Categories
Music

Dilly Dally thunder into Montreal

A riff-laden show for those looking to cast off what’s keeping them down

Devotees of heaviness, Dilly Dally, opened their latest North American tour at Bar Le Ritz on March 18, with support from Montreal’s buoyant garage-rockers NOBRO.

Dilly Dally named their 2018 album Heaven because they say it feels like something they would have made if they all died, equating the feeling to the pressure and touring workload that came with the success of their 2015 debut, Sore.

The music on Sore fused punk with alt-rock and had more of a sneering delivery than Heaven, which is more meditative and formed around the tempos and rhythms of doom metal rather than punk.

They began with the opening track from Heaven, “I Feel Free,” which they released as the lead single last summer to announce the band’s return. The title, according to singer and guitarist Katie Monks, refers to the band’s desire to move on from any petty grievances they developed while touring for Sore.

That song feels simultaneously more restrained and more emotionally intense than what can be found on Sore, but as Le Devoir pointed out in its review of the album, it also kind of sounds like Coldplay.

What the music press fixates on most with Dilly Dally is Monks’s vocals, which jump between raspy whispers and throaty screams. It is the kind of singing that leaves you wondering how much tea they must drink to be able to do it on a regular basis.

And Monks’s singing is a large part of what gives Dilly Dally their unique identity. The music itself is skillfully crafted but sometimes feels like it adheres too conventionally to what influences it.

On the other hand, the song “Doom,” unsurprisingly one of the heaviest songs on the album, is enjoyable precisely because it proceeds over a fairly typical metal riff that nonetheless touches some primordial part of you.

If the song structures sometimes feel a little commonplace, then other elements join the vocals to create an intensity and personality that elevate Dilly Dally well above their peers.

This alchemy came through in crushing renditions of “Sober Motel,” “Marijuana” and “Sorry Ur Mad.” The setlist was skewed toward their newest release, but made sure to touch on highlights from Sore like “Desire” and “Purple Rage,” the latter of which came with a cover of Drake’s “Know Yourself” as a lead-in, something they’ve been doing since their 2015 shows.

A smart move was the inclusion of NOBRO as the opener, a band that Dilly Dally had played with before on a tour with U.S. band FIDLAR. All four members play like they are wholly committed to carrying the energy of the performance by themselves.

What they play is strident and fun-loving, in the vein of 70s proto-punkers New York Dolls, and features the kind of catchy, singalong chorus one expects from simple and honest rock and roll. Yet, their music deftly combines various eras of guitar-oriented music, from the hard rock of Thin Lizzy, to the virtuosity of Van Halen. It goes without saying that they never fail to entertain.

Categories
Music

Fans of all ages come out for Teenage Fanclub

When you are a band that Kurt Cobain consistently cited as one of his favourites, your reputation can tend to precede you.

Yet, Teenage Fanclub’s near 30-year career of being “musicians’ musicians”—Noel Gallagher also referred to them as “the second best band in the world” at the height of Oasis’s popularity—doesn’t seem to have created any inflated egos among them.

“If someone told us when we first wrote these songs when we were 20, that we’d still be playing them now,” said singer and guitarist Norman Blake to the crowd two songs into the band’s set at Petit Campus on March 9, trailing off before finishing the thought.

The gratitude they feel to still be playing sold-out rooms (albeit not the theatre-sized rooms they used to play) was clear from the first song, as Blake’s faced beamed with an uncontrollable smile, locking eyes with the other members as they found their timing together.

The band’s cult status has helped them maintain a solid fan base through ups and downs of popularity. However, the music itself, with timeless lyricism and a preternatural ear for melody, is arguably what has kept them consistently accumulating new fans over the years. That fact was present among the delighted onlookers: while there were plenty of older indie-rockers with touches of grey in their hair, there were also many who couldn’t have been far out of their teenage years.

The band elected to start their set with the opening tracks from their two most successful albums, 1995’s Grand Prix and 1997’s Songs from Northern Britain.

Both songs (“About You” and “Start Again”) were written by Blake, and unfortunately the crowd would be denied other classic singles such as “Sparky’s Dream” and “Ain’t that Enough,” written by recently-departed bassist Gerard Love. He retired from touring last fall after the band performed their first five albums in chronological order across three nights in Glasgow.

Emerging from a British independent music scene in late 80s that hadn’t quite figured out what was going to come after New Wave and synth-pop, Teenage Fanclub fused howling, massively distorted guitars with a penchant for the power pop of 70s bands like Big Star and Cheap Trick and harmonies of 60s pop-rock of bands like the Byrds. In doing so, they somehow anticipated both the Grunge movement in the United States and the Britpop movement of their home country. While never quite gaining the mainstream success of other 90s alternative acts, their career always seemed to hew close to the most important things happening in alternative music.

Their 1990 independent debut album, A Catholic Education, was released in North America on the then-newly founded Matador Records, and was the first release to attract considerable attention to a label that would go on to help make the careers of bands like Pavement, Sleater-Kinney and Modest Mouse.

Their breakthrough single, “The Concept,” released ahead of their 1991 major-label debut Bandwagonesque, seemed ahead of the curve, perfectly capturing the sarcastic aloofness that would define 90s alternative rock, with lyrics like “she says she don’t do drugs, but she does the pill.” That album famously beat out Nirvana’s Nevermind to be named album of the year by Spin magazine.

