Quebec ought to do better

The government’s plan to cancel 18,000 immigration files is irresponsible

Picture a family of four. The mother is an accomplished university professor, currently finishing her PhD in management and marketing in partnership with various French universities, despite being based elsewhere. Her husband, a qualified software engineer, works for the country’s biggest public company. Their two sons, aged six and 10, are not only healthy, but very sweet and incredibly smart. Like their parents, they both can speak three languages fluently—including French—and the older of the two is currently learning his fourth.

This picture-perfect family happens to be my cousin’s. She lives in Algeria, where yes, her situation is pretty good as of now—but unstable socio-economic conditions in the country and the rise of various militant groups pushed her and her husband to apply for immigration to Canada back in 2012. They are now onto their second attempt, but the CAQ government’s Bill 9 might get in the way of their Canadian dream.

On Feb. 7, the Quebec government announced that in order to pass its upcoming immigration bill, commonly referred to as Bill 9, it would proceed to cancel all 18,000 Skilled Worker Program applications currently pending for treatment and approval by the province’s Ministry of Immigration, Diversity and Inclusion (MIDI), according to Le Devoir. The announcement was made nearly 10 days after Premier François Legault promised those files would be duly taken care of before his party would submit its new immigration bill.

Simply put, this measure is irresponsible and thoroughly unfair. Handling those 18,000 documents is part of the government’s duty towards its applicants, and cancelling them in order to promptly pass a more restrictive immigration law can only be seen as a way for the province to wash its hands from the expectations it ought to meet, while jeopardizing the future of thousands of people.

Think about it: behind those 18,000 immigration requests are actual people, spread across the globe, hoping for a better future here in Quebec. Those 18,000 files affect the lives of men, women, children; entire families, or hopeful young adults. In total, these files represent about 50,000 people, as each file represents a family, according to Le Devoir. Some of them—like my cousin and her family—have been waiting for years, hoping not even for an acceptance, but merely a response from our government. According to the CBC, some applications date back to 2005, totaling a wait time of 14 years.

There’s also a lot of money going into this: applying for immigration to Quebec costs around $1,000, which would correspond, in total, to $19 million to reimburse all those applicants—which Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette promised to do, while also suggesting that applicants re-apply once the new bill has passed, according to Le Devoir and Global News.

This isn’t a small amount; $19 million could be used to take care of much more pressing, important issues. Besides, asking people to simply “re-apply” goes to show that Minister Jolin-Barrette has no idea the burden that immigration bureaucracy entails, and just how much it impacts the lives of the people applying.

However, the issue doesn’t end there. The new proposed bill on immigration, while also reducing the number of immigrants admitted in the province, puts a stronger emphasis on “learning French and learning about democratic values and the Québec values”, as the Bill reads. This resonates with François Legault’s electoral promise to establish a French and “Quebec values” test for immigrants to pass after three years in the province, according to The Globe and Mail. While a French test might be, to a certain extent, understandable in order to maintain the French-speaking character of the province, a test on “Quebec values” can only be seen as xenophobic.

One of our province’s strengths is its welcoming environment and its diversity. Setting up such a restrictive examination would weaken such strengths, while also clearly discriminating against immigrants. Surely all the people born and raised here have some core values they might not agree upon, but those people would never be tested on them the way immigrants would be.

I am not the only one contesting this measure. All three of the main opposition parties of the National Assembly have also expressed their disagreement, according to Le Devoir. Meanwhile, the Quebec Immigration Lawyers Association (AQAADI) are also hoping to take this to court, according to the same source.

Our government needs to reconsider its approach to immigration issues, starting with the cancellation of pending immigration requests. The CAQ owes it to the 50,000 applicants it’s letting down, to the current immigrants of Quebec that are only working to better our province like any other citizen, and to the rest of its society.

I can’t help but think of my cousin. She’s brilliant, speaks French fluently, and she and her family have the potential to bring so much to our province. She deserves better from our government.

Graphic by @spooky_soda


A chance encounter with history

How Concordia’s professor Max Bergholz uncovered a violent but obscure piece of Bosnia’s past


“You have fifteen minutes to look around. I’m going to coffee with my friends in fifteen minutes. So that’s all the time you get.” Those were the words Max Bergholz heard in an archive in Bosnia, moments before making the discovery of his career: the origin story to his award-winning book, Violence as a Generative Force: Identity, Nationalism, and Memory in a Balkan Community.

