and form the band?

Ellis Ludwig Leone: Allan, one of our lead singers, and I had been close friends for a long time. We met when we were like 15, and I’d always had bands with him. I went and studied classical music in university and when I graduated I wrote this record for him to sing, and I didn’t really have any plans for it, I just thought it would be fun.

We recorded it and got a record deal and then suddenly, the record label was like, “you gotta go tour.” That changed everything, then we had to get together all the band members. It totally went in a way that I did not expect.

K: Fresh out of school you were ready for the next step, and then it found you. 

ELL: Yeah. I studied classical music and I was thinking about going that way and suddenly, we had this record that was getting attention from people who weren’t classical musicians at all and then I sort of just realized that it was a pop record. That led to touring a lot and, now, here we are.

K: Tell us about your early years. Was it easy to get your off the ground or were there other obstacles you had to overcome?

ELL: The cool thing was that we had a lot of press attention right away, which I am thankful for now because I probably didn’t realize at the time that that was fueling everything and bringing people to the shows.

That said, you can be on lists, but people still need to discover you. You still play these shows where you’re taking eight members of a band — it’s a big band — and you’re taking them to these expensive places, and the logistics are crazy.

So the big challenge for the first couple of years was making it work financially, which is kind of a boring problem, but real. Everyone kind of bought in and devoted their time to it and now we’re at a point where it feels like it’s a real, stable, good thing that everyone loves doing. We’re going on tour for half the year.

K: Touring is always fun?

ELL: Yeah, it’s great and it’s tough. I think a lot of people who don’t tour, when they hear, “oh, you’re going to Toronto this weekend, that’s great, I’d love to go there” but a lot of what we see is hotels and venues. Every now and then you have a day where you can explore a city but there isn’t a lot of downtime and travelling.

There are moments when your body hurts. You’ve gained weight because you’ve eaten like shit, and those are real sacrifices that I think people, when they talk to you, don’t really take seriously, but there are things that are downers. For the most part, I really like it.

K: What was your time like at Yale? Did you feel as though your formal education offered a guideline for your future music career?

ELL: I think so. When I was in school in classes I often felt like a little bit of an outsider. When I started an indie band, I still felt a little bit like an outsider but I think it’s sort of good to always feel outside of the paradigm. Then you are thinking about it, and you’re questioning what’s good, what draws you to it, and what doesn’t. I think that was a pretty big thing for me.

I was just writing music in a way that made sense to me and happened to make sense to other people. It helped me think about how to write for all those instruments.

K: So you write every piece for each section? 

ELL: Right. I write a score.

K: So it’s within your classical training?

ELL: You saw the show, so it’s gone away from that a little bit. Which is what happens when you’re playing festivals or rock. You’re playing these venues that are made for rock bands so you sort to push towards that. I happily did that. But there is still a lot of that classical stuff in there where parts are notated, I think about the arrangements a lot, and I’m very careful with how I divvy up the notes.

K: Was that something you kept in mind when you were writing your newest album?

ELL: The new record was kind of interesting because as I was writing it, I really knew who I was writing it for, because I’ve played a hundred shows with these guys. When I write a sax line, I really tailor it to Stephen, when I write a trumpet line, I tailor it to John. I think that’s led the live show to be more of a coherent, explosive thing.

K: So, it’s come a long way from knowing your bandmates for years now?

ELL: For the first record, I just wrote it. Whoever I could get to play it, it was great, but it was a different relationship.

K: You released your self titled album in September of 2013. Can you explain some of the emotions and backstory behind the records on this album?

ELL: That was a very exciting and weird time. A lot of stuff went really quickly — it went from a sort of bedroom project to where the third of fourth show we ever played was a Tiny Desk concert. The fifth or six show we ever played was Bowery ballroom, and suddenly we were doing this thing.

I didn’t know what keyboard to play, I was still making all these decisions. It was a really intense time because there was all this stuff coming down the pipe that I was figuring out how to respond to as it happened.

“Oh we have to make a music video?” Well, fuck… I don’t know. But that was really exciting and cool. I remember hearing Sonsick, which was our single on that record, on the radio for the first time.

K: What was that feeling like?

ELL: It was crazy! I was just driving with my girlfriend or something, and I thought, “wow… people know this song.”

K: Are there ever times where you felt like there are other songs you would rather play instead?