As the night progressed, the band would jump from brand new material in “Everything is Falling Apart,” a single released in February and penned by lead guitarist Raymond McGinley, to songs only for the hardcore fans such as “Only With You” from 2005’s Man-Made and “My Uptight Life” from 2000’s Howdy!, interspersing it all with other highlights from their more popular albums, such as “Alcoholiday,” “Your Love Is the Place Where I Come From” and “Verisimilitude.”

At this point, the crowd seemed to be getting a bit antsy as “The Concept” had yet to make an appearance. The consummate showmen they are, Teenage Fanclub saved the best for last, playing it to close out their set before returning for a short encore that included a cover of The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” and their first ever single release “Everything Flows.”

Categories
Music

Jessica Moss ponders the mysteries of the universe

The violinist launched her new album Entanglement, last Thursday at Bar Le Ritz

Since the early 2000s, Jessica Moss has been best known for her work as a member of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra.

She has also contributed her skills on the violin to some of Canada’s most recognized independent releases, including Arcade Fire’s 2004 debut Funeral, and Broken Social Scene’s 2002 album, You Forgot It in People.

However, it wasn’t until 2015 that Moss put out her first release under her own name, a self-released cassette-only album called Under Plastic Island. Her official debut release, Pools of Light, followed in 2017 from Montreal-based Constellation Records.

Her latest album was inspired by the quantum theory of entanglement, which describes the little understood phenomenon of two or more particles displaying correlative physical properties (such as amount of spin), even if those particles eventually find themselves on opposite sides of the universe.

Moss uses this as a jumping off point for exploring the ways in which humans become entangled with each other. “Because it’s beyond the realm of human understanding, then my feeling that somehow entanglement is happening around us, in ways that affect us, […] I don’t need to think that ‘well, science can’t prove that,’” Moss said.

Now as a solo artist, when Moss tours, it is typically completely on her own. Considering her work with Thee Silver Mt. Zion involved touring with upwards of five people, this has represented a bit of a shift for her.

“I spent a very, very many years in my own version of collective working environments, music-wise, […] it’s been very interesting to take my own experiences and learn very much from travelling alone,” Moss said.

Of course, it was Moss’s experience touring with bands over the last 20 years that gave her the confidence to take on the challenge of being on the road alone. And, besides, it gives her ample opportunities to observe humanity.

“I’m a little bit obsessed with watching people in their natural environments, you can only do that in certain circumstances, […] if I can watch people watching the opening band, I find it very interesting,” Moss said.

For the album launch at Bar Le Ritz last Thursday, Moss wanted to perform with some of the humans she has become entangled with over the years. “I play shows all the time, it’s my job at the moment, and my job is to play the best show I can,” she said. “It was really important for me to have people on stage that I very much respect and connect with.”

Moss’s friend, writer Alexei Perry Cox, opened the show with a poetry reading while her newborn was strapped to her chest. Incidentally, Moss helped deliver the baby just a month prior.

After Cox, Sam Shalabi, a long time friend of Moss’s and Constellation Records artist gave a solo performance on his Oud, a lute-type instrument used in a lot of Middle Eastern and North African music.

Moss began her own set by playing traditional Jewish songs, accompanied by Thierry Amar, bass player in The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, before moving on to a performance of “Particles,” the twenty-one minute opening piece from Entanglement. The array of about a dozen pedals allowed Moss to make many different sounds with her live violin, using a loop pedal to layer strings upon pulsating and blipping alien soundscapes.

“Particles” eventually gives way to gloriously grandiose and ethereal strings, and then slowly decays into serene, whispering drones as Moss switches to using her voice to produce the sounds on stage.

On Feb. 19, Moss will begin a short tour promoting the album, opening for Julia Holter, and will play Montreal again on Feb. 24 at La Sala Rossa.

Categories
Music

Creating musical theatre in the moment

The Jazz Ands insert improv comedy into their performance for an hour of excitement

Winter’s deep freeze had just begun last Thursday, when the Jazz Ands performed the first of four upcoming monthly improvised musical theatre shows at Montreal Improv.

Nonetheless, a full room of eager audience members awaited the troupe when they hit the stage displaying the kind of enthusiasm people have come to expect from musical theatre types.

That particular brand of earnest passion can be summed up in a term we’re all familiar with now, “jazz hands,” and the troupe’s name is a actually a pun combining that term with the “Yes, and” rule from improv theatre.

They began by simply asking the audience to name a location where people might gather, and an object. The audience offered up a cabin in the woods and a vase. With that, the Jazz Ands set off to create an hour-long musical completely off the top of their heads. Pianist Marie Fatima Rudolf provided the musical accompaniment and vital music cues that helped keep the performers on track.

As you can imagine, the plot became increasingly absurd and convoluted, but that’s a large part of where the comedy comes from.

All the members of the Jazz Ands have been performing improv theatre in Montreal for many years. Adina Katz first met other troupe members Sandi Armstrong, Heidi Lynne Weeks and Mariana Vial about 10 years ago while performing improv at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine.

Katz would go on to leave Montreal for a while, studying musical improv at the Magnet Theater, an improv comedy theatre and school in New York City, as well as The Second City in Chicago. When she returned to Montreal, Katz was the driving force behind introducing more musical elements to the improv performed and taught at Montreal Improv.

