Student Life

Aiesha Robinson was born to rise

How a skin disorder inspired one Montrealer to spread a message of self-love

When Aiesha Robinson was first diagnosed with vitiligo at 18 years old, her life took a turn for the worst. But what the now 27-year-old Montrealer thought would ruin her life forever has actually given her life more purpose.

Robinson’s lifelong dream was to play basketball professionally. “The plan was to go play basketball, and to hopefully go play in the NBA, overseas, somewhere,” she said.

The dream fell through for her when she was cut from the AAA basketball team at Dawson College. After that, her grades took a serious hit. “I just didn’t care,” she said. “I went into social sciences and school was irrelevant. I didn’t concentrate on that at all.”

Then, one day at school, she saw it for the first time. “I believe that’s when the stress started, and that’s when I noticed a small white spot on my right thumb,” she said. “I had no idea what it was.”

According to Robinson, vitiligo can be triggered by stress. And having seen friends and family members with the disorder, Robinson began to suspect what it was. However, she was also in denial and kept hoping the spot was just a scab that would eventually go away. After three weeks of keeping it a secret, she finally showed the spot to a friend.

“That’s when she told me to come with her to the bathroom. She looked at me, and she said, ‘Aiesha, you have vitiligo.’ Right then and there, she confirmed my worst nightmares,” Robinson said.

In addition to working on Born to Rise, Robinson is a public speaker and a model with Kill Management. Photo by Nastia Cloutier-Ignatiev

Robinson described the first six years of living with vitiligo as the roughest of her life. She had to watch white spots appear all over her body, and she didn’t know how to deal with it. “I mean I’m 18, I’m going to clubs, I’m starting a whole new life, meeting new people, and at the same time I’m being judged or looked upon differently because of the way that I look,” she said.

She said she would often hide in her room, not wanting to go outside and be stared at and judged.

“At this point, I became depressive. I contemplated suicide because, you know, at a certain point you can only handle so much. I’m a human being. And it wasn’t that I wanted to commit suicide because I wanted to not be here anymore—I just didn’t want to feel the pain, and I thought that was the only solution,” she said.

She said she is thankful for her older brother, Jaimie, who helped her in her lowest moments.

“He told me that I have to look at the positive side of things, and that if I was given this condition, then it was for a reason,” she said.

Jaimie asked her how she could make a difference, not only for herself, but for others. That’s when it dawned on Robinson—if she was feeling this way, then others probably were, too.

“That’s when, [in 2014], I decided to come up with my non-profit titled Born to Rise,” she said. “I get people to come out and share their stories on overcoming their own adversities in the hopes that it will inspire somebody going through a similar situation, and just send out the message that they’re not alone.”

For the last three years, Robinson has held an annual event also called Born to Rise, where she invites speakers to come share the story of their personal struggles to inspire others. The show also includes dancing, singing and spoken word performances.

“It’s an evening of inspiration,” said the young activist.

Robinson is also a public speaker, and often visits elementary schools to educate young children about vitiligo.

In addition to her other projects, Robinson works as a model with Kill Management, a Montreal-based agency. She said she wants people to know that no matter how different you are from a “typical model,” you can still make it in the industry.

“I just want to be a representative for all my fellow vitiligo-ins, and just anybody out there who thinks they can’t do it—I want to be living proof,” she said.

Robinson said she is very proud of how far she has come since she was first diagnosed with vitiligo. “Aiesha eight years ago until about four years ago was somebody who was insecure, not confident, who was sad … but I always put up a front,” she said. “Aiesha today is genuinely happy—I look forward to the future. Before, I didn’t because I didn’t know where I was going with my life.”

Now, she said vitiligo is her purpose, and she is not afraid to put herself out there anymore. “I know where I’m going, where I want to go—I have a vision now. Before I didn’t,” she said. These goals include continuing to educate people about what vitiligo is, and inspiring others to overcome the obstacles in their own lives. “I’m just happy, I’m just so self-loving and I think that’s the greatest gift of all: to be able to be happy in my own skin.”

This year’s Born to Rise event will be held at Westmount High School on Saturday, April 22 at 7 p.m. Tickets for the Born to Rise show are $20 for general admission, and $10 for students. Doors open at 6 p.m.


Young Critters aim for a win at the Omnium du Rock contest

The alternative rock band will be performing their new EP at Matahari Loft

The Montreal-based band Young Critters may have only been together for a year, but they are one of the top five bands competing in the Omnium du Rock contest. The new alternative rock band blends elements of funk into their music—it’s a stylistic direction lead singer and guitarist Shaun Pouliot is glad the band is taking. “It’s getting more and more heavy, I like to think, but there’s still a funk aspect to it in terms of rhythm and groove,” he said.

The contest, which has been ongoing since September, is held in six different cities across Quebec, including Trois-Rivières, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Gatineau, Chicoutimi and Montreal. The band managed to make it to the final round. “There were 121 bands, and we’re in the final round—so there are five bands left,” Pouliot said.

The winner of the contest will be revealed on April 29 at Café Campus. “We’re really looking forward to it,” Pouliot said, adding that they expect to be one of the softer rock bands of the evening. “I think [the other bands] are mainly heavier music than what we’re doing, like more metal-ish,” he said.

In addition to Pouliot, Young Critters’ lineup consists of Nicolas Martel on lead guitar and back-up vocals, Maïko Despeignes on bass guitar and Patrick Bureau on drums. The quartet will be launching their first EP titled Sedate Me on May 18 at the Matahari Loft in Montreal. Pouliot said what makes them stand out, especially in the competition, is that they all share a similar background in music. “We all studied music—I think that helped [us get to the finals],” he said. “We covered a lot of details maybe some bands didn’t work on as much, and we may have a little more experience than others.”

According to Pouliot, every band member brings something unique to the group. “Bureau is very methodical,” said Pouliot. “He’s a great drummer.“ He also said the bassist, Despeignes, leads the melodies in their songs, “I think Despeignes brings the groovy aspect as well as adding the right tone.”

Young Critters from left to right: Maïko Despeignes, Nicolas Martel, Shaun Pouliot and Patrick Bureau. Photo by Antoine La Salle.

Martel and Pouliot have known each other for more than five years—which is longer than the other members. “Martel is the most charismatic dude I’ve ever seen on the stage,” Pouliot said. “He’s crazy up on a stage, and he’s got some great ideas in terms of writing songs and melodies and doing something catchy and bluesy.”

Pouliot said he feels Martel is more instinctive than him when it comes to music. “Sometimes I over-analyze [the songs],” he said. “I think Martel brings me down to earth again. And I think it’s important to kind of listen to what you’re working on in a very innocent way.”

Pouliot said his ultimate goal when creating new music is to bring everything together in a cohesive way. “I write most of the material with Martel, so I write the lyrics for the music,” he said. Pouliot is also currently working on trying to make his guitar sound like a keyboard. He said it’s important for him to bring a different sound to the group, since two members of the band play guitar, one member plays bass and the other plays the drums. “I’m still working on it a lot,” he said. “[I use] certain effects like reverb and delay and stuff like that, but it’s still a work in progress.”

While the band takes its influence from a wide variety of genres, Pouliot said he enjoys dance music and takes much of his influence from that style. “I like the idea of having a certain dance appeal to rock and roll. That’s what we’re trying to achieve,” he said. “And if we could achieve that with rock, we would be really, really happy.”

According to Pouliot, the four songs and two bonus tracks on the band’s EP are all meaningful to him. For example, the single, “Sedate Me,” reflects his own personal experiences. “It’s kind of me addressing myself to music, back when I hurt my arm,” he said. “I wanted to play guitar very much, and I couldn’t wait until I got to play guitar and music again. So it’s kind of a weird concept, but that was what I was going for.”

The band members said they’re very excited to play in their hometown of Montreal. According to Pouliot, Montrealers should expect some surprises during their performance. “We like to change the songs a little. We like to arrange them a little from one show to another,” he said. “ We like to make things more exciting for everyone.”

Young Critters’ new EP Sedate Me can be heard at Matahari Loft on May 18, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Entrance is $10, and their EP can also be purchased on-site.


Swim away with Great Lake Swimmers

The band dials it down to simplicity in their new EP, Swimming Away

Toronto-based indie-folk group Great Lake Swimmers just released their newest EP, Swimming Away, and are set to tour Canada and the United States.The EP alludes to the new musical direction the band is headed in, singer-songwriter Tony Dekker said. “I think I’ve come around again to a very less-is-more attitude, and I think that’s sort of the direction I see for the future of this group too—focusing in on the quieter and more intense part of the songwriting again,” he said.

Great Lake Swimmers has garnered a lot of success over the past 15 years. They were nominated for a Juno Award in 2009 for their album Lost Channels, and made the Polaris Music Prize shortlist. The band even received public endorsements from Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin and cyclist Lance Armstrong. However, Dekker did not expect to achieve any fame when he created the group over 15 years ago. “I released [the first] album with really low expectations, and basically as a vehicle just for songwriting,” he said. “It actually started as a kind of songwriting project that added people over the years as I crossed paths with people who were like-minded.”

Now, the frontman is excited to share a new aspect of his music on this tour. “It’s back to scaling it back and bringing it back to its basic elements, almost. You know, so that the message and the lyrics don’t get lost in the music,” he said. Dekker said the band will feature some of their previous work in their performances as well. “We’re focusing on some of the older songs from our catalogue, some of the quieter ones, some of the more quietly intense songs, you could say,” he said. “We did a tour like that in Europe last year and it was really well-received, so we thought we should do this across Canada.”

The band’s first stop on their Canada-U.S. tour was at La Sala Rossa in Montreal on March 22. “We’ve always had a good following [in Montreal],” Dekker said. “We’re really excited to be back in Quebec, for sure.” They will be heading as far east as Halifax, N.S., and then to the American mid-west to Michigan and Wisconsin. Joining Dekker onstage are Bret Higgins, who plays the upright bass, the mandolin and keyboards, and James Taylor, who is filling in for full-time band member Erik Arnesen on the banjo. Singer-songwriter Megan Bonnell will also be joining them. “We’re lucky to have her on tour,” he said.

The band has always been expanding and contracting in terms of membership, however, Arnesen and Higgins have been with Dekker for the longest time compared to the other musicians who have played with the band in the past. “[Erik and I] have been playing music together for 15 years or more,” Dekker said, “Bret has been with the band since 2008, so it’s almost 10 years now.”

Dekker said he finds himself most inspired by nature when creating his music. It is a theme that can be heard on all Great Lake Swimmers albums. Dekker said it’s because, while he now spends the majority of his time in the city of Toronto, he was born and raised on a farm in a small town in rural Ontario. “One of the main things that is a thread throughout the album is that I take a lot of inspiration from the natural world,” Dekker said. “I feel like that’s the kind of thing that’s in my bones—a more pastoral imagery.”Dekker also has a degree in literature and a deep passion for telling stories through his music. “The whole reason that I do this is to really express an idea through music and in song and in writing,” he said.

The artist will take hours, days and sometimes years to develop the lyrics and add a level of complexity to his music. It once took him five years to develop a single song. “I spend a lot of time with the lyrics, and I think there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface,” Dekker said. “I think that’s the type of thing that becomes rewarding once you start digging into it a bit more. I think there’s a reward in really investigating it, you know?”

The band will be playing in smaller venues than usual for this tour to be closer with the audience. “I think that the main expectation is to make a real sort of connection with audiences on a more intimate level,” Dekker said. The band hopes to record a new album following the tour.