The book is set during World War II, in the small town of Kulen Vakuf, in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, at the border of Croatia. During two eerie nights in early September 1941, nearly 2,000 people were killed—many of them women and children—in what had been a peaceful, multiethnic, religiously diverse community up until that point. While focusing on this one incident, Max Bergholz, associate professor of history at Concordia, explains how violence itself enabled these events to unfold, especially in a town that had never seen such cruelty in nearly all of its history.

“It was, in some ways, very much by chance that I even ended up writing this book,” Bergholz said about his first book—one that has won many awards, the latest being the 2019 Laura Shannon Prize in Contemporary European Studies awarded by the University of Notre Dame.

Bergholz got involved in the project in 2006, two years into his doctoral field research in the Balkans, while enrolled at the University of Toronto. “My original subject was the memory of intercommunal violence in several local communities,” he said.

After travelling through Serbia and Croatia, Bergholz made it to Bosnia, his final destination. “I was really trying to finish everything up. My supervisors had thought I’d been doing research for too long at that point,” he added with a laugh.

This last step later revealed itself to be surprisingly conclusive—but back then, it did not feel that way. Archives in Bosnia, while not damaged, were neglected following the war that tore the country apart in the 1990s, making it difficult to get ahold of documents. Bergholz knew, however, that those relevant to his research were available—and therefore kept insisting.

“After several weeks, [the staff of the archive] realized I wasn’t leaving, and I just kept coming and annoying them every day,” Bergholz said. One day, they gave in, and he was given 15 minutes in the basement of the archive building.

“It was this weird window of opportunity—that shouldn’t really happen,” Bergholz said. Allowing researchers into storage facilities is against regulations, he explained, and those 15 minutes were all it took for him to get lucky.

That’s how the professor learned of this small town, Kulen Vakuf. The documents indicated that several thousand people had been killed by their own neighbours, amidst rising tensions between local Serb nationalists, aided by fascist forces, and local Croats and Muslims. There was no recognition of the victims. No monument was ever built. That was enough to spark Bergholz’s interest.

“There was this kind of deafening silence that has been going on for decades,” the professor said, adding that the documents were only produced in the 1980s—nearly 40 years after the events took place.

From that point onward, Bergholz embarked on a journey that would ultimately last a decade—visiting the town many times, gathering interviews and documents, writing and rewriting the book. His doctoral dissertation went from discussing many cases of violence in the Balkans, to just this one event, miraculously uncovered in a basement in rural Bosnia.

Violence as a Generative Force stems from that dissertation, though it has “transformed tremendously” from what it originally was, according to the historian. While narrowing the focus of the project and staying true to the history, Bergholz was also driven by a desire to write the most interesting story possible—which was heavily influenced by his work as a teacher at Concordia.

“I teach a class on the rise and fall of Yugoslavia and the History of the Balkans. And these are two courses that are narrative-driven,” Bergholz said. “I’m telling a story over a period of centuries, or at least a century. I do a lot of lecturing, and I always try and learn from looking at the reactions of students as I’m lecturing.”

Bergholz has found that going from broader, theoretical concepts right down to precise storytelling is what worked best both in class and when writing. Bergholz said it’s “not just talking about the political development, or economic development, but you know… What does the place look like? What does the air smell like? How does it feel to be there? How do people talk? All of these things are what, in a classroom, keep the dynamic moving, and in a book, keep the pages turning.”

Bergholz will embark on a book tour in April, promoting the Bosnian translation of the book in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. “It’s a book that I’m still excited to talk about, because it took up a huge part of my life, and it’s a topic that is very close to my heart,” the professor said. “It’s a book that has changed me as a scholar, but also as a person in many ways.”

It all started with 15 minutes, right before a coffee break. “Without those fifteen minutes, this book wouldn’t exist,” Bergholz said.

Photo by Sarah Boumedda.