“Witnessing the huge scene of musical improv in New York and Chicago,[…] I’m like ‘I want to come back to Montreal and this is one of the things I want to do, I want to teach, I want to have my own troupe,’” Katz said.

So when Katz returned to Montreal in 2017, she reached out to her old friends in the improv scene and convinced them to start the Jazz Ands, adding Coco Belliveau after seeing her sing during an improv performance at Théâtre Sainte-Catherine.

Despite the other members being a little nervous due to a lack of extensive musical theatre backgrounds, Katz knew their long history of improv performance would carry them through. That wealth of experience showed on stage. Notably, the musical they performed didn’t overly suffer from the pitfalls you might expect of unrehearsed performance, namely aimlessness and lack of narrative punch.

Sure, none of the songs they came up with are going to win a Tony Award anytime soon, and it had a slightly anarchic quality that comes from scriptless performance. Even so, there ended up being a defined narrative arch, vivid characters and a dramatic “shock” ending.

Katz does now teach musical improv at Montreal Improv. Happily, many of her students have gone on to form their own musical improv troupes, helping to grow this kind of performance in Montreal.

“It comes from just pure love and the fun of it, and it needs to be happening in Montreal. It’s so much fun to do and so much fun to watch,” Katz said.

The Jazz Ands will perform three more shows over the next three months. Each will be thematic, with February, of course, being romance-centric, and April being dedicated to spring. Katz encourages all fans of theatre to come out to a show, even those that may not have considered improv performance before.

“Even if you’ve never seen improv, but you like musical theatre, let’s say, come watch us goofballs improvise a show,” Katz said.

Feature photo by Kenneth Gibson

Categories
Student Life

A non-believer embraces faith

Secular students find value in wisdom and practices of faith traditions

An atheist looking for guidance among religious people may seem ironic at first. Some students that frequent Concordia’s Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre (MFSC), like Nicolas Chevalier, identify as non-believers but still derive benefits from being involved.

Chevalier admits that he had some reservations about Christianity and other religions, but was still curious about them. “At the same time, faith can be something that brings people together, and that is something that is clearly lacking in our society,” he said.

Chevalier met Ashely Crouch, the interfaith facilitator at the MFSC, through a mutual friend. Chevalier often attends events put on by Sustainable Concordia, and since it shares the same building as the MFSC, he ended up participating in a few events there as well. Chevalier considers himself an atheist, yet his involvement with environmental activism complicates that perspective. “With my environmental background, I do believe everything is connected. We’re not just here in a cold existence to reap everything from the earth,” he said.

In all his intersectional organizing and activism efforts, Chevalier tries not to take a “finger pointing” perspective. He said he is drawn to similarities in how interfaith communities create respectful dialogue, even when they disagree.

Chevalier’s family is Christian, but they rarely went to church during his childhood. So while he didn’t know much about religion growing up, Chevalier was never anti-religious, and was always respectful of people’s faith.

A turning point came when his mother passed away from lung cancer about four years ago. It so happened that his family’s neighbour was a priest. “He would come in and he would talk about nothing and everything, in a way that was very comforting. That was definitely something that helped change my view about people who have faith,” Chevalier said.

The role of the campus chaplain at Concordia has been constantly evolving to reflect the changing religious beliefs of the student body, said Ellie Hummel, the chaplain and coordinator at the MFSC.

The chapel at Loyola College became an ecumenical place of worship when Loyola joined with Sir George William College to form Concordia in 1974. The chaplaincy gradually grew to embrace the increasing number of non-Christian students coming to Concordia, becoming multi-faith.

In the last 19 years, since Hummel has been at Concordia, spiritual yet non-religious people have also been welcomed. “We are adjusting our language more,” Hummel said. “We realized there are people who name themselves as secular and humanist, and we want them to know they are included.”

“People could have their typical view of ‘oh, it’s a preacher person just coming here to push their religion’ and that’s not at all what I get from either Ellie or Ashely,” Chevalier said. “They invite people in to come as they are, whether they have faith or not.”

Chevalier thinks the main issue with organized religion is that concentrating power in an institution eventually leads to the people running it being corrupted by that power.

The MFSC’s approach to cultivating a faith-based community is more informal and non-hierarchical. Crouch became the interfaith facilitator at the MFSC a little over a year ago. She said that a lot of new students, when they come to the MFSC for the first time, ask about how they can join. “You don’t have to join, you just belong, you’re just here,” Crouch said. “It’s very intentionally kept that way.

Ultimately, compared to what capitalism and consumer culture offer in terms of living a fulfilled life, Chevalier said he sees a lot of good things coming out of the multifaith chaplaincy. However, he doesn’t necessarily see his participation as political.

“In the traditional politics type of sense, I don’t see it like that, I just see it as people sharing ideas” Chevalier said. “[But] some of my friends who are stronghold atheists would go ‘why are you even talking with these people?’”

While the MFSC offers varied programing, from drumming circles to meditation groups, Hummel said the most important thing they offer is simply the space—a place where people can just drop in and talk to religious people.

“[It] helps you […] realize that you can live with people who don’t necessarily agree and to have a respect around those sorts of things,” Crouch said. “Everybody can grow from that.”

Feature image by Kenneth Gibson

Categories
News

Days of mourning for Montreal’s religious communities

Faith groups commit to resistance in the wake of Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

Montrealers of diverse backgrounds rallied with the Jewish community at memorial vigils across the city following a mass shooting that took place on Saturday, Oct. 27 and killed 11 people on at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The suspected gunman, Robert Bowers, is said to have shouted “all Jews must die” before opening fire on the congregation of worshippers observing Sabbath services. The Anti-Defamation League called it the “deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.”

Dozens gathered outside the Montreal Holocaust Museum. Photo by Kenneth Gibson.

The following day, around 100 people gathered outside the Montreal Holocaust Museum for one of the city’s first memorial vigils. Mourners huddled under umbrellas as a mix of snow and rain fell on them. The scene was supervised by six police cruisers.

“I think it’s important to have a big gathering like this, to show that a lot of people are ready to come out in weather like this,” said Sam Hersh from the student group Independent Jewish Voices McGill. “To show we won’t stand for attacks like this on the Jewish Community, or any other community.”

Speakers at the vigil drew connections to the January 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque that left six worshippers dead, pointing out that a rise in anti-Semitism has paralleled a rise of Islamophobia and bigotry against other marginalized groups in society.

Kronick reads the names of 11 Jewish people murdered during a mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, outside the Montreal Holocaust Museum. Photo by Kenneth Gibson.

“They’re all due to the rise of right-wing populism,” said Hersh. “We’ve beat these forces before, we can do it again.”

Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, a civil-rights organization, spoke forcefully against all kinds of religious bigotry and racism. “Again, people were shot for the simple reason of their faith,” he said. “We are all targeted, and this has to stop.”

As the rain poured heavier, Rachel Kronick, founder of the Mile End Chavurah, a progressive Jewish study and worship group, delivered a prayer called the Mourner’s Kaddish, traditionally recited to remember the deceased.

“It is a prayer that declares there is a source beyond us,” said Kronick. “That there is a great mystery that transcends hate, and transcends this world.”

On Monday, close to 1,000 people gathered at the synagogue of Beth Israel Beth Aaron, an orthodox Jewish congregation in Côte Saint-Luc. With a standing room completely filled, the crowd inside spilled out onto the steps of the synagogue and into the cold night air. People huddled in groups and watched the proceedings on a livestream.

For David Ouellette, director of research and public affairs at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Quebec, the turnout sent a strong message.

“It reinforces something we know,” said Ouellette. “The vast majority of Quebecers utterly reject anti-Semitism and recognize the Jewish community for the many contributions it has made to Quebec.”

On Tuesday night, vigils were held on both McGill and Concordia campuses, organized by Muslim and Jewish student groups from both schools, alongside their respective multi-faith centres.

Rev. Ellie Hummel, chaplain and coordinator at Concordia’s Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre, said she

felt a numbness when she first heard about the attack in Pittsburgh, but it was ultimately replaced with determination.

McGill and Concordia students gather at the Hall building terrace for a memorial vigil. Photo by Kenneth Gibson.

“It just gives me more resolve to do the work,”  said Hummel. “We all ask the same questions. What can we do in the face of violence and hatred? What can I do to make the world a better place? That’s a question I bring everyday to my work.”

Perri Wiatrak from Am McGill, a Jewish student group dedicated to inclusivity and egalitarianism, said that the geographic proximity was particularly jarring to her.

“I know some people who had connections to the victims,” said Wiatrak. “I felt that in a way that was much stronger. This will impact the way I see any future incidents that I pray won’t happen.”

For students wondering what they can do to resist anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry, Wiatrak said that hearing marginalized groups and showing up for them is a good place to start.

Lynna Berdouk of the Concordia Muslim Students Association and Ashely Crouch, Inter-faith coordinator at Concordia’s Multi-faith and Spirituality Centre spoke at a memorial vigil at Concordia. Photo by Kenneth Gibson.

“The first course of action is, all of your friends from marginalized communities need to know that you are there and you are listening to them, and you care about their perspective,” said Wiatrak.

Photos by Kenneth Gibson.

Categories
Music

Collaborative spirit prevails at Destroyer solo show

Destroyer played career spanning set, and joined opener Sandro Perri on stage.

Destroyer is the stage name of Vancouver-based balladeer Dan Bejar, who first came to prominence as a member of the New Pornographers. He’s also a moody recluse and inscrutable to a fault. He does not do many interviews. He had no records or merch for sale at his show at La Sala Rosa on Oct. 24.

Bejar goes out of his way to convey a sense of lackadaisicalness in his music and demeanor. While doing press for his 2011 album, Kaputt, which was somewhat of a breakthrough for him, Bejar famously claimed he had recorded much of the vocal tracks while laying down on the couch or “fixing myself a sandwich.”

As for the sound of his music, you can choose from the list of inevitable descriptors: lush, swooning, baroque. Strings and keys come and go around an anchor of Bejar’s voice and guitar. It’s soft-rock influenced pop sung by a disheveled crooner.

Having no new release to promote (his latest, ken, came out a year ago), Destroyer’s string of recently completed solo shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal seemed to be more about aiding opener Sandro Perri’s latest album, In Another Life. Bejar contributed vocals to the album, as did the other opener, André Ethier, formerly of Toronto garage rock band the Deadly Snakes.

Perri is a renowned electronic musician and producer who has always gravitated toward an “indie” sound, drawing on post-rock and ambient noise influences. Perri’s gently trembling vocals hover over the first 24-minute composition on In Another Life. That track is followed by three more: “Everybody’s Paris,” parts one, two and three. Ethier and Bejar sing on parts two and three respectively.

001: Dan Bejar, who goes by the stage name Destroyer, performs with Sandro Perri on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 at Sala Rossa. Bejar and Perri performed “Everybody’s Paris, Pt. 3” from Perri’s recently released LP In Another Life.

Perri opted to simply play these three songs for his set, about 20 minutes worth of music, and had Ethier and Bejar come on stage in turns to perform their vocals. Bejar’s contributions fixated on the idea of being “torn to shreds” in the city of lights, the savageness of urban existence being a common theme in his lyrics.

Despite being a multi-instrumentalist, it’s actually rather rare to see Bejar with one in hand. When he plays with his full band, he normally lets them take care of the music while he focuses on singing. This show was a nice reminder that all of Destroyer’s songs probably start with Bejar and his guitar.

The atmosphere was pleasurably intimate, the kind of show that feels like you’re sitting in a hot bath. Bejar also took the time to engage in some banter with the crowd, something else he doesn’t normally do. With just an acoustic guitar as accompaniment, Bejar filled the room with his idiosyncratic and nasally singing style.

003: Dan Bejar, as known as Destroyer, performs “Times Square” from his 2015 album Poison Season, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 at Sala Rossa. The show was a rare acoustic performance for the musician, normally having a full band with him.

Remarkably, Bejar’s vocals sounded precisely as they do on his records. He didn’t flub a single note as he took the crowd through cherished songs from Destroyer’s 12-album discography. Highlights included “Times Square” and “The River” from 2015’s Poison Season, “Goddess of Drought” from 2002’s This Night, “Chinatown” from 2011’s Kaputt, “Foam Hands” from 2008’s Trouble in Dreams, and closing out the show with the timeless “Watercolours into the Ocean” from 2006’s Destroyer’s Rubies.

The crowd reflected the kind of audience an artist like Destroyer builds over a 20-year career. A middle-aged couple had brought their pre-adolescent son. There were a lot of couples entwined in each other’s arms and more than one person by themselves, beer in hand, eyes closed, simply letting the music wash over them.

Photos by Kenneth Gibson

Categories
News

What does Khashoggi mean for press freedom?

Human rights panel discusses the implications of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

Two journalists and a Saudi Arabian activist gathered at Concordia on Oct. 17 to discuss the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi leadership. It is widely believed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman orchestrated the plot leading to Khashoggi’s death.

The panel was organized by Concordia’s Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) to address what the incident means for the “freedom of the press, human rights, in Saudi Arabia and the world,” said MIGS Executive Director, Kyle Matthews.

Khashoggi had exiled himself to the United States in June 2017 and began writing a regular column for the Washington Post. His columns criticized the Saudi government for allowing women to drive while the women who campaigned for that reform remained in prison. The columns also criticized  the county’s brutal human rights violations in Yemen, and the use of the death penalty against political dissidents.

Khashoggi was last seen entering Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. In the weeks following his disappearance, a series of leaks from Turkish officials claimed they had evidence, including CCTV footage, proving Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered by a 15-person team of Saudi intelligence officers inside the consulate.

After weeks of describing Turkey’s accusations as “baseless lies,” and insisting Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, Saudi officials conceded on Oct. 19 that Khashoggi had died inside. The official story is that agents sent to pressure the journalist into returning to Saudi Arabia put him in a chokehold to prevent him calling for help, leading to his death.

For Matthews, the potential consequences are clear: “When you go after journalists, that is the first step […]. Then political opposition leaders, civil, human rights leaders, and then the general population.”

One of the panelists, Saudi Arabian political activist and Quebec resident, Omar Abdulaziz, was a close associate of Khashoggi’s. “Three weeks ago, I was on a phone call with Mr. Khashoggi,” said Abdulaziz. “We were working on some projects to counter Saudi propaganda.”

Abdulaziz spoke authoritatively about the general political situation for dissidents in Saudi Arabia. “The mentality of the Saudi administration is not allowing us […] to even try to say, ‘I do agree with you but you have to change that small thing.’ No, that is not going to happen,” he said.

Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to de facto leader of Saudi Arabia in 2017 was accompanied by a slew of positive media coverage in the West, where he was widely referred to as “MBS.” It was the result of a coordinated public relations campaign to promote a progressive image of Saudi Arabia.

MBS took a glad-handing tour of New York, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley, taking photos with Rupert Murdoch and Sergey Brin of Google. As recently as March of this year, 60 Minutes was telling its audience that MBS was “emancipating women, introducing music and cinema and cracking down on corruption.” His reforms were “revolutionary.”

Khashoggi’s Washington Post columns were one of the few critical voices in American media. “Jamal Khashoggi was a headache to the Saudi government,” said Abdulaziz. “They were spending billions promoting a new image of the country and he was saying, ‘no, this is not true.’”

Abdulaziz first came to Canada in 2009 to study at McGill. During his studies, he began to use social media to publish videos that criticized the MBS regime. By 2014, friends and family back in Saudi Arabia were warning Abdulaziz it would be dangerous for him to come back, so he successfully applied for political asylum in Canada.

Abdulaziz is familiar with the tactics the Saudi government uses to target its dissident citizens abroad. Just one day prior to Khashoggi’s disappearance, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab published a report outlining how Abdulaziz’s cellphone had been infected with spyware by a Saudi-based operator using a sophisticated phishing scam.

In fact, according to Abdulaziz, within the last year, the Saudi government had reached out to him to say MBS admired his videos and wanted him to come back and live in Saudi Arabia. When he declined, the government officials made him an ominous offer:

“They said ‘OK, just come for an hour with us to the embassy […] we’re going to get you a new passport, your passport is already expired,’” said Abdulaziz. “I was scared.”

It is important to note Khashoggi’s complicated relationship with the Saudi regime. “He explicitly said he did not consider himself a dissident,” said one of the journalists on the panel, Lisa Goldman. “He said he does not believe Saudi Arabia should become a democracy, he thinks it should reform. But, he is a supporter of the royal family. He used to be an advisor.”

For Abdulaziz, the fact that such criticism would spark such a lethal response speaks volumes about MBS. “He is too sensitive to read an article telling him to change his behaviour, and that is why he did what he did,” said Abdulaziz. “And that is why he arrested two of my brothers, and a group of my friends at the beginning of August.”

The White House had, until recently, resisted joining international condemnation of Saudi Arabia. At first, Donald Trump even criticized the rush to denounce Saudi Arabia as unfair, citing Mohammed bin Salman’s denial during a personal telephone call with him.

Trump finally conceded on Oct. 18 that Khashoggi was likely murdered in a plot involving high levels of the Saudi government. However, he stopped short of inculpating MBS directly. Trump has also been frank about the sale of American manufactured weapons to Saudi Arabia, saying “I don’t wanna lose an order like that.”

Canada is also unfortunately complicit in Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses by selling them arms to the tune of $15 billion. The Trudeau government’s response has been similar to Trump’s, with Prime Minister Trudeau saying they planned to respect the contract “signed by the previous government.”

It is a dire precedent for political dissidents, when some of the most powerful democracies in the world would rather do business with oppressive regimes than stand up for democratic ideals. This point was driven home by Goldman: “Rogue states have become emboldened by the Trump administration’s policies toward violations of human rights.”

Khashoggi’s final column, written before his disappearance, was published by the Washington Post on the same day as the panel. Appropriately, the column called for more free expression in the Arab world, lamenting that violations of the press in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries “no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community.”

For Matthews, he is troubled by what he has seen from the United States’s administration on this issue. “The U.S. has always stood up for the freedom of the press… it is not the greatest moment in U.S. diplomacy, at the same time, most pressure has to be on Saudi Arabia. They are the ones doing this.”

 Photo by Kenneth Gibson.

Categories
Opinions

Francois Legault does not speak for a majority

How much of a mandate does Legault of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) party really have?

News media outlets have been clear since the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) won Quebec’s provincial election: they won by a stunning majority. No, no, actually, they “romped to victory,” they won a “commanding majority,” they “surged,” “swept to power” and “stormed to a majority,” according to various sources.

This rhetoric would make a person think the CAQ was elected by an overwhelming majority of Quebecers. Certainly, premier-designate François Legault would have you believe that.

At a press conference held the day after the election, Legault proposed using the notwithstanding clause to force through legislation that would ban public authority figures from wearing religious symbols. He said the “vast majority” of Quebecers agreed with his proposed ban and, therefore, it wasn’t a big deal to use the clause (and besides, Premier Doug Ford already did it in Ontario).

So, Legault wants to disregard a vital aspect of democratic society (the Constitution of Canada), but he cites a foundational democratic concept (that of “the majority”) as giving him the mandate to do so. It seems Legault is only interested in democracy when it suits him.

Besides, a closer look at the election results deflates the idea that Legault represents the will of a majority of Quebecers. The CAQ received approximately 38 per cent of the popular vote. That in itself is not an “absolute” majority, which would require more than 50 per cent of the vote in order to have more votes than the combined opposition.

However, in Canada, we operate by a plurality voting system, sometimes referred to as “first-past-the-post (FPTP),” where a party simply needs to get more votes than any other party to win. What this means is that a majority of the candidates who won seats for the CAQ did not get at least 50 per cent of the vote.

Moreover, voter turnout for the 2018 election was estimated at 63 per cent. There are about six million eligible voters in Quebec; a little over 3.7 million of them came out to vote. This adds up to the CAQ representing 38 per cent of just 63 per cent of eligible voters, so approximately 1.4 million people. Legault speaks for 1.4 million people in a province of more than eight million.

Legault’s majority is an electoral majority, and that’s a weak basis on which to claim one has a mandate to act for a ‘majority of quebecers.’ Pretty much anyone you ask right now agrees that the democratic election process needs reform. Elections keep resulting in situations where a small segment of voters can elect a “majority” government that doesn’t represent the true feelings of most people.

An alternative model to FPTP is proportional representation, which essentially means the number of seats a party gets in the legislature is equivalent to the percentage of the popular vote they received. In Quebec, that would mean the CAQ had 47 seats in the National Assembly, the Liberal Party would have 30, Parti Quebecois 22 and Quebec Solidaire 19.

In a situation like that, if the three opposition parties decided to put their differences aside and oppose the most egregious elements of the CAQ’s agenda, they could. That would be a truer representation of people’s will than the FPTP system.

When contemporary conservative politicians are criticised for their inhuman policies, they often smugly reply that they have the will of the people behind them. We need to remind them of the basic facts of electoral democracy. Rarely does any government under a FPTP system have a real claim to majority representation. If you want us to accept your proposals, you need to argue them on the merits. So, tell me, what are the merits of state harassment of religious minorities?

Graphic by @spooky_soda

 

Categories
Music

The Canadian indie bedrock

A short history of the Montreal scene that birthed iconic indie rock bands

By the early 2000s, mainstream rock music had become mired in a post-grunge funk, bloated with nu-metal faux angst and drop D tunings. Picking up a copy of Spin in the year 2000, you’d likely see Papa Roach or Creed on the cover. Or Eminem. Canada had the Tea Party and Our Lady Peace.

Young people were looking for something dynamic and eclectic, something that stood out against this stodgy musical landscape. Scenes emerging in places like Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Montreal’s Mile End would eventually oblige this apetite, and the early 2000s indie rock boom would begin.

This period was the first time Canadian acts en masse were at the cutting edge of a musical movement. Not only were they taken seriously as artistic contenders, but they were setting the parameters by which other bands would have to play.

They brought xylophones and accordions, they brought 11-piece bands, they combined lo-fi garage rock with whimsical keyboards—they were moody, grandiose and endearingly chaotic. They were rockstars but were low-key about it; they liked to party but wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time.

Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew embodied that low-key good spiritedness. Drew was a sad-guy indie rocker, cast in a similar die as those who came before him. The only difference was Broken Social Scene wanted to make music that was loud and bombastic, rather than quiet and shuffling. It’s something they shared with a lot of bands from the early 2000s indie wave: a desire to re-emphasize the drums and bass.

Yet, Canadian indie bands always seem a bit more colourful and joyous. While the Strokes were all dimly-lit dive bars and cigarette smoke, Broken Social Scene seemed to be channeling the clattering beauty of a thriving metropolis like Toronto.

With 11 members, Broken Social Scene combined horns, strings, shimmering layers of textured guitars, a strong rhythm section and a trio of excellent singers, including Feist, to create loud and exuberant pop-inflected rock songs. The band would do more to define indie rock’s grandiosity and looseness than most others. When Pitchfork gave their album You Forgot It in People a 9.2 review in 2003, the world suddenly became interested in Canadian indie rock.

Around this time, Arcade Fire was about a year old. By the spring of 2003, they had recorded an EP and broken up on stage at a notorious release party at Casa del Popolo. Win Butler brought in his brother, William, to hold the band together as they toured in support of the EP.

The new line-up became extremely tight as a live band. A brash live show got them a record contract with Merge. Their 2004 debut, Funeral, was indie rock filled out with traditional instruments such as the accordion, horns and strings, featuring intricate arrangements around post-punk rhythms. The vocals were wounded; the music was cathartic and urgent. For the first time in a long time, disaffected youth had music that encouraged them to get off their ass and do something.

Upon release, Pitchfork gave the album a stupidly-glowing review, and the rest was history. A year later, they were performing one of their biggest singles, “Wake Up,” with David Bowie live on British television, which U2 used as their entrance music on the Vertigo tour.

That pretty much blew the Montreal music scene wide open. David Carr, the New York Times media critic, wrote an article about it in February 2005. Some of the bands he mentioned were very important in the early Montreal scene but never quite achieved breakthrough success: the brooding-pop of the Dears, the cool electro of Chromeo, and the madcap indie-pop of the Unicorns.

The Unicorns had actually broken up in late 2004, but were a creative dynamo in the beginning of the Mile End scene. Prior to the release of their debut album, the biggest thing Arcade Fire had done was open for the Unicorns on an American tour.

Sporting pins tuxedos at most of their shows, the Unicorns were just one of those bands too brilliant and unhinged to last very long. Using tinny beats and lo-fi recording techniques with wobbly keyboards and fuzzy guitar to make child-like pop songs, their sound won over many critics. Their 2004 album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, is a true gem of the era.

 

The next big Montreal band to emerge, Wolf Parade, was a group of west coast transplants (as were the Unicorns). What makes Wolf Parade a quintessentially Montreal band, though, is that its members landed in the city seeking a creative safe haven. A mixture of economics and artistic vibrancy made Montreal an ideal training ground for developing bands.

 

Guitarist Dan Boeckner’s old west coast band, Atlas Strategic, had already garnered attention from the label Sub Pop after touring with Modest Mouse. So, when Wolf Parade started performing, they were quickly offered a record contract and their debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, came out in 2005.

In many ways, that album captured all the sounds of the Montreal scene at once: yelping vocals and vulnerable lyrics, baroque, poppy keyboards, guitars that swaggered with Springsteen-esque wistfulness, a steamroller rhythm section. Pre-release hype for the album was substantial. Broken Social Scene released their self-titled follow-up to You Forgot It in People the same year, and Canadian indie reached its maturation point.

Categories
News

Honouring those without a home

Faith leaders hold candlelight vigil for the homeless.

 

Around 60 people gathered with religious leaders from multiple faiths at St. George’s Anglican Church on World Homelessness Day, Oct. 10, to hold a candlelight vigil and raise awareness of the plight facing homeless Montrealers.

World Homelessness Day is relatively new, only being observed since 2010. Organizers at St. George’s chose a vigil prayer service to acknowledge the day, something normally reserved for the night before a funeral, because they wanted to celebrate the lives of those who may not have been mourned when they died.