Montreal’s soulful jazz quartet

Hichem Khalfa Quartet will launch their new album, Réminiscences at O Patro Vys

Hichem Khalfa Quartet just released their new album, Réminiscences, a modern jazz creation that was composed by the group’s trumpet player, Hichem Khalfa. The record was released on March 10, and the quartet’s launch performance will take place at O Patro Vys on March 15. Joining leader and trumpet player Khalfa on stage are Jérôme Beaulieu on keyboards, Jonathan Arseneau on bass and Dave Croteau on drums.

Réminiscences differs a lot in sound from the band’s previous album, Histoires Sans Mots. Their music has a modern jazz feel in comparison to their previous songs, “I think I’ve found the right way to change the music so it doesn’t sound like the first album, but it still has my own signature,” Khalfa said. Khalfa has not only changed the instrumentation since the last record, but the line-up of his band as well. Khalfa and Beaulieu are the only two remaining members from the previous album.

Khalfa wanted to change things up to bring a different feel to the music.”The electric bass [and] keyboards really changed the sound of the band,” he said. Playing alongside these three musicians is exciting for Khalfa. “The most important thing is that the feeling, the connection between us is great,” he said, “We have good times every time we go on tour, so that’s all I really want,” he said. Following their album release, the band will be touring across Canada and Europe, starting this summer. “We’re going to France in July, then to do a couple shows in New Brunswick, and then Ville Saint-Laurent, and in October we go back to Europe—Belgium, England and maybe France,” said Khalfa. Khalfa is thrilled to tour the world with his friends, doing what they love—playing music.

Music is a vehicle for Khalfa to express his innermost thoughts and emotions. “What I want is to play my feelings through the trumpet,” he said. “The main goal for me is to be able to communicate these feelings to other people when I’m playing.” Khalfa picked up his first trumpet when he was seven, and has never wanted to put it down since. “I always wanted to be a musician. I didn’t have any other options,” Khalfa said.

The musician grew up in Val d’Oise, France, but arrived in Montreal six years ago to pursue jazz studies at McGill University. Khalfa is grateful for the move to Montreal, as he sees it as a city with lots of potential for musicians. “Montreal is really, really good. I moved here six years ago, and I’m starting to feel at home now,” he said. “That’s what I like Montreal too — everyone is trying to help each other and I feel [I’m a part of] a community.” The Montreal Jazz Festival, for example, is an event the musician is proud to have been a part of. “I’ve played every year at the Jazz Festival,” he said. “It’s a really, really nice time of the year. Everyone is nice, music is everywhere, it’s very beautiful … and we have a lot of tourists coming to Montreal just for that, so it’s a pretty big deal.”

The aspect of performing that Khalfa most loves is witnessing people coming together through his music. “Something magical happens,” he said. “To see all these different people, who wouldn’t talk to each other in everyday life on the street, getting together in this moment and sharing feelings… It’s something intense, I think, to be on stage and being able to see that.”

Hichem Khalfa Quartet’s latest album, Réminiscences, can be heard live at O Patro Vys from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 15. Entrance is free, and their album can be purchased on-site after the show.


Get a hold of The Holds

The Montreal indie-rock band is soon to release an LP album

Montreal band The Holds may have only been together for a year and half, but their unique sound cannot be missed. Their swampy, soulful, indie-rock vibe has garnered a lot of reaction from people across both Quebec and Ontario following a two-week tour for their self-titled EP last year. The EP was released in January 2016, and the band is now excited to have new music on the horizon. The lead singer of the band, Ryan Setton, said their soon-to-be released full-length album is very different from anything they’ve done before.

“[Our sound] has changed a lot actually,” Setton said. “Obviously the instrumentation is somewhat the same, but there’s definitely more keys on the new stuff, and the songs are more dynamic, in that there’s more of a story in the music. There are things that are constantly changing and shifting throughout the tracks, whereas before, our songs were a bit more cut and dry.” Setton first started performing cover songs at bars around Montreal with Justin Wiley, the drummer of The Holds, five years ago. After years of covering other bands’ material, they both wanted to start creating their own original music. That’s when bassist Andre Galamba, keyboard player Alex Lebel and guitarist Eric Hein came in. These three musicians had the talent, personality and chemistry Setton and Wiley were looking for.

Setton said their album is currently in pre-production, but the goal is to release it by this summer. The band also hopes to tour Canada for the upcoming album. Their new release signifies something much more profound for Setton. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about something, out of all the things I’ve done, than this record that’s coming out now. Sometimes when I listen to it, I can’t even believe that it’s happening,” he said.

Setton is not new to the music industry—he has been performing on stage for over 14 years. He has been playing piano and guitar for most of his life, and began singing in his 20s. “Music’s always been like air to breathe, you know what I mean? Like a higher consciousness or something,” he said. “It makes you feel good, motivates you, connects you to something, to other people.” But having a career in music has come with its challenges over the years, including criticism. “For a long time, I was not sure of myself,” he said. “At one point I almost threw in the towel.”

Portrait shot of Montreal band, The Holds. Photo courtesy of The Holds.

While creating music over the past year for the new album, something just clicked for Setton. “After playing shows for so long and being in many situations where I was frustrated, I think I got to the breaking point where I let go, and I really don’t care what anyone [says],” he said. “I’m not going to put myself down for any reason. I’m just going to do what I do, and to the best of my ability.” Setton said the songs he’s created over the past year are more in tune with who he is, both as a person and artist, than ever before. “[The new album] is so in line with [what] I’ve always wanted to do, but I guess I’ve never been able to achieve,” he said. “Just the sound that we have and the songs that we have right now on this upcoming record, it just makes so much sense to me when I hear them.”