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Bring Me The Horizon – amo

Opinions on British band Bring Me the Horizon vary along with their style, transforming drastically through each release since their debut, Count Your Blessings, in 2006. Some, attached to BMTH’s chaotic post-hardcore roots, will snob the softer, melodic, pop-influenced sound they’ve taken on ever since Sempiternal. They’ve even got a new song about this, “heavy metal”—but the truth is that this change in style testifies of the band’s surprising versatility. On their latest opus, amo, the band pushes their boundaries even further by entirely reimagining their sound through the 13 songs on the album.

This creativity is more than welcome, allowing for the birth of an impressively imaginative pop-rock sound. However, that creativity is both the album’s strength and demise, and ultimately amo fails to impress. Though some songs stand out nicely—namely, the powerful “MANTRA,” or the laid back, surprisingly sweet “mother tongue,”—others feel a little clumsy, especially lyrically, and might make one yearn for the refined product that was Bring Me the Horizon’s last album, That’s the Spirit. Despite it all, Bring Me the Horizon can only be applauded for taking that creative step forward, and amo remains worthy of a listen.


Trial track: “medicine”
Star Bar: “You need a taste of your own medicine
Cos I’m sick to death of swallowing”
Oli Sykes on “medicine”


Why world music doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist

The case against a genre that generalizes the planet

When someone talks to you about pop music, you have a certain idea of what that sounds like. The same goes for rock and its various subgenres: punk, metal, grunge. Likewise, if I say I like hip hop or R&B, you can somewhat tell what kind of sound I’m into. But what about world music? What does that evoke? Does it even mean anything at all?

The term “world music” is not only odd, but it is also sometimes used in a way that’s almost perversely Western-centric. When scouring Apple Music’s genres, for example, you’ll see pop, alternative, hip hop, rock, country, and jazz as some of the main genres. Then, at the bottom of the list, the “world” section sits, devoid of any indicator as to exactly what you’ll find inside.

Though surprising at first, there is such a concept as world music—and it is in total opposition to the “genre” found on various streaming apps, containing music from all over the world with no distinction of style. In North America, one of the first definitions for world music date back to the 1960s and was coined by ethnomusicologist Robert Brown.

As Brown founded the World Music Program at Wesleyan University in 1965, in Connecticut, his goal was to put Western music on the same proportional ground as other musical trends across the globe. The term “world music” actually referred to music from across the world, separated into traditions that pertained to certain geographical boundaries. Thus, the term was meant to be inclusive—not distinguishing Western music from other trends, but putting it on the same stand as everything else.

Brown’s definition of the term, however, did not catch on elsewhere in the United States. The 1970s brought the creation of more institutions with a focus on “world music.” Those institutions would use the term to define “non-Western” or “ethnic” musical trends—something that seemingly has remained until today, to a certain extent. The name became popular, to a point where we now have an entire Billboard chart (established in the 1990s) dedicated to this new marketed “genre.”

But now, in 2019, as you look down that chart, a couple things stand out. As of Jan. 12, the top 12 albums on Billboard’s Top World Albums Chart were released by South Korean K-Pop groups, who perform typically pop, hip hop, or EDM-influenced music. This time last year, Billboard’s top 10 featured K-Pop sensation BTS at the top (hip hop, South Korea), rival group EXO following right behind (R&B, South Korea), and a potluck of international artists: Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet (traditional griot, Mali), Celtic Thunder (Celtic folk, Ireland), Residente (hip hop, Puerto Rico). Seemingly, the only similarity between these artists is their non-Americanness, and possibly, the language in which they perform.

Streaming apps, such as Spotify and Apple Music, have already started making efforts—half-assed, but efforts nonetheless—in endowing their platforms with more inclusive labels. Spotify has no world-labelled genre subsection. Instead it has specific, geographically-based ones: Arab, Desi (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Afro (non-Arab, often Black artists from Africa), K-Pop and Latin. Apple Music follows a similar trend, with K-Pop and Latino genre labels, yet still provides a world section, with a patchwork selection of genres.

However, the issue with such geographical labels is that, while efficient and somewhat seemingly inclusive, they still make an odd distinction of the “other.” Does your streaming app offer a “Western” subgenre?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

These geographical labels can be useful—especially if you’re curious about music in a certain language, or from a specific country—but shouldn’t constitute genres in and of themselves. While this could have been different a century ago, the truth is that artists from across the planet now perform in a wide range of styles, regardless of borders. Geographical distinctions can—even should—exist alongside musical distinctions.

Here’s an idea: bring the “world” artists in the “Western” genres. Get NCT 127 (urban hip hop, South Korea) to compete with other pop or hip hop artists. Bring Babylone (indie folk, Algeria) into the folk charts. Don’t keep Maritta Hallani’s latest album, Maritta (pop, Lebanon), to a style limited by the language she sings in. In fact, this isn’t a novel idea: Spanish singer Rosalía was featured in both Apple Music’s World and Pop genre sections with her album El mal querer, a brilliant flamenco record infused with R&B and pop influences. So, why not do the same for everyone?

Feature photo by Sarah Boumedda

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Khalid – Suncity (EP)

Yearning, reminiscent and comforting, Khalid’s sudden release, Suncity, acts both as an ode to his hometown of El Paso, TX, and as a staple of his unprecedented talent. The seven-track EP includes two instrumental numbers and five songs. It is consistent in sound, rarely veering away from the urbanlike, soft-toned R&B Khalid has become widely known for, to the exception of “Saturday Nights” and the eponymous track “Suncity.” The former includes a guitar hook that gives it a slight indie pop touch, while the latter follows an addicting Latin beat, featuring Spanish lyrics and vocals from Empress Of. As a whole, Suncity works incredibly well, acting as an hommage and a story of growth for the 20-year-old singer. Overall, it makes for the perfect bridge between Khalid’s solid 2017 debut, American Teen, and whatever he has in store next.

Trial track: “Suncity” feat. Empress Of


Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Troy Sivan – Bloom

Troye Sivan’s second opus, Bloom, retains some of the heartfelt, boyish charm of Blue Neighbourhood that won over fans back in 2015. Songs like ‘“The Good Side” or “Postcard” are tinged with nostalgia, juxtaposed over a quiet piano melody or an acoustic guitar strum. The album’s real strength, however, resides in the more mature numbers on the tracklist. “Bloom” and “Lucky Strike”, amongst others, are drenched in upbeat, bass-driven synthpop influences, paired with daring and sensual lyrics, making for an addicting and catchy result. Nonetheless, the variety both in sound and in writing doesn’t change the fact that the album offers an incredible amount of honesty in its lyrics through each song. Bloom is a collection of love stories—some that work out, some that don’t—but most of all, Bloom is an apparent, impeccable product of Troye Sivan’s growth, both as a man and as an artist.


Trial track: “Lucky Strike”




A captivating story about an unlikely friendship

Concordia alumnus’ new film, We’re Still Together, has already garnered worldwide attention

Picture a teenager, Chris, being accosted and bullied by two kids about his age who take pleasure in beating the crap out of him. Witness to the scene is a single dad, Bobby, who comes to Chris’ aid and stops the fight. Over the course of that night, the two of them forge an incredibly tight yet complex friendship.

Such is the story told in We’re Still Together, the first feature film by filmmaker and alumnus of Concordia’s communications program, Jesse Noah Klein. Klein partnered with Marley Sniatowsky, the producer of the film and an alumnus of Concordia’s art history program. With a theatrical release set for Sept. 29, We’re Still Together takes a look at relationships and just how strikingly influential they can be—even if they last only one evening.

One evening… in Montreal.

“Yeah, the movie takes place here,” Klein said. “I knew I was going to set the film here. I’m from Montreal, I grew up here, I went to college here, so there was never any doubt that I would set the movie here.”

True to the city’s nature, the film includes both English and French-speaking characters, though most of the movie is in English.

“The city plays a huge role in the film, and it’s kind of unmistakable,” Klein added. “So I never thought of setting it somewhere else.”

The film’s setting has a lot to do with the story itself. “Just the way these two strangers can come together and have this meaningful experience, it’s kind of an urban story in itself,” Klein said. “Ultimately, what I hope people can take [away] from it is just how sustaining the relationships we make can be for us.”

Not only does the movie explore the depth of fleeting friendship, like the one between Chris (Jesse Camacho) and Bobby (Joey Klein), but it also chronicles the other relