An environment of Islamophobia

Nationalism, bigotry and political apathy encourage hate rhetoric against Muslims

Following the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand on March 15, people continue to mourn the 50 victims that were slain. Among the victims was Hamza Mustafa, a 16-year-old aspiring veterinarian, Arif Mohamedali Vohra, a man who wanted to see his recently born grandchild, and Abdelfattah Qassem, a pillar of the community. That day, the victims just wanted to pray in peace.

Those affected by the shooting were just people who wanted to practice their faith during Friday prayer, be with their community, and return to their loved ones afterwards. But all of that was taken from them. At the forefront of the shooting is a rhetoric of hate and dehumanization of Muslims that is pervasive in politics and in the media. A framework has been perpetuated that situates Muslims as people who need to be regulated, managed and kept at a distance from Western countries.

Images of Muslims portrayed across media depict a monolithic group, uniquely oppressive culture, and lack any history besides a nebulous idea of a universal Islamic theology. In their theorization, political pundits paint an image that discounts the vastness of Islam, opting to create a fictitious idea of a uniform ideology that all Muslims share.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro—who allegedly inspired the shooter before the attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City—argued in a PragerU video, makers of popular conservative “educational” videos, that there are more “radical Muslims” than people believe. Shapiro clearly argues that that there is a collective radical movement throughout the Muslim world, that hate America and the West.

Al Noor Mosque, the primary target of the shootings, refutes this idea; worshipers come from diverse backgrounds, like India, Pakistan, Palestine, UAE, and people born and raised in New Zealand. Each person embodies a rich history of Islam, that differs in practice, theology and lifestyle. Islam is only a part of their identity. As Muslims, we are as multifaceted as any other people; we have different interests, aspirations, dreams, and we don’t always agree with each other.

However, the media’s narrative eradicates the nuance and diversity in Muslim people’s lives.

Rhetoric, foreign policy and media coverage create a narrative that dehumanizes Muslims, enforcing an image unrepresentative of people’s lived experiences. The New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, infamous for his notion of “the disease of the Arab mind,” illustrates the unnuanced, ahistorical analysis of Muslim majority countries that is prevalent in popular discourse, a type of analysis that hinges on geopolitical strategy.

In an article published in September entitled “To Thwart Iran, Save Idlib,” Stephens sets the stakes for the battle of Idlib, a besieged city in Syria, listing ways countries will suffer from the battle of Idlib: “Europe, which could face yet another refugee crisis even as the effects of the last are felt in the resurgence of the far right.” In this strategic framework, Muslims are blamed for the rise of far right bigotry that in turn discriminates against Muslim people. With no dramatic flair, Stephens calls for the bombing of the Syrian Air Force, discounting the fact that civilians will be killed in the process. Muslim people seemingly have no agency in this worldview—we are merely a small part of a grand strategy that Western nations develop under the advisement of “experts” who have tangential knowledge of the diversity of the Muslim world.

The strategic rhetoric and analysis conducted on Muslim countries blames the rise of the far right in Europe on refugees, a supposed problem that intersects economics, culture and demographics, rather than analyzing the roots of the far right. Politicians and pundits stoke Islamophobia—as well as other forms of white supremacy—as a means to gain power. Moreover, policies are implemented as a method to gain economic and political power over Muslim countries.

The rise of hateful rhetoric revealed deep-seated forms of white supremacy. Nigel Farage, one of the champions of Brexit, and many others in the leave campaign, trafficked in anti-Muslim bigotry, using “swarm” imagery to frame refugees and migrants travelling from Muslim majority countries to the UK. Brexit emboldened bigots and brought anti-immigrant rhetoric to the forefront. The normalization of white supremacy rhetoric has tangible negative effects on Muslims living in Western countries.

In the EU-MIDIS II, a report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights about Muslim discrimination, 27 per cent of respondents have experienced some form of harassment for being Muslim, while 39 per cent of the respondents felt some form of discrimination five years before the study. In another European report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, it is stated that hate crimes committed against Muslims typically increase after a terrorist attack and target Friday prayers. Both reports also mention how hate crimes are underreported due to the lack of trust in the effectiveness of the policing system and lingering feelings of shame. The hate Muslims are facing is well known to government agencies, however, people are seemingly supporting or apathetic to the injustice.

We are faced with increasing hate against Muslims and it is important to remain vigilant against forms of white supremacy. This process does not stop at voting; we also need to hold politicians and public figures accountable for their words, actions and policies they implement. It is not enough for politicians to talk about immorality of discrimination—their stance should be reflected in the policies they implement.