ELL: Yeah… let’s leave it at that. There’s a few singles that we play because the fans expect them, but we’re kind of over it.

K: Your third album, Belong, released in April of this year and your single was released through TIME magazine. What can this album teach the listener about you, or just in general?

ELL: The thing that I wanted to do with this record is that I wanted to write a record that felt both more accessible to people — just from the type of sounds, there are no interludes, it’s more direct songwriting -—but also make the lyrics more personal. In the past, I’ve hidden behind the lyrics a little bit. I think it was accomplished. I think the songs have a bit more of a glossy sheen to them. If you spend time with it, it’s stuff that comes from deep and somewhat tumultuous place in my life. Pulling off that trick, making something seem sleek but also have depth, is somewhat difficult.

San Fermin

K: Are there certain songs that you listen to in this album or earlier albums that you don’t listen to all the time, but you hear them and it brings you back to a certain moment in your life?

ELL: For earlier albums that definitely happens. There is a song on the first record called Daedalus. I was in Banff while writing it and I was thinking that the record needed a closer, something special. We were writing it and leaving the studio and thinking that I made a really good song there. Then I didn’t play it for years, and we played it the other day for the first time.

K: What is it like making a setlist for a big music festival like Wayhome?

ELL: For a festival like this you have a stripped down set, where I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily all of our best songs but in a way it’s all the songs that work the best in this setting. Some songs I really like that you just can’t play here. You can’t really play the acoustic ballads. You need an audience who is all there for you, but here you have people that are here for you and people who are walking by, and you want to be able to catch them with a festival jam.

K: In making that setlist, are you driving for that?

ELL: You think about that and you think about songs that are immediately graspable and that hit hard, and you think about the image that you want to project at that festival. Are you trying to reach new fans or are you trying to play the funnest, most party song? Or are you trying to curate this sort of thoughtful experience? When you have forty-five minutes on the main stage, you think, let’s hit them with our best. Sometimes it changes. Today I made the call to play Methuselah, which is an acoustic-chiller song from the first record, instead of No Devil, which is a big anthem, just because I wanted to do it.

K: Is that the most fun part of running a band?

ELL: The most fun part is after the shows when you get to meet people who the songs resonate with. It still feels unreal to me. If I haven’t played a show for a couple of weeks, I’ll forget that there are all these people out there who care about what I do and it makes me feel really good when I get to meet them. It hasn’t worn off yet.

K: Have you ever met a fan where you’ve had that genuine experience, where they tell you about a tough time in their life that your music has helped them through?

ELL: Totally. Our fans are really loyal and intense about that. When we go on headline tours, we’ll have a bunch of people in the front of the crowd who know the lyrics to all the songs, and that’s really cool. You’re here for a deeper experience that you had with this stuff.

I feel like I’m someone who has trouble talking to strangers a lot. I have trouble connecting, and to suddenly be like… that you can connect to someone is a special thing.

K: Was there ever any stage fright?

ELL: Weirdly, even though I write all the music, I’m probably not someone who people are watching as much on stage because I’m in front of the keyboard.

There was a little bit of stage fright at the very beginning but after that it was pretty clear that A) nobody was counting on me to do anything too much and B) shows are fun. I have a lot of great musicians with me. Even if I totally stopped playing, we’d still be a great group of people.

K: Is that the best part, being around people you have great relationships with for eight months or so at a time?

ELL: It’s a strange relationship, because in a way, it’s almost like a sibling, but then weirdly, you’ll get home and maybe you won’t see them for a couple of months. You won’t call them or anything, and then you’ll get back together and you’re closer than close, because you’re literally spending all your time together.

K: Do you feel as though your band is tailored to a festival setting, or a sort of more intimate setting?

ELL: That’s changed. At the beginning of the band, I was all about intimate spaces. We then started to have some success at festivals and I thought that was really fun. My ideal shows are at a thousand cap room but they’re all there for you. That’s the best, you get a little bit of the size. I just like playing for a receptive audience. That is what I care about the most.

K: What was it like in the first show you had where you saw an audience member singing back your lyrics?

ELL: It happened pretty early on, but the first time I really remember it was at a Lollapalooza after show in 2014 where I realized that everyone in the crowd was singing along. That was awesome. I remember getting in the van after and saying, “Guys, we’re onto something.”

K: Did this reaffirm that you needed to keep going?