The members of The Holds also inspire Setton to tap into his full musical potential. “With the right group of people and the right circumstances, now there’s all this creative energy flowing,” he said. “Alex Lebel—he’s definitely, in my personal, biased opinion, one of the best key players in Montreal,” Setton said. “It’s just such a natural, raw talent that he has. He just adds such a spark and a finesse to everything he plays.” According to Setton, Galamba, who is originally from Brazil, is an intelligent and intuitive player who adds an air of confidence to the music. “[He] is very well-versed in world music. He plays jazz, he plays Latin music, all kinds of different styles,” Setton said. Hein has a lot in common with Setton in terms of musical interests. “Eric and I, we both grew up playing blues and rock and roll, playing by ear. He plays most of the lead guitar in the band, so that gives it it’s bluesy, kind of juke joint, classic 60s vibe,” he said.

Setton said Wiley motivates him in many ways. “Justin is a very disciplined drummer and person in general. He’s very motivated, and his energy in music, in the jam room and outside in life is very positive and energetic. It’s just an amazing thing to have someone like that in a band, who constantly keeps everyone on their toes, but is also a great drummer, and adds a lot of unique style.” Setton said he strives to bring romance back to rock and roll. “Even though a lot of our songs are pretty rocking, I’m heavily influenced by classic soul and R&B.”

Setton said they try to make their music relatable to everyone. “We’re definitely influenced by the blues, and talking a lot about travelling, feeling good, feeling bad. Very simple, everyday things that everyone feels.” he said. “We’re talking about human relationships, we’re talking about love, loss and things like that. Which in itself is profound, I think.”

Whether the band’s music is heard at a bar in downtown Montreal, or on their albums, the band’s goal is to inspire others to be genuine. “Remember to be yourself, because that’s when the true art comes out,” Setton said. “That is the most important thing to say: in anything that you do, just uncompromisingly be yourself.”


Legendary African-American jazz musicians

Influential African-American jazz musicians in honour of Black History month

We’re in New Orleans, in the early 1900s. An exciting new style of music has emerged, known as jazz. It is a style that is deeply-rooted in various African cultures. Jazz has always been evolving and was greatly influenced by a lot of African-American musicians. Below are recommendations of legendary African-American jazz artists that have composed incredible music.

Louis Armstrong

Known as “Satchmo” or “Pops,” was an incredibly influential jazz trumpet player and singer whose career spanned from 1920 to 1960. He is one of the first scat singers and is responsible for its popularization. One of his most iconic singles is “What a Wonderful World,” and even though it was released in 1967, it is still popular half a century later. Armstrong influenced some of the greats with his singing and trumpet-playing, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Armstrong is known as one of the most important musical figures in American history, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.



Miles Dewey Davis III

Known as one of the great innovators of jazz. In a 2015 BBC poll, Miles Davis was voted the greatest musician of all time.The American bandleader, trumpeter and composer was at the forefront of many stylistic changes in jazz music, from be-bop, to hard bop, to cool jazz, to funk and techno. His five-decade career spanned from the 40s to the 90s. Throughout this time, he has helped jazz music evolve so much that he is considered one of the most acclaimed figures in jazz history. In fact, he is known as one of the key developers of jazz music, and his accomplishments were highlighted in the recent film Miles Ahead (2015). One of Davis’ most recognized songs is “Stella by Starlight,” which was released in 1958. Davis has received eight Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.


Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington

Ellington is highly praised for making jazz an art form. Not only was he one of the most recognized bandleaders, but he was a hugely popular pianist and composer. He has more than a thousand compositions under his belt, with many of his works becoming part of the standard repertoire of jazz music. One of his most highly praised songs is “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), which was released in 1943. Many artists, including Tony Bennett, have been influenced by this artist, and have covered his songs. Ellington has received many awards and honours for his music, including 13 Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a NAACP Spingarn Medal and is featured on a Commemorative U.S. quarter.


Mary Lou Williams

As the first female jazz musician to be ranked among the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Mary Lou Williams was a pioneer. Not only was she a prominent jazz pianist, composer and vocalist, but she began her career as a child musical prodigy. Even before she was in her 20s, she was writing and arranging music for bandleaders such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. Williams was also a friend, teacher and mentor to legendary jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. One of her most popular songs is “Roll ‘Em” which was released in 1945. Williams’ legacy continues to this day, at the Mary Lou Williams Centre for Black Culture at Duke University.


John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie

Gillespie along with Charlie Parker, is recognized for ushering in the era of bebop in America. Dizzy founded Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz music. He also fused Afro-American jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms to form a Cubop sound. The artist toured the world, from Africa to Latin America, and brought many musicians back to America to play with him on stage. While he incorporated many different styles of music from around the world into his performances, he was particularly drawn to music with African roots, as he was very proud of his heritage. One of his most recognized songs is “A Night in Tunisia.” The legendary jazz musician was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1982.


Hip-hop culture with Milla Thyme

After releasing his EP, Eternally the Student, the rapper returned to study jazz at Concordia

For Milla Thyme, rapping is about bringing light to important social matters. “You have to talk about things that are unjust and speak about them,” he said. Milla Thyme fuses a mix of soul, hip hop, and jazz into his music. Milla Thyme is the MC name of Concordia student Max Miller. It’s a name he developed in his early teens. “Milla Thyme is 100 per cent me. It’s when I’m playing bass and rapping and I’m writing all the music myself,” he said.

The MC can be spotted at Le Cypher, a popular hip-hop jam session party at Le Bleury-Bar à Vinyle, which takes place almost every Thursday night. It’s one of his favourite Montreal hotspots. In fact, the rapper said it’s like his second home. “We get 150 people average per week so it’s a good platform for people to see you perform regularly,” he said.