Beyond the realm of electoral politics, there needs to be a radical shift in the way Muslims are depicted. Muslims are diverse. We span many countries, and have different ideologies. It is not on Muslims to share their stories to help white audiences understand that we are people. The power rests with people who have influence on media, academics and foreign policy.

Rest in peace to all the victims affected and condolences to their families.

Graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee

Uncovering Indigenous knowledge in nature

Two students explore the history of Montreal’s First Nations in the Botanical Garden

The Olympic Stadium looms in the background as snow slowly falls on The First Nations Garden. Part of the Montreal Botanical Garden, the installation was founded in 2001 with the help of Innu singer Florent Vollant. While the rest of Montreal resembles any other North American metropolis, the garden is one of the few spaces in the city that still honours its Indigenous history. However, the relationship between Indigenous knowledge and urban spaces is much more complex than a single spot in the middle of the city.

According to the Espace pour la vie Montréal website, the garden is intended to represent the knowledge of Montreal First Nations. “Native people were ecologists before the term was ever coined,” the website reads. “Over time, they acquired an intimate knowledge of nature, knowing exactly where in its natural habitat to find a particular plant to meet a specific need.” This knowledge has been suppressed by settlers’s hegemonic education system that values European traditions and actively subordinates Indigenous knowledge in the process. This settler legacy is reflected in the way the city is designed; there is a lack of visual indication that Montreal is on unceded land.

The Olympic Stadium looms in the background of the First Nations Garden. Photos by Hussain Almahr and Maria Lucia Albarracin.

The Olympic Stadium, which stands directly beside the garden, is quite indicative of the city’s priorities. The stadium is a representation of the way Montreal sought to attract visitors, grow its economy and give the city international recognition—during the Olympics, all eyes were on Montreal. The economic benefits of the stadium did not necessarily go according to plan, with maintenance costing millions of dollars, making the stadium a financial burden. According to CBC, the project cost taxpayers more than $1.5 billion dollars, despite the fact that then-mayor Jean Drapeau said there would be no deficit.

Photos by Hussain Almahr and Maria Lucia Albarracin.

The Saint Lawrence River also suffers. Mohawks, or Kanien’keh, have a special tie to the river; it is a place for traditional fishing, which provides people with a constant source of sustenance. Despite this, the Saint Lawrence is polluted and uncared for. In an interview with the CBC, Eric Kanatakeniate McComber, a local traditional fisherman, spoke about the state of the river, saying “People are so detached from the river now, they only notice it when they go over the bridge or to go to the movies. We were people of the river here, before the seaway was made 60 years ago. People used to live and fish off that river.”

This is why the First Nations Garden is important—it is a physical space that represents knowledge that has long been suppressed in Montreal. The garden provides information about plants, crafts and activities that various First Nations around Montreal continue to practice and engage with. Plaques around the garden inform visitors of the traditions and practices of various tribes. One plaque explains the differences between the canoe bark of each of the Nations; Malecite canoes have very elaborate decorations, while the Cree canoe is more rough. Birchbark was also used to make baskets and decoys with designs inspired by plants and animals, sometimes with a geometric flare.

Photos by Hussain Almahr and Maria Lucia Albarracin.

The organizers and builders of the garden consulted with various First Nations about what to include in it. One of these features is a sweat lodge, a structure made for a ritual meant to cleanse the mind and spirit, while also serving as a rite of passage. It is said that sweat lodges are also used in a ceremony to transition from one life stage to another. According to one of the plaques, from the mid 1800s until 1951, the Canadian government banned the use of sweat lodges, which affected the dissemination of traditions in many Indigenous communities. The garden’s designers decided to include a sweat lodge in order to provide a space to alleviate the stresses that Indigenous people face.

Inside a sweat lodge. Photos by Hussain Almahr and Maria Lucia Albarracin.

Mohawk elder Sedalia Fazio conducts the sweat lodge ceremonies in the garden. Fazio is outspoken when it comes to the violence that Indigenous people face. At a recent public inquiry for mistreatment of Indigenous people in Quebec, she condemned the not-guilty ruling of the killing of 22-year-old Colten Boushie.

In the city, places like the First Nations Garden are reflections of how Indigenous spaces are distinct and cordoned off, instead of being incorporated into the population’s everyday life. The colonial impact on Montreal is felt everyday, but is practically invisible to settlers. For example: Montreal’s streets are named after colonial explorers and officials. This city sits on unceded Indigenous territory, yet there are many representations of European colonialism, and very little of Indigenous peoples. According to Francis Adyanga Akena, a professor of education who studied the relationship between colonialism and the production of Indigenous knowledge in Uganda, Western education systems devalue Indigenous knowledge. This stifles the growth and emancipation of Indigenous knowledge in society as a whole, and within Indigenous communities as well.

Cattails, or passwekenak in Algonquin and pisekan in Attikamek, are commonly used as a remedy by the Algonquin people. Photos by Hussain Almahr and Maria Lucia Albarracin.

At a time when we are finally beginning to acknowledge the cultural, ecological and spiritual value of Indigenous peoples, it is crucial to also question the European foundation of Montreal.

By fostering more Indigenous places in cities, like the Native Friendship Centre of Montreal and the First Nation Garden, we can challenge the hegemony of European settler values and knowledge systems.

Story and photos by Hussain Almahr and Maria Lucia Albarracin


Death of the musician

Much like the literature, music is open to different experiences

The musician’s individual originality is dead. Talk about artistic intent is largely fruitless. In the era of sampling, tributes and trends, it’s hard to know the intent of the musicians who contributed—directly or indirectly—to the song. What does originality really mean in this era, and how original can music truly be? All artists are influenced by the people who came before them. No artistic work is truly original, and variety is a great thing. Like any artistic medium, you have to understand what came before you to make your own work.

To a certain extent, every artist acknowledes their influences. Radiohead is literally named after the 1986 Talking Heads song “Radio Head,” which they have listed as one of their favourite groups. They even worked with producers of the Pixies, who are one of their biggest influences. “Idioteque,” one of Radiohead’s signature songs and an amazing song to experience live, uses a sample from Paul Lansky’s 1976 song “Mild und Leise.”

Despite the fact that people say Radiohead has an “original sound,” they have clear influences, that might not have stylistic traces in their music, but references their production style and work ethic.

Sampling also complicates artistic intent and the originality of an idea. Take Drake’s collaboration track with Rihanna “Take Care” in 2012. The song samples a 2011 Jamie xx track, “I’ll Take Care of U,” which already has a sample of Gil Scott-Heron song of the same name (2010).  That song is a cover of the original version by Bobby Bland. Drake and Rihanna’s song is the fourth version of the same song. Each version carries so much history, and it’s great to see how a song from 1960 transformed into a contemporary pop hit in 2012.

Each artist presumably had their own intent in recording the song, and each version retains the original vision and eventually expands it. With each new iteration of the same song, new ideas are added, and the vibe changes completely.

Drake uses 52 years of history to share a personal and intimate experience on “Take Care” in collaboration with Rihanna, who brought her own style and influences along with her. Drake’s song is tender and personal, whole but cold at the same time, which Jamie xx brought to the Scott-Heron track one year earlier. Drake and Rihanna add their own textures to the song.

Originality doesn’t really matter because “Take Care” is an amazing track. Sampling is not as lazy as some artists say, it’s a way of sharing a sense of musical history. Crafting a song from a sample is an amazingly intricate artform, much like playing the instruments yourself.

Musicians aren’t the only ones who create musical experiences, audiences also create meaning. People experience music in different ways and in different situations. Does the artist’s intention really matter if people interpret music subjectively? I think not. The beauty of music creation and listening is the act of interpretation and experience.

Artistic intention is a muddled field; did Bobby Bland imagine his song being used 52 years later? Like every single artform, music is cultural and historical. Culture is passed on from generation to generation, with each generation making subtle changes, and occasionally monumental shifts happen as a result of different factors. Music is much more than the individual musician’s originality.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Refuting violent images of Arabs and Muslims

Media has perpetuated a myopic view of Arabs for years

“In newsreels or news-photos, the Arab is always shown in large numbers. No individuality, no personal characteristics or experiences. Most of the pictures represent mass rage and misery, or irrational (hence hopelessly eccentric) gestures. Lurking behind all of these images is the menace of jihad,” wrote Edward Said, an influential Arab-American intellectual, in his book Orientalism. “Consequence: a fear that the Muslims (or Arabs) will take over the world.”

This is the context in which Arabs and Muslims have been depicted for years, and are still depicted today. BBC News, one of the most popular news organizations in the world, wrote this headline on March 31 about the killing of Palestinians during a peaceful demonstration in Gaza: “Gaza-Israel border: Clashes leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured.” The word “clash” suggests the Palestinians have equivalent power in the situation, but they do not.

“I want to be shot. I don’t want this life,” Yahya Abu Assar, who participated in the demonstration, told The Washington Post. Palestinians have been living under one of the longest military occupations in recent history. Therefore, people are bound to get frustrated and exhausted living in such a precarious condition, especially those who live in Gaza, which has been described as an “open-air prison” by former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.

Yet, Palestinians often are portrayed as violent and irrationally angry in the media. And at the same time, some political commentators—both liberal and conservative—without fail try to justify the Israeli government’s disproportionate use of force, with only tangential mention of the historic injustices that Palestinians have faced. Every United States administration, including Obama’s progressive government, has repeated this line: “Israel has the right to defend itself.” What about the right for Palestinians to do the same?

In response to Israel’s intervention in Syria, General James Mattis, President Donald Trump’s secretary of defense, said in a press conference in Rome: “They don’t have to wait until [Israel’s] citizens are dying under attack before they actually address that issue.” On the other hand, when the killings happened in Gaza, Trump’s administration remained silent, not even issuing an official statement. Palestinians are just people, much like Israelis and Americans—curiously enough, many people forget that.

The representation of Arabs and Muslims is not only relegated to the news, but also movies, like Back to the Future where the side villains are Libyan terrorist looking for plutonium, and books from “expert sources.” In his 1996 book, Clash of Civilizations, political scientist Samuel Huntington argued that post-Cold War conflict will be cultural, pinning the western world against the Islamic world. The book paints a grim and unrepresentative image of Arabs and Islam, a picture of culture in constant opposition to the world, and Huntington diminishes the diversity within the Middle East and Islam itself. He wrote: “The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the CIA or the U.S. Department of Defence. It is the West.”

When the media portrays Arabs and Muslims as single-mindedly violent and barbaric, people forget about our humanity—the fact that we are just people. Palestinians are people. Arabs are people. Muslims are people. It bears repeating, because violent images of us are being perpetually distributed. We are people who enjoy eating great food, playing sports and having a fulfilling job. We are not irrationally more inclined to be violent and “barbaric” due to our religion and/or ethnicity.

As a person born and raised in Saudi Arabia, the images that liter the media are not representative of my life. Yes, violence exists in the Middle East. However, it’s contextual, historical and affects us the most. Before moving to Canada, I, like many Arabs and Muslims, just lived life; I went to school, hung out with my friends and enjoyed watching cartoons. I also faced discrimination and dehumanization being a Shi’ite, as marginalized people do all over the world. Shia face discrimination on a systemic level and personal basis like many minorities; certain jobs are not available us; we are stereotyped and underrepresented in society. Protests against inequalities caused fear of instability, leading to a police crackdown and checkpoints surrounding the entrances to Al-Qatif, a majority Shia area, reported The Globe and Mail.

Yet, the media continues to misrepresent Arabs and Muslims—this has negative implications. Arabs are discriminated against in airports, in the streets, and in institutions in the West. On a larger scale, the advocacy of western intervention, selling weapons and military gear, and western ignorance on issues happening in Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, have wider implications that are disastrous for Arabs. While westerners are more fixated on the violence of Arabs, their own countries are helping arm and sustain war efforts in the Middle East. The Canadian government sold armoured trucks to Saudi Arabia, which the government is using against the Shia community in Al-Awamiyah, according to The Independent.

In my opinion, more people in the West should read Arab perspectives, and encourage and support Arab journalists, filmmakers, writers and academics. As Said argues, the perception of the Arab world was created through western academics’ eyes. Reshaping this myopic view of the Arab world is important, and it starts by listening to our voices, especially the marginalized voices in the Arab world.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


The cuisine of music

Sometimes albums remind us of food

People who have chromesthesia see music in colour. I, instead, have foodsthesia. I see music in terms of food I’m familiar with.

Food and music are both cultural objects, imbued with a sense of identity and belonging. Not only that, both can be appropriated and sold to make tons of money, so they’re even more palatable for the mainstream. Both are celebrations of who we are as people.

Food is actually very evocative; it conveys culture, conceptions of class and even time, as certain food in different cultures is tied to a celebration or holiday. Almost every culture loves to share music and food. They bring people and communities closer together, bridging the gap between different cultures, even if for only a short amount of time.

So much description and identity can be gleaned from food, so this exercise in comparing it to albums can create a new layer for musical criticism. Or maybe this will be just fun.

Fish and Chips

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) by The Beatles

I chose fish and chips, partly because The Beatles are British, but also because Sgt. Pepper is a good album full of classic hits just like the dish. As with fish and chips, I won’t seek out this album, but once or twice a year, I have the urge to go back to Sgt. Pepper. I’ll have a good listen, and I’ll forget about it for another year.

Beef Tartare

The Money Store (2012) by Death Grips

Death Grips are generally aggressive-sounding, but they have a lot of depth to their music. I am immediately reminded of beef tartare by the band’s overall sound, because both are an acquired taste. I totally understand why people enjoy this album, but like beef tartare, sometimes its rawness is too much for me to handle. Maybe one day I’ll truly appreciate this album.

Deconstructed Cheesecake

Homogenic (1997) by Björk

Homogenic goes for a pop-experimental sound, yet what’s there is so sweet. Like the album, deconstructed cheesecake intentionally lacks the structure and shape of regular cheesecake, looking fancy and strange, but the sweet flavours still shine through.

Steak and Fries

channel ORANGE (2012) by Frank Ocean

This album is meaty and filled with so many great tracks, my favourite being “Pyramids.” Ocean’s melodies are sensual and emotional. The substantial tracks, like “Sierra Leone,” are the steak, because they are flavourful, fusing amazing instrumentals, lyrics and Ocean’s vocal range. Meanwhile, interlude tracks like the delightful “Fertilizer,” are the fries you eat in between the steak. The track proves that side dishes are just as important as the main course. And I’m always in the mood for steak and fries.

Shrimp Pizza

Uyai (2017) by Ibibio Sound Machine

Uyai is the shrimp pizza of albums. Both just hit the right notes for me. It’s the bonding of different elements that I love about this album; the electronic beats, acoustic instruments and the rhythmic singing mesh so well together. Shrimp pizza is analogous, because pizza is a melding of different elements. The crust, the sauce, the cheese and the special toppings fit together harmoniously.

All-you-can-eat buffet

MM… FOOD (2004) by MF DOOM

This album’s theme is literally food; go listen to it.

Whitewashed hummus

Reputation (2017) by Taylor Swift

Hummus has a long history in the Middle East. It’s flavoursome, dense and richly textured. But white people appropriated hummus, stripped it of flavour and history, and made it super bland. Reputation is Swift’s lacklustre hummus. She changed her sound from country music to R&B-inspired beats and melodies, meanwhile bringing up old grudges that few people care about. Swift’s album is uninspiring and tasteless, despite the fact that her other albums were pop hits and in her own style.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

Music Quickspins

The Neighbourhood – The Neighbourhood

The Neighbourhood – The Neighbourhood (Columbia, 2018)

The self-titled album of California indie rock band The Neighbourhood is a mess. The album is a mix of angesty lyrics, dark beats and strange vocal performances by lead singer Jesse Rutherford. While some of the instrumentation is pleasant, like the 80s bells on the song “Void,” the vocals are unbearable. The lyrics are basically comprised of clichéd rhymes and simple platitudes. The lyrics on “Softcore” made me cringe: “I’ve been confused as of late (yeah) / Watching my youth slip away (yeah) / You’re like the sun, you make me young.” The vocals are processed and the melody is uninspiring. This album is a unexceptional collection of songs that are competently made, and although sometimes pleasant, not worth your time.

Trial track: “Void”

Rating: 3.7/10

Music Quickspins

Mount Eerie – Now Only

Mount Eerie – Now Only (P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2018)

Phil Elverum, who performs under the moniker Mount Eerie, sings with an incredible sadness and self-reflection on Now Only. Like his last album, A Crow Looked at Me , Elverum reflects on life after his wife’s death on this newest album. Elverum’s soft, melancholic voice is accompanied by minimalistic guitars, sparse drums and the occasional distorted instruments. The songs are just as emotional as when he performed them live last year in Montreal. People were crying during every song, and I was struck by the honest in Elverum’s lyrics—it’s like reading someone’s diary and understanding how they truly feel. On the titular song, Elverum reflects on how touring has affected him personally, singing: “As my grief becomes calcified, frozen in stories / And in these songs I keep singing, numbing it down.” Elverum has come out with another special and emotionally challenging album. Highly recommended.

Trial track: “Now Only”

Rating: 9.5/10


Linking horror and synth

Analyzing Annihilation’s soundtrack and the unmitigated fear it produces while viewing

*Spoilers for the movie Annihilation

Annihilation is the first movie in a long time to actually scare me. The movie doesn’t use cheap jump scares; instead, it taps into our fear of the unknown, our anxieties around ideas beyond our reality and imagination. The soundtrack, by composer Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow of the band Portishead, extends these themes through its eerie sounds.

The movie centres around Lena, a biologist and former soldier in the United States army, masterfully played by Natalie Portman, who is trying to find answers about the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her husband (played by Oscar Isaac) and his sudden reappearance. Lena sets off, alongside a crew of experts, to explore an area called “The Shimmer” where her husband was sent as part of a covert military operation.

Many unexpected and reality-bending things happen inside The Shimmer: a person’s consciousness is folded into a bear’s body, trees shaped like people decorate the land, and the crew’s DNA mutates in inexplicable ways. Since the movie is cleverly written, none of it seems ridiculous. Everything feels grounded within the movie’s world.