ELL: Yeah. Since it’s become more routine, I take it for granted sometimes. But when we perform Sonsick and everyone sings that one part, the fact that they even took five minutes out of their life to memorize it, is more than I’ve done for them, so it makes me feel special.

K: That must be a great connection you create with people, in that, you may not know them on a personal level, but you do in a way that you didn’t know about.

ELL: They’re at least familiar with some part of me and when I talk to fans, I appreciate that we can start on some common ground.

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A Conversation with Begonia at Wayhome 2017

The music industry is tough enough without certain standards it holds for women. Often, women are expected to look a certain way and live a certain lifestyle, all the while creating consistently good albums and starting a family of four. The music industry — the entertainment industry as a whole — regularly scrutinizes women on a daily basis according to the standards it’s set.

This can be a difficult way of life for many, but there is often a light at the end of the tunnel. Artists such as Alexa Durks, otherwise known as Begonia, are working to eradicate this standard. Living her life as true expression of her authentic self, Alexa is a role model for women to look up to. Not only does she have a killer voice, she has a great attitude about life and works hard to achieve her goals.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Alexa to discuss her beginnings in the girl group, Chic Gamine. Continue reading to fall in love with her, just as we have after chatting with her about her life on the road.

Kimberley Drapack: How did your love for music begin?

Alexa Durks: I started pretty young. I was always interested in singing and I was a loud kid, so I was always singing at home. Nobody in my family is a musician besides myself, but everyone was always listening to music or singing. It was instilled in me at a young age.

It was always something that I felt like I wanted to do and I don’t think I felt like I always would understand how or why, but I always felt I was connected to music in an emotional way. I went to church as a kid, sang in church, and was in musicals as a child. It’s a typical start. 

K: What was the first CD you ever purchased?

AD: My dad had a Columbia House subscription. I’d always try to mooch off his subscription and get him to get me something. I started listening to the Beatles because my dad liked them. The first CD I bought with my allowance money was in the fourth grade. It was Destiny’s Child, The Writing’s on the Wall. I went crazy.

K: Do you have a favourite Destiny’s Child member?

AD: Well obviously Beyoncé. I was in a girl group, Chic Gamine, I know what that is like. Not in the same sort of way. 

K: That’s how you began singing?

AD: I started singing for a gig when I was like sixteen or seventeen. I was still in high school and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand how I could make it a career, but it was something that I wanted to do, and I could make money doing it, so it blew my mind. I started touring with Chic Gamine, when I was nineteen or twenty. It was an early start. I had no idea what was going on, and I sometimes still have no idea what’s going on.

K: Was it exciting in that you were getting out of your hometown and traveling?

AD: It was an adventure. I still have a romanticized view of the road and certain aspects of it. That’s why I still tour, I do it because I love it. I’m going to stop when it stops being fun all together.

That’s kind of what it’s like, you kind of have to be able to get on a stage and enjoy what you are doing, because people can feel that authenticity. You don’t want to do it when you don’t like it anymore, that’s when a lot of bullshit can come in.

K: You describe Begonia as being on a spectrum — with one end that is dark and grievous and the other a petite, elegant flower. What is it like finding the balance between these two sides and how does it relate to your music?

AD: I’m not necessarily what a lot of people would classify as the stereotypical pop star in any sort of sense. If you look at me, there’s meat on my bones, I’m a person that is pretty outspoken in certain ways. I can also be shy and timid, and there are all those sides.

If we’re really going to cut to it, as women, in that age in the industry, you’re supposed to look a certain way and be a certain way, and I struggle with that duality all the time of the person that I want to put out there and the person I really am, which is my authentic self that doesn’t always have my makeup done perfectly or doesn’t necessarily know when or if I’m going to have children. I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life but I know there are women in the industry who do not have specific roles. I feel like that’s where I find myself, in the middle of that, trying to represent the “other.”

K: Do you feel as though you’ve felt pressure in a way to express that women are supposed to be categorized a certain way, or fit a certain look?

AD: I respect it all. If you are being an honest, authentic person, who is representing yourself, you don’t have to look any specific way. There shouldn’t be a standard.

K: Tell us about your EP, Lady in Mind. What stories does it tell? What was the writing process like to produce this work?

AD: It was the culmination of a lot of years of writing songs and kind of shelving them, and not knowing where I was going to put some of these songs. I was in a band for so long where we had a really collaborative writing process, so I would write some of these songs on my own and not really know where they would fit.

Over the course of the years, it just encapsulated so many different topics. Being in my mid-twenties and trying to understand where I fit in as a woman in the industry, trying to understand my own female fragility. I got out of a really bad relationship at the time that was pretty emotionally abusive, that played a part in some of these songs, but I think the common thread in the content is trying to find the power within yourself in the dark moments. Each song has a realness to it because I’m just talking about my authentic experience. Anyone could possibly relate to it if they’ve ever gone through shit.

It’s about the relationship within yourself, a relationship with the same or opposite sex, and the world around you.

K: What genres would you describe your music to be in between? Do you find the label of a certain type of genre can be limiting?

AD: It’s a limiting question, but you have to kind of know. I do feel as though I have a pop sensibility to my writing but it is more on the alternative side. It’s not necessarily the type that would play on the Top 40 radio, and I know that.

There’s some R&B underpinnings, there’s some soul underpinnings. I draw inspiration from so many different places, but if you really have to put it down to what it is, it would probably be pop alternative music.

K: What did it feel like when your single Juniper, from your new five-song EP, Lady in Mind, reached number one on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20?

AD: It was super cool. I wasn’t expecting it. We just put the song out there to launch the project a year ago, and when CBC picked it up, it was a nice moment. It was a validating moment where people wanted to hear what I do, people are interested in what I’m doing.

I would have done it either way, but it’s one of those moments where you’re thankful. Hearing your song on the radio at any time is a pretty exciting thing. My mom would look up on the website when it would play.

K: Are your parents your biggest cheerleaders?

AD: They come to all my gigs. Since when I was a kid to when I was a teenager playing in shitty bars, they would come to every gig I ever played. When I quit my full time job right out of high school and said I was going on the road, they didn’t necessarily understand what that meant — I didn’t understand what that meant. They thought, “that’s cool, but you are still living at home, how are you going to make money?” I didn’t even know. Once I got more of a handle on the industry and kind of figured out what I was doing then they could understand it better, but they’ve always been super supportive.

K: For those not in the industry, they can see your line of work as more of a hobby than a job until you get a certain validation of playing a big festival. Can that be frustrating?

AD: I’m used to it, that’s part of it. When you are a small potato like me, you do have to prove yourself and whether I like it or not, that’s part of the game. I know it, and I’m just going to go out there and do what I do no matter what.

K: What can we expect from you in the future?

AD: I’m touring right now and this summer. I’m working on a new album and I’m going to be in the studio in the fall, so hopefully by next year you are going to hear some new stuff.

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Bands Spotted: August Edition

Trying to find up-and-coming artists can be time consuming, unless you are like me with not much of a life and all the time in the world to keep an eye out for new talent. With an abundance of music coming out each month, we can sometimes get lost in the mix. Who can blame you? With websites constantly posting, articles like “Top 10 Artists You Need To Keep an Eye On” almost every other week, it can be a lot. And who’s to say that their choices are worthy?

While I may seem contradictory, I have carefully selected a list of 6 artists who you will want to add to your Spotify playlist to impress your cool friend Devon at the next kickback. Or they are a great bunch of artists to listen to on your 30+ minute commute to work on the TTC. So pick up your phone or your laptop, click away, and come along for the ride.

BROCKHAMPTION

This self-proclaimed All-American Boyband managed to pull out one of the summer’s best albums in under a month. This group is made up of Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, JOBA, Ameer Vann and Rodney Tenor and moved to LA just one year ago. On June 6th, the group dropped their second mixtape, Saturation, and set a whole new standard for a quick turnaround in lyric writing and music production.

JESSIE REYEZ

Toronto-born artist Jessie Reyez has the ultimate response to a cheating ex: write a song about him. Debuting in August of 2016, the song, Figures, has over 5,676,499 views, and is still climbing. Jessie is thankful for Toronto’s eclectic music scene, for allowing her to create the music we are so grateful that she is sharing. Jessie released her debut EP, Kiddo, this past April.

DEEM SPENCER

Deem Spencer is a 21-year-old artist hailing from Queens. Mixing influences of pop, R&B, and soul, he creates a fusion of sounds that make up a flawless soundscape. In October 2016, he released his EP, sunflowerthat weaves together emotional lyrics with a hopeful optimism. We see great things up-and-coming for this youngster, and we urge you to keep an eye out.