People from all walks of life can get a chance to come up on stage during Le Cypher and try out rapping—even if they’ve never done it before. “It’s a safe space for people to communicate,” Miller said. “You get people of all different genders, ages, sexual orientation. We don’t care. We’re all the same, right?” Miller has been rapping and playing bass with the band Urban Science at Le Cypher almost every Thursday night. The band is comprised of about 20 to 25 artists, some of whom played on his recent EP, Eternally the Student. “It was my friend Thomas Lafrance, a.k.a T-Cup, on the drums,” Miller said. “And then on keys we had one of the baddest under-25 keyboard players in the city, named Nicolas Dupuis, who goes by the name Anomalie. I’m just so grateful that he had the time to play with us.”

Come see Milla Thyme perform live on Thursday evenings at Le Bleury-Bar à Vinyle. Photo by Emily Vidal

Urban Science has also played at many popular venues in Montreal, including the Jazz Festival two years in a row, which Miller said he’s grateful to have been a part of. “That group has taken me to amazing places,” he said. For the rapper, there is no better feeling than freestyling on stage during Le Cypher nights. “It’s like having an amazing orgasm, a sweet release. It’s one of the best feelings, a natural high,” he said.

When he’s not busy performing as Milla Thyme, Miller is focused on his jazz studies program at Concordia. He said it’s important for him to keep up his studies, to never stop learning or growing, both as a person and as a musician. The artist is also the president of Concordia’s Hip Hop Community, a student club that holds rap battles for social justice. Each week, a different social issue is addressed at the rap battles, such as police brutality and gender inequality. The club also holds workshops that allow people to work on different elements and aspects of hip hop, and allow them to share their music with others on stage.

“It’s a good way for Concordia students and members of the community who don’t have much experience but want to be involved with hip hop and social consciousness,” Miller said. A rap battle on police brutality will be held on Feb. 15 at the Le Belmont nightclub on St-Laurent. The proceeds for this event will be going to Montreal Noir, which Milla Thyme said is a socially-conscious group advocating equality. Miller feels very lucky to have always been pushed to chase his dreams by his parents, who are artists themselves. “Michael Miller, my dad, is actually the most produced black playwright in Canada. And my mom was a TA at Juilliard in her 20s,” he said. “My parents are both established in their careers. They told me, if I’m going to pursue arts, that I have to [give it] my 100 per cent.”

Concordia’s Hip Hop Community president, Max Miller, also known as Milla Thyme. Photo by Ana Hernandez

This support really helped Miller overcome the struggles involved with creating his music. I think the biggest challenge we all face is ourselves,” he said. “That’s always the biggest challenge because it’s an internal conflict, just questioning [yourself], like we all do, in some way. That’s something, as an artist, you deal with a lot.” Miller said artists like Kendrick Lamar and J-Cole allowed him to forget about the hardships of the music industry. Through their meaningful lyrics, they inspired him to focus on being real in his music as well. “They gave me a renewed sense of purpose,” he said.

Miller’s EP, Eternally a Student, which was released in October, touches on deep subjects that truly matter both in his own life and in society. The songs, he said, are a true representation of what was going on in his life as well as what he saw going on around him. For the artist, that’s the ultimate goal: to express himself in a way that can be relatable to someone else. “I hope my music can help people in their day-to-day, and if someone’s going through something, that it helps them get through that,” he said.

If there’s anything Miller wants artists to take from his story, it’s that the most important thing is to believe in yourself, and in your own music. “Just keep pushing,” he said. “Don’t give up, and just know that no one can tell your music better than you can.”


Concordia’s rocking professor

Craig Morrison’s band to perform The Roots of Rock and Roll show at Oscar Peterson Hall

Concordia professor Craig Morrison is a jack of all trades. The Concordia professor is an ethnomusicologist who is also a musician, journalist and author. While his job as an ethnomusicologist is to put music in its cultural context, he also has a great passion for playing music himself. Morrison first played in several bands in Victoria, B.C his hometown. He then played in bands in Toronto, and then finally, in Montreal, where he joined the group, The Momentz.

After being the only original member left, the band then became known as Craig Morrison and The Momentz. Morrison has now been playing in the retro band, Vintage Wine, for the past 14 years. Morrison has also written several books, including an Encyclopedia, entitled American Popular Music: Rock and Roll. He is currently in the process of writing another book about the journeys of an ethnomusicologist.

The book, he said, is a combination of autobiography and music history. “I start with something that I experienced myself, like the first time that I went to Memphis to interview Rockabilly musicians,” said Morrison, “And then I’ll expand it to what music was like in Memphis.” According to Morrison, he will be writing about some of the 150 interviews that he has conducted with artists over his lifetime. “Because I’ve interviewed so many musicians, and I’ve seen so many musicians… I go to concerts like some people go to church,” he said. “And I’ve really understood, experienced, tried to promote, all the music that I love.”

Morrison is gearing to perform at one of his highly anticipated events, The Roots of Rock and Roll.  Organized by Morrison every year, the show takes place at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall at Concordia’s Loyola Campus. This event gives Morrison the opportunity to share his knowledge of music with others. “What I’ve come to learn is that I’m an ambassador for music,” he said.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Roots of Rock and Roll. Morrison’s band, Vintage Wine, are the main act of the event, and they are very excited to play, according to Morrison. “It means a lot to them,” he said. “They’re very proud to be up there.” The drummer, Gary Sharkey, has played with Morrison in the band for 14 years. Both the bass player, Ryan Fleury and keyboard/guitar player Alex Nesrallah have been playing with Morrison for 8 years.

Morrison said he will be also be bringing in  14 other musicians to perform as well. According to Morrison, he will bring in Craig Morrison and the Momentz to play and musicians such as John McDiarmid, Samantha Borgal, Pat Loiselle and Terry Joe “Banjo” Rodrigues. “We have, just, a nice mix of people, but we are all friends, and we all love each other, we all have the upmost respect for each other as people and musicians,” he said, “People in the audience see that and feel that, and they’re usually amazed that every year we present an entirely different repertoire, so they appreciate the versatility.” Morrison tackles a different theme for each show, he said. This year, the theme is, ‘Oh Canada, Songs in the Key of ‘Eh?!’ to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary and the 375th anniversary of Montreal.

Craig Morrison is a Concordia professor, ethnomusicologist, journalist and author. Photo by Emily Vidal.

As a tribute to Canada, all of the musicians will be playing songs by Canadian artists. Morrison said Vintage Wine has learned almost all new songs by Canadians just for this show. This includes ‘I’m Moving On,’ by Canadian country singer Hank Snow, and ‘Four Strong Winds,’ by Ian and Sylvia, one of the best known songs written by a Canadian duo, according to Morrison. One of the guests, he said, will be doing a tribute to Leonard Cohen, the legendary Canadian singer-songwriter who passed away last year.

According to Morrison, the focus will not only be on Canadian music, but on earlier folk, rock, pop, country and blues music as well. “I almost never go later than the 70’s. I’ve occasionally dipped into the 1980’s,” he said. “But people know that they’re going to hear a lot of songs that will be nostalgic for them.” This year’s concert will be held on both Friday, Feb 10 and Saturday, Feb 11 to ensure that everyone gets a chance to see them perform. “We tend to sell out every year. So if [people] want to go, they need to get their tickets in advance,” said Morrison. “Saturday is getting close to being sold out already.”

The tickets for the show are on a first come, first serve, basis. The regular fee for the tickets are $30, but students may buy theirs for $18. To reserve tickets, email If you want to see more of Morrison, you can always catch him at The Wheel Club every second Friday of the month, for Vintage Wine’s Rock and Roll Dance Party. Admission for students is $5, while regular admission is $10.


Heavy metal punk band Gutser

Chris Aitkens is a Concordia student by day and a rockstar by night

Behind the screaming vocals of the heavy metal-punk band Gutser is Concordia undergraduate student Chris Aitkens. Aitkens is currently pursuing a BA in the Journalism program. The singer-songwriter founded the band in 2014, and said he feels he has finally found his place in the music world. “I think this is the band that I was meant to play in after all those years,” he said. “I finally found my voice. I finally found my sound.”

Aitkens first got involved in the music scene at 14 years old, after going to an all-ages Halloween show at Club Lambi. “I saw these incredible bands and I just really wanted to be part of what they were doing,” he said. “The first band that I saw was Trigger Effect, which to this day is still my favourite band, even though they dissolved a few years ago. I started going to more shows and started to develop my taste in music, and then wanted to be in my own band.”

At 16 years old, Aitkens formed his first band with high school friend James Armstrong, and went on to start other bands after that. “Most of them were terrible to begin with,” said Aitkens, adding that Gutser actually took off by accident. “It started off with myself singing, James Armstrong playing bass and James Thomas playing drums,” he said. The bassist, Armstrong, has been with Aitkens since the very beginning of his musical career. “I’ve known him for half of my life, so we’re really good friends,” said Aitkens.

Aitkens then started talking with Thomas, the drummer, who at the time was playing with the band Bearmase. “I kept on annoying him, [saying], ‘Yo, man, we’ve got to be in a band together,’” Aitkens said. They were still missing a guitar player, but, according to Aitkens, when Thomas brought along guitarist Paul McWhaw, they immediately hit it off. “We’ve been playing, every single week for almost three years now,” he said.

Rocking out at the Buckfest. Photo by Miguel Mendes

Aitkens said he feels he can fully rely on his Gutser bandmates, a connection he never had with previous bandmates. “It’s often very difficult to find people who are as enthusiastic [about music] as you are,” he said. “It took me a while to finally find a band that was stable enough [to play with].”

However, being a Concordia student by day and the frontman of a heavy metal-punk band by night does have its challenges. “There’s this whole lifestyle of staying up very late and drinking. But when you have school the next day, then it’s kind of difficult to maintain that rockstar lifestyle,” said Aitkens. What makes it all worthwhile is the fact that he loves performing on stage. “I’m a bit shy in real life, but when I’m on stage, I’m the centre of attention and I can say anything, do anything,” he said. “It just feels really good. I don’t have to be such a lonely person all the time. I can be part of something bigger than myself.”

The band is set to release their first EP titled Gutser Sucks within the next month. “We still have a bit more recording to do and there’s the whole technical aspect of mixing, mastering and getting our CDs together. Hopefully we’ll get that done in about a month,” he said.  While they are not sure what venue they will be having their launch party at, Aikens said he would like for it to be held at Turbo House in Saint-Henri. It is run by his favourite band, Trigger Effect, so he said that there is a certain sentimentality about that place. Aitkens said that he hopes people will enjoy their new songs. “I want people to listen to our music and think, ‘Oh wow, this is a really intense and energetic band. I would love to go see them live, and I would love to party with them,’” he said.

Photo by Miguel Mendes

According to Aitkens, their music has an in-your-face tone that’s also humorous. “The way I like to describe it is: it’s painful for us to play and it’s painful for people to watch, just because it’s so fast and so demanding. It takes every ounce of our energy to get through one song,” said Aitkens. A theme that is present in their EP is disillusionment. “[It’s about] being pushed to be a certain way and then snapping out of it all of a sudden and just realizing, ‘Wait a second, I can think for myself, I don’t have to do what the television tells me to do, I don’t have to do what the church tells me to do’ or anything like that,” Aitkens said.

On Feb. 4, Gutser will be performing at On Rock Community Services in Pierrefonds, an annual benefit show for the homeless. Aitkens said this could be a very good opportunity for the band. “There’s most likely going to be children there, so I’m wondering if I could inspire any young kids to pursue music the same way I was inspired 10 years ago,” he said.


The History of Gunpowder

This eclectic band has burlesque dancers to accompany them on stage

The members of The History of Gunpowder aren’t afraid to take risks. Not only is their music a mix of swamp pirate blues and growling vocals, but they have an ostrich as their mascot. The five-piece band has been touring Montreal to promote their most recent album, Stained Glass, Rye and Wax, which was released last May.

Alex James Morison, the singer-songwriter, composer, manager, sound engineer and creator of the band, said they’ve recently added a new and exciting element to their live performances: burlesque dancers. According to Morison, this makes their shows more visually appealing.“We want someone to come into our show and not want to have a cigarette the whole time, and not want to get a drink the whole time, and not be able to take their eyes off the stage the entire set,” he said.

Morison initially started the band in Vancouver five years ago. He is now the only remaining original member and has gone through more than 24 different musicians. It was when he moved to Montreal two years ago that he felt the band really came together. Quinn Dennehy, a childhood friend of Morison plays drums. Henri Rabalais, the synthesizer and keyboard player, was one of Morison’s first acquaintances in Montreal. Both Stephan Krims, the upright and electric bass player, and Aleksi Campagne, the violinist and backup vocalist, joined the band a year ago during Morison’s search for more players in his band. These musicians are the first to have stayed in the group longer than four or five months, said Morison, adding they are also amazing people to work with. “They’re my brothers. They’re the best bandmates I’ve ever had, definitely,” said Morison.

Bandmates of The History of Gunpowder. Photo by Elizabeth Louise

The talent of his fellow musicians blows Morison away. “My violin player, Aleksi, is just a monster,” said Morison. “I give him so much time just to solo. He’s been playing folk music his whole life and studied jazz in Paris. Quinn is just like a punk and funk guy, but I make him play things he’s not used to playing. And it’s just a really good line-up of people.”

Four burlesque artists were added to the band’s live shows in November. Out of the seven songs in their set the burlesque dancers join in for four of them. There is Jessica Rae, who isn’t only a burlesque artist but also a performance artist. “She makes puppets, so she’s making puppets just for this routine,” said Morison. They also have Aria Delanoche, who Morison said is one of the most beautiful and sexy burlesque artists in the city. Fifi Fantome also performs at their shows and, according to Morison, is a mime and circus burlesque freak who is also a wonderful lady. Finally, there’s Sugar Vixen, who Morison said is kind of the rock and roll girl of burlesque. “She’s is all tatted up and crazy,” he said. Having burlesque artists in their shows has been great so far, said Morison. “It’s been wonderful. [It] shakes things up, gives the audience something beautiful to look at,” he said. “All the girls are great to collaborate with. It really lights up the performance and gives it a new importance.”

The History of Gunpowder will be performing with the burlesque artists at the ShazamFest Winter Carnival in West Barnston, Quebec on Jan. 28. They will share the stage with the band Old Time Honey. Dennehy, the drummer, is the man behind the band’s strange yet alluring ostrich mascot. The ostrich started out as something nonsensical but later became an emotional outlet for Morison. “I think it’s become an icon for me to direct certain feelings towards,” said Morison. “Some of my songs are about the bastards that exist. There are a lot of bastards, and it’s good to put a face to them so you can direct things to them.”

Adding new and interesting elements to their live shows is one of the ways the band works to achieve success in the music industry. “Nothing happens to you unless you make it happen to you,” said Morison. “The cold truth is you’ve got to work hard for [success] and that’s it. There’s no other way around it.”

Burlesque dancer, Jessica Rae. Photo by Tzeitel Puig Andreu

The band’s full-length album is set to come out in May or June 2017. “It’s a monster of an album. It’s going to be the longest piece I’ve ever done,” said Morison. Morison said he really pushed himself musically when creating this album. “There’s a lot of different things I’ve never done before on it—like harp, I’ve never really composed with harp before,” he said, adding he plans to get an all-female backup vocal group to work with him. “I’m doing a lot of new things with this record and exploring new ways of writing songs. I think it’s going to be the best stuff we’ve ever done. It’s going to be a big deal, I think.”

Morison said the band has plans to tour their new album parts of Canada, including Quebec and Ontario as well as Europe. Until then, expect the unexpected from The History of Gunpowder. You never know who, or what, they will come up with next.


Meet The Feedbackers

Concordia music students are jamming their way to success

The life of a music artist may not be easy, but Concordia’s music program makes this process a lot smoother. At least that is the case for The Feedbackers, a Montreal alternative rock band founded in 2013.

The group consists of Mike Gerbasi, the lead singer and guitar player; George Flores, the bassist, keyboard player and vocalist; Chris Renaud, the drummer and percussion-player; and Antoine Bensoussan, the guitarist and vocalist, who joined the group in February this year.

Bensoussan joined the group after meeting Flores at Concordia, where they were both studying in the music program. Bensoussan told Flores he really wanted to be in a rock group. Flores, Gerbasi and Renaud were already performing together as The Feedbackers at the time. Gerbasi had been looking for another guitar player for a while. “So I’m just piecing the pieces of the puzzle together, there is a very talented guitar player that wants to play in a rock band, and here’s this band that needs another guitar player, so might as well merge them,” said Flores.

That’s when it went from the terrific trio to the fantastic foursome. Bensoussan fit in with the rock trio like a glove, and they continued creating music from there. “It’s as if he was part of the band for the past five years. We didn’t really know what we needed until [Bensoussan] came in and showed us what we were missing,’” said Renaud.

Photo by Carolina Aguirre.