Every scene inside The Shimmer feels deliberately tense. It had me questioning every plot point, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling. The music is mind-bending. It includes so many strange noises, and amplifies the emotions of every scene inside The Shimmer with shocking sounds.

My favourite scene is near the end of the movie, when Lena reaches the lighthouse from which The Shimmer originates. Dr. Ventress, a psychologist and leader of the crew, loses her senses and starts changing, transforming into a strange creature made of light and colours. Lena’s blood gets sucked into the multi-coloured void-creature, creating a featureless human-like figure that mimics Lena’s every move.

The evocative track “The Alien” plays during this part. The bass-heavy synth sounds are contorting and pulsating—I originally thought it was the sound of the creature talking. As the creature ominously mirrors Lena, the music becomes continually more layered—strings, a choir and ambient noises start getting mixed in. I was enthralled by this moment; the theatre’s sound system was blaring with all the enveloping sounds, and I could feel the seats shaking.

When Lena finally escaped from the lighthouse, I cherished the silence that came after. It made me feel safe. Great music utilizes loud sounds and silence effectively, using pockets of calm to bolster moments of raucous sounds. The silence creates a space for meditation and reflection.

Synthesizers used for the scenes inside The Shimmer sound simultaneously aggressive and passive. This dichotomy helps convey fear, because unlike string or other such instruments, synths don’t make sounds physically, but rather electronically. Playing a note on a synth produces electronic sounds, usually conducted through a electronic oscillator, unlike a physical object hitting a string.

Sci-fi and electronic music have almost become synonymous. Movies like Annihilation, Ex Machina and both Blade Runner movies revolve around a fear of technology and the exotic, so it’s no mistake they all feature synth-heavy soundtracks. Electronic sounds are unnaturally consistent, at least compared to acoustic instruments, creating a synthetic vibe and texture.

Blade Runner 2049 similarly uses synths to communicate fear. In 2049, people fear the Replicant population, sentient androids manufactured to have human-like abilities, because of an uprising a few years back. Replicants are socially marginalized and used for slave labour. The soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, also uses loud synths to intensify the dystopian atmosphere, augmenting the movie’s themes. By the end, the music sounds melancholic and sweet.

Annihilation and its soundtrack resonated with me on a deep level. The film’s existential horror and ambiguity still have me thinking about the narrowness of human reality. The movie’s sci-fi trappings are elevated by great writing and an amazing soundtrack; it’s visually memorable, the characters are complicated, smart and subvert many genre clichés. The movie’s soundtrack transcends the sci-fi movie template, while retaining the memorable aspects that fans of the genre love.

The films asks many questions unexplored by other surface-level alien fiction: What if we can’t handle the reality of other species? What if alien species have no concept of good and evil? Should we question our sense of rationality? What makes us individuals? The movie never answers these questions, giving us room for interpretation and analysis. For now, I’ll listen to the memorable soundtrack and reflect about the meaning of Annihilation.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


The experiences that shape music

Greta Kline talks about her new album, touring and dogs

Greta Kline is on her way to having a long career in music, but she keeps her songs short. She has been releasing music for almost 10 years now, and her upcoming third album, Vessel, released under the stage name Frankie Cosmos, will come out at the end of March. Kline combines illustrative lyrics with a crispy sound, and the drums and guitar sound fantastic and distinct.

Frankie Cosmos’s songs are usually concise and dynamic at the same time. They may seem minimalistic, but Kline does not intentionally truncate songs. “It depends on the song—some start short and others get cut down to become shorter,” Kline said. “I don’t try to make songs short, but I like them to be concise […] For me, the song is just done when I know it’s done, and that means it doesn’t always need a repeated chorus or extra parts that feel unnecessary.”

However, she does give collaborators creative freedom. “In general, I just like to keep [the visual aspect] really ‘me’ without too much stylization of anything. The album art always stems from images I have in my mind and then collaborate on with visual artists,” Kline said.

The visuals for Frankie Cosmos are evocative, like the new music video for the song “Jesse,” where a poodle stands on the rim of a bathtub—similar to the album cover of Vessel. “With videos, I generally just try to let people I trust make whatever they want,” Kline said.

The music of Frankie Cosmos (right) is delicate and meditative, but mired in anxiety.
Photo by: Loroto Productions

Dogs are a recurring fixture in her work; her music, videos and even the cover to her latest album feature dogs. “I love every kind of dog, and I think they’re all special in their own way,” Kline said. “One of my favourite breeds is a bedlington terrier because they just look so weird, like they are part-sheep part-dog. I have yet to meet a full bedlington in person, though, so they really just exist in pictures to me.” The dog seen on the album cover, Kline mentioned, is actually named Goose, and is part bedlington terrier.