SABRINA CLAUDIO

This rising R&B singer is a Miami native who now calls L.A. home. In March 2017, she released her EP, Confidently Lost, written exclusively by herself, that discusses heartbreaks and revivals that any young adult can relate to. Along with the story told through her lyrics, Sabrina works hard to express a story through her expressive videos, revealing complementary aesthetics that blend in with her melodic voice.

JELANIE ARYEH

Jelani Aryeh is a 17-year old from a small town in San Diego who is inspired by the likes of Brockhampton and Frank Ocean. Released about a month ago, his debut EP, Suburban Destinesia, is inspired by his suburban upbringing and the banalities it may hold. Destinesia is described as the following sensation: “when you get to where you were intending to go, you forget why you were going there in the first place.”

DUA LIPA

Dua Lipa has gained exposure across the globe with her her self-titled debut album released earlier this year. This UK native has climbed her way up the charts producing bangers after bangers. She is the perfect addition to any summer playlist. Not only are we at Novella giving her the stamp of approval, but big artists like Lorde have tweeted out words of praise for her video, New Rules.

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Follow Up: Has Pride Lost its Way?

Last Sunday, Pride Parades took place around the world, including one right here in Toronto, which happened to be the first parade I’ve ever attended. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more rainbows, naked people, drag queens, and babadooks all in one place.

In some ways, it felt like two parades were happening at once. There was a corporate parade with huge banks and tech companies atop floats, blasting music, handing out rainbow stickers with their logos prominently placed. This was the parade full of rainbow Canadian flags, with our Prime Minister and his family at the front, along with other politicians, rainbow flags on their cheeks, waving and smiling at the crowds.

The ‘other’ parade wasn’t as flashy, as loud, or as celebratory. This was the parade of Indigenous folks with Cree artist Kent Monkman serving as Grand Marshall. I saw signs noting that Indigenous presence here is a lot older than 150 years. Shortly after a float from TD Bank passed by, a sign went up asking why TD was investing in tar sands. One sign from Greenpeace demanded that Pride return to “queer liberation” and not “rainbow capitalism”. This was also the parade where Black Lives Matter, unregistered, showed up to remind us that they didn’t need to register because Pride belongs to them, to queer and trans people of color. When the first Toronto Pride Parade happened back in 1981, there were no corporate floats and the police were involved, but only because of the arrests made in Operation Soap (the raids on Toronto bathhouses) which led to Pride.

Photo taken from Pride Toronto

I’m not trying to say we should go back to 1981. I’m not even saying that corporations should be banned completely from Pride. But it still feels odd that the pounding music and free giveaways from Colgate and Pizza Pizza and others overshadowed small local queer groups and activists who clearly weren’t there for the free advertising and good press that comes from painting a bus in rainbow stripes and calling yourself progressive. It also felt more than a little bizarre that people from the Conservative Party were marching, considering that the new leader of the Conservatives is Andrew Scheer, who opposed gay marriage and voted against Bill C-16, which guarantees federal protections for LGBT people.

This division between “rainbow capitalism” and “queer liberation,” as Greenpeace put it, was obviously not just a tension in Toronto, and Prides all over the world were met with disagreements and controversies. In New York, controversy arose over the Toronto Police being invited to march in their Pride. And in Chicago, during a dyke march, three Jewish women were asked to leave because they had rainbow flags with stars of David in the middle, which were mistaken for Israeli flags.

Putting aside any debates about Israel and Palestine, it’s a bit disturbing to me as a queer Jewish woman to see a star of David, an old symbol of Judaism that has been around for thousands of years, be considered a political symbol or a nationalist one. Yes, the star is associated with the state of Israel, but as it turns out symbols can mean different things. Are we being asked to avoid representing our whole selves in the name of “equality”?

I will say, though, that the wrong response to this controversy would be asking to keep politics out of Pride. Pride is political. How can it not be? Our collective rights as a community are still in question. For example, legal protections for trans people has been a very recent subject of political discourse right here in Canada. LGBT people are facing persecution all over the world, from Trump/Pence in the US and Putin in Russia.

The real issue is, of course, determining the balance between trying to centre Pride events around the most marginalized members of the queer community, ensuring people don’t get left behind or left out for their religion, giving a space to people to celebrate and feel joy, having a protest, and remembering history. It’s a lot to keep track of. I don’t think there’s any easy answers here, and I know that this is a challenge the entire community will continue to face for a long time.

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