Flores said Concordia gave them the opportunity to meet and work with a multitude of talented musicians. “It’s definitely one of the best decisions I’ve taken in my life to study here,” he said. “You meet so many people—the music department has such a fantastic environment. People are very welcoming, very friendly and there’s always this need to collaborate and create together. So it’s very communal.”According to Gerbasi, the University gave them opportunities to showcase their talents on stage during local shows. “The reason we had all the gigs we did for the most part is, when Concordia organized events, they asked us to play because we had a good standing with them. Or there were these things going on at a bar that the [music department] had a hand in,” said Gerbasi. An example is when The Feedbackers got a gig at the Corina Club lounge, where they performed again the year after. They also performed at the Concordia Shuffle for two consecutive years.

While they’ve come a long way musically in the past three years, the band said that the music department of Concordia definitely gave them the jump-start they needed. The band not only made changes to their sound, which has gone from pop to alternative rock, but has also changed their female lead singer to a male lead singer, Gerbasi. “[We’re] specifically making our own music original, in the way that we like and enjoy listening and playing it as musicians and as lovers of music,” said Gerbasi.

Their new self-titled EP will be released on Dec. 3. According to Renaud, all three songs on the EP define the band really well. “It’s really to show the progression of our band up to this point, and where we’ve come,” he said. According to Gerbasi, the third song on the EP, “Unholy Ghost,” brought the band closer to finding their sound. “If songs could move mountains, that’s what “Unholy Ghost” would sound like,” said Gerbasi.

Photo by Carolina Aguirre.

Gerbasi said the themes on the EP are about letting life happen, opening your eyes to the world and being willing to grow. Not letting yourself be carried out by life but actually pushing through it,” he said. “Not being the leaf on top of the river, but being a particle of water in the river pushing through with everything else.” This is something the lead singer said he’s learned a lot over the past year. “I like to see things in order but, when there’s disorder, I let it go. I’m working on letting things go and letting opportunity take its course and letting things happen,” he said.

The group’s main goal is to influence people through their music, according to Renaud. “We would love our music to be that influence on people. If you’re stressed, you take out your iPod and you listen to The Feedbackers. That’s the ultimate goal—we want to influence people’s lives,” said Renaud. Bensoussan wants their music to push people to become the best version of themselves. “Basically, inspire them to live at their own full potential the way we live as artists at our full potential, as our full expressiveness,” said Bensoussan. “We want to inspire people to do that for themselves, and to push their limits and to get out of their comfort zones.”

The Feedbackers will be at Piranha Bar on Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. for their EP launch.


Electro Bear Mountain

Singer-songwriter Ian Bevis shares his love for performing in Montreal

The Canadian indie band Bear Mountain recently performed at Montreal’s Fairmount Theatre on Nov. 18. They are currently on tour for their new album, Badu, which was released on Sept. 9. Badu features a mixture of upbeat 80s electro melodies that will send you running to the dance floor. Singer-songwriter Ian Bevis’ mellow and pleasantly soft voice fits just right with the band’s nostalgic, retro-dance rhythms.

The Vancouver-based band was founded in 2011 by Bevis, who initially started Bear Mountain as a solo project. He invited guitarist Kyle Statham to join in later that year. The band now also includes Bevis’ twin brother, Greg Bevis, who plays drums and keyboards, as well as Kenji Rodriguez, the creative director, who creates the live visuals for the show. He orchestrates a series of 3D visual projections live on stage that correlate to the beat of their music, which allows the audience to visualize the music.

They have performed in Montreal a few times before, but, according to Bevis, their favourite experience was when they performed at Osheaga in 2014. “Osheaga was a blast,” he said. “The energy in the crowd was really good. Everyone was excited and happy to be there… It was just really high energy.” Bevis said Montreal is one of his favourite places to be, which is why he keeps coming back. “I love Montreal,” he said. “I think it’s so unique. There’s nowhere else like it. There’s no other city that I’ve been to that’s like Montreal. It’s got its own thing going on, and it’s always, always fun. And the people too, the people are just really, really, really great.”

The Bevis brothers, Statham and Rodriguez touring across North America. Photo by SATY + PRATHA

Bear Mountain’s newly released album, Badu, took about two and half years of solid work to put together. Due to how much time they put into creating the album, Bevis said he’s very relieved to finally release it. “We just took [the music] as far as we could take it,” he said. According to Bevis, every band member had their own part in the creation process of Badu. “It’s definitely a lot of collaboration,” he said. Bevis said the band’s attitude takes their music to the next level. “I think everybody just brings something different,” he said. “Everyone brings their whole energy, everything they’ve got.”

Bear Mountain has been touring in Canada and the United States since late October, and will finish touring in mid-December. They are performing alongside Aluna George and The Darcys. In Montreal, they shared the stage with The Darcys. According to Bevis, their band has incorporated a new lights show into their performance that people can look forward to. “I think it’ll be a party,” he said.

Travelling for months on end can be hard at times, Bevis said—they’ve spent most of their time driving across Canada. “It can be exhausting, but also we have those moments that are extremely fun, so it kind of balances out,” he said, “Playing the shows makes it worth it. I just like being on stage and playing songs, playing music and creating the energy in the room.” Inspirations for Badu included nature and the cosmos, Bevis said. “[Inspiration] has got to come from somewhere, so you just draw it from your surroundings,” he said. The last song on the album, “On my Own,” is Bevis’ favourite song to play, he said. “I think it turned out really well, from beginning to end,” he said.

Bear Mountain’s sound is constantly evolving, according to Bevis. “Thing’s naturally change a lot,” he said. “I mean, I think you can kind of have an idea of where you want something to go, and you can do your best to guide it in that direction, but ultimately, you know, [the music is] like a river—it’s going to go where it’s going to go, so it’s almost like we’re just along for the ride,” he said.

Bear Mountain is currently on their way to perform in Toronto, followed by stops in London, Ont., Hamilton and Los Angeles. They will be wrapping up their winter tour on the West Coast in Seattle on Dec. 15.

Bear Mountain’s new music off of Badu can be accessed on Spotify or downloaded on iTunes.

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