“The main experiences that shaped this album [Vessel] were a lot of touring and playing in bands,” Kline said. Touring creates a space where Kline can write freely. “I think just being in a new place every day and meeting strangers and having a lot of external stimuli inspires me to write a lot,” she added, “I probably write more lyrics on tour than when I’m home, but I’m also just on tour more than I’m at home.”

Ironically, being on tour and in the mindset of making music means musicians often do not have the time or energy to listen to a lot music. “I go through phases of [listening to music], but I’m more often inclined to want silence,” Kline said. However, there are some influences that can be heard in her music. “I remember listening to Anna McClellan and Big Thief during [my down time while touring], and I think some of those influences can be heard in my melodies, maybe.”

Having released three albums, Kline has learned a few things about touring. “This time, the touring will feel really fresh because the new album will still feel new to us live,” she said. “I also am learning to hold onto my relationship to each song and not let the fact that they are out in the world affect that too much.”

Kline said she hopes these new lessons come across in Vessel. “I think every Frankie Cosmos song is just like a chapter for me. So in these chapters, I think I grow a lot and face some truths I hadn’t faced as much in the past, and maybe that will come across.” She feels that, sometimes, it is important to ask ourselves questions we do not know the answers to and see how our opinions change. “Sometimes, the in-between feeling is the answer […] The song is the only place that feeling exists for me sometimes, so for that moment, there is the answer,” Kline said.

Vessel will be released on March 30. Frankie Cosmos will be performing in Montreal on May 4 at the Fairmount Theatre.


The power of music therapy

Music as an avenue for recovery, a tool for personal betterment

Music is much more than just the content of a song or album; it has the potential to empower people and help improve their lives.

Music therapy is different from traditional therapy, where people talk to a therapist about their problems. “Music, because it affects you in a complicated fashion physically, emotionally, psychologically and cognitively all at the same time, sometimes helps break through these barriers of getting past that [problem],” said Sandi Curtis, a long-time music therapist and a professor at Concordia.

Sometimes people are not ready to talk about their traumatic experiences, so music can help them express themselves. When Curtis works with women who have survived psychological, physical or sexual abuse, music is an important tool that fosters the conversation. “It’s not me talking to them or them even talking to me,” Curtis explained. “Music makes that opening where, they might not be prepared yet to talk […], but they can put it into music.”

Curtis recounted the case of a woman who had been sexually abused by her uncle as a child. “The family was fractured. Half the family believed her, and the other half didn’t.”

Some music therapy programs encourage participants to write songs as a cathartic release. “When she finished writing and recording the song, she took the recording and gave it to her abuser, and she said: ‘You know the truth, and I know the truth,’” Curtis said. “That was a powerful moment for her, to get over the fact that half of her family was never going to believe her.”

Music is an outlet for deeply personal feelings and thoughts. Yet, before I spoke with Curtis, I didn’t know the impact music therapy could have. It was extraordinary to hear about the power of music in traumatic situations.

Although Curtis studied music at McGill, she knew performing and, at the time, teaching were not for her. “Back in the day, there wasn’t that much understanding or awareness of music therapy, but I did some exploration,” she said. “There were no programs in Canada at all.” Instead, she decided to study music therapy in the United States.

Curtis’s experience ranges from working in palliative care and the deaf community to working with people with disabilities, survivors of violence and domestic abuse, and even prison inmates in the United States. “I got an opportunity to work at a maximum security correctional facility for women in Georgia. That was quite interesting—I thought, at the time, that I was too much of a Canadian to handle it,” Curtis said with a laugh.

At the correctional facility, Curtis met women who had survived domestic abuse, women who used had violence to escape their abuser. “I began to see how much of an impact that male violence against women has in their lives,” Curtis said. “And that was way back in the day, before the #MeToo movement where we are beginning to understand that it’s in almost every woman’s life.”

During that time, she began to realize the power of music as therapy. “It’s a wonderful creative tool, but it also gives a voice,” Curtis said. “Survivors are so often silenced by their abuser. Music gives them a voice, a physical voice expressing how they’re feeling and a very powerful way of recovering from incredible trauma.”

Therapy sessions typically begin with listening to artists who sing about violence, which helps enforce the idea that survivors are not to blame for the violence enacted on them. “So often,” Curtis said, “survivors of violence think it’s their problem. They’re isolated purposely by the abuser; they are told it’s their fault.”

Curtis aims to integrate music that will resonate with the person when they listen to it. She noted that hearing artists like Beyonce and Lady Gaga sing about how they don’t deserve abuse can empower the patient to feel the same. “They could begin to think: ‘Oh, maybe I don’t deserve it too.’”