“Nobody stood by the graves of those we celebrate today,” said Rev. Steven Mackison of St. George’s during his opening remarks.

Mackison was joined by Rabbi Boris Dolin, Iman Musabbir Alam and Alan Harrington. Harrington is an Ojibway community leader who operates the Wolf Pack Street Patrol, which focuses on the Indigenous homeless population of Montreal, but provides aid to all.

After prayers from the four traditions had concluded, Mackison invited those in attendance to come to the front of the church and light a candle in memory of someone who passed away due to the hardships of life on the street.

The virtuousness of helping those in need is a belief common to most major world faiths, from the Abrahamic religions, to Buddhism and Confucianism. St. George’s congregation coordinates with various other faith groups to provide daily assistance to homeless people. For people of faith, facing homelessness is often a daily fact of life, not something to be regarded just once a year.

The same is true of many shelters and homeless aid organizations throughout the city. Hardships posed by homelessness often don’t take people’s lives suddenly (although a few times a year, they do), but these organizations see the effects. “The people passing away are often passing away in hospitals or in the palliative care centre at la Maison du Père,” said Samuel Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission.

Launched in May 2017, la Maison du Père’s palliative care program has 10 spots for end-of-life care available to homeless people. Welcome Hall Mission works closely with them, and Watts said that, on average, the two charities arrange about 45 funerals per year.

The most recent numbers from the city of Montreal estimate that there are around 3,000 homeless people living here. Of that number, approximately 400 sleep on the streets, while 2,000 are in shelters or transitional housing, and another 500 are in prison or the hospital.

Watts said the most common ailments that the Welcome Hall Mission treats at its emergency shelter are injuries from lack of proper footwear, infected wounds and unmedicated chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Chronic homelessness in Montreal is “completely solvable” but requires a long-term strategy, said Watts. “We work with people, help them get apartments and then we stick with them.” Welcome Hall Mission employees will periodically check in with those they have helped find lodging and help them navigate the necessary steps so they can stand on their own two feet.

Rev. Mackison also argued it is about more than just shelter. “It’s a more deeply spiritual issue,” he said. “I think we are all looking for a home, and home is more than four walls, it’s a connection and a meaningful relationship.”

Photo by Kenneth Gibson.

 

Categories
Opinions

See you on the other side

Floor-crossing MP Leona Alleslev is symbolic of the political threshold Canada faces

When the House of Commons reconvened after summer recess on Sept. 17, Leona Alleslev, the Liberal member of Parliament for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, stood and announced that she was joining the opposition Conservative Party.

Such a move is rare but not unprecedented. Citing the oath she swore to serve Canadians upon joining the military, Alleslev painted a gloomy picture by saying, “Canada faces a perfect storm of serious challenges at home and abroad.” The world has changed, Alleslev said, and Canada needs strong federal leadership in order to change with it.

Floor-crossing raises questions about an MP’s duty to their constituents, and whether the MP should be forced to run in a by-election. Crossing the aisle is generally seen as opportunistic at best. Yet, trying to ban it would arguably contravene the Charter’s freedom of speech provision.

I don’t wish to dispute the ethics of floor-crossing, but rather point out the deep cynicism behind Alleslev’s decision. One of her specific criticisms of the government was that capital investment is leaving the country, and that “tax structures” and “politics” prevent businesses from expanding. Yet, investigative journalists have shown time and again that corporations in Canada pay much less taxes than what is advertised. How much more cushy of a business environment do corporations need?

Alleslev’s other complaint was that Canada’s “foreign policy is disconnected from our trade relationships” and “our ability to deliver on our defense commitments is undermined by politics,” which comes off a bit vague. I would argue that if Canada’s foreign policy and trading partnerships are fraught right now, it has little to do with what Canada is doing. Moreover, when has the Trudeau government ever shown a unwillingness to follow through on defense commitments?

Given all this, it’s easy to view Alleslev’s move as a cynical attempt to ride the wave of right-wing populism sweeping through Canada to a higher-profile government position. Alleslev faced the same choice we all face right now––a choice between empathy, humanitarianism and solidarity with those in need, or the narcissistic politics of contemporary conservatives like Doug Ford. In my opinion, she chose a route seemingly driven by self-interest, spite and cold-bloodedness.

As Conservative Party leaders in Canada rush to imitate the oafish political performance art taking place in the United States, they’re pedaling a viciously cynical brand of politics that glorifies mercenary selfishness and contempt for others. Sadly, it is registering with a lot of people, including some MPs.

Rather than stand up for the principles that led her to liberalism, Alleslev has joined the cynics who advise us to back militarism over lifting people out of poverty; who suggest we take a  common sense approach to economic plight; who claim we can’t afford progressive policies for the environment, taxation or immigration.

The truth, though, is that we can afford it. The problem is we prioritize economic policy that favours the yacht- and Lamborghini-owning class (to borrow a phrase from New Democratic Party MPP Joel Harden) over ensuring all Canadians live above the poverty line.

Yet, the global economic policies and military interventionism of conservative ideology is driving the contemporary global instability Alleslev is so worried about. So, how is adopting increasingly conservative politics going to solve that problem?

We’re living in a time where Canadians have an important choice to make, and it feels like a point-of-no-return moment. Two paths, two very different destinations. We, as citizens, still have a choice to reject the politics of fear and greed, to resist being browbeaten into indifference and jadedness. See you on the other side.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

Exit mobile version