Next comes music creation, working together to make music and discussing the experience. People who attend music therapy sessions do not need any experience or background to participate in the music process. “In music therapy, all of you can be singing the same thing [in group sessions], and maybe sharing a common experience or maybe having completely different meaning of the experience,” Curtis said.

For her, the most important part of being a music therapist is using her musical talents to help people. “So, rather than being the audience far-removed and just applauding, you are working very intimately with somebody,” she said. “You’re helping them improve their quality of life.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Representation through radio

Nipivut is an outlet for the Inuit Community

It was Concordia anthropology professor Mark Watson who first told me about Nipivut Radio—which means “our voice” in Inuktitut—during a class in the fall of 2016. The project he helped launch in Montreal sounded exciting and refreshing. However, it wasn’t until I met Christine Lussier, a volunteer at Nipivut Radio, last semester that I knew I wanted to learn more.

“Nipivut is the Inuit community radio,” Lussier said, adding that the station aims to bridge gaps in the Inuit community and promote Inuktitut, the Inuit language. “We want to promote Inuit artists,” she added. “We also want to make it sustainable. We want to train our employees and make the Inuit community more unified.”

Lussier is a Concordia anthropology major with a minor in English literature at the Université de Montréal. Her traditional name is Qillasiq Naluiyuk, and she had a unique upbringing. “I’m an Inuk from Nunavik, in northern Quebec,” she explained. “I was born in Puvirnituq, and I grew up for two years in Kuujjuarapik, but then I moved to the south shore of Montreal. [It was a] very francophone setting, a francophone school situation, until university.”

As part of a course on social economy and sustainable futures, Lussier needed to volunteer for a non-profit organization. “I had heard a lot about Mark Watson,” she said. “They put me in contact with him.”

Since Nipivut doesn’t have many staff members, Lussier said she does a bit of everything—from editing and producing to holding meetings and recording. “Every episode is an achievement in the sense that there’s a lot to do, and it’s usually managed by one or two people,” she explained. “We’re trying to make the family grow more.”

According to Lussier, language is an important element of Nipivut. “We always try to maximize Inuktitut; at least 50 per cent of the program, if not a 100 per cent,” she said. “However, right now, myself and my colleague, we are urban Inuk so we haven’t grown up with the language. That’s kind of a struggle.” Instead, Lussier explained, an elder records the Inuktitut segments. “She would very much prefer for us to do it in Inuktitut, but we cannot.”

In an effort to engage with people who want to learn the language, Nipivut has featured episodes that teach listeners Inuktitut. Among the contributors to these episodes is Jobie Weetaluktuk, a Concordia First Peoples Studies professor. “He did a segment where he taught his daughter how to speak in Inuktitut,” Lussier said. “In that sense, it could become an educational tool for Inuit people in Montreal who are seeking to learn more about their traditional language.”

Nipivut also provides a place for the Inuit community to express themselves and avoid the misrepresentations and caricatures of other media. “When we talk about Inuit specifically, we’re usually very underrepresented or misrepresented,” Lussier said. “For Nipivut to happen is amazing. We promote mostly Inuit artists and Inuit issues, so it’s an amazing platform that’s just for us, by us. That’s very important.”

Many in Quebec and Canada forget or don’t realize that Inuit people exist, Lussier said, or they are associated with terms like “Eskimo.”

“It’s not really representative of us,” she said. “Most people think that Indigenous people are somewhere in a bubble, somewhere else, but we are very much here in the urban space. There are a lot of Indigenous people [in Montreal].”

Lussier was keen about welcoming any Inuit interested in learning more about Nipivut or joining the team. “If they are interested in Indigenous issues, Inuit issues, we’re open to engaging in any kind of conversation,” she said.

You can listen to Nipivut Radio every second Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on CKUT 90.3 FM, or visit their Facebook page.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth

Music Quickspins

Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread

Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (Nonesuch Records Inc., 2018)

Jonny Greenwood, known for his work with Radiohead, composed the soundtrack to the Paul Thomas Anderson movie Phantom Thread. Similar to the film, the soundtrack has an old-school vibe reminiscent of the 90s. Greenwood uses the dynamics of a large orchestra well. From percussive strings to the emotional violins and expressive cellos, the sound is impeccable. My favorite track off the soundtrack is the slow “Never Cursed.” The track manages to be atmospheric and express emotions just through the orchestra’s performance. Watching the movie is not required to fully enjoy this soundtrack; the work stands on its own. This album is perfect for a stroll out in the countryside on a brisk day.

Sample track: “Never Cursed”

Rating: 8.2/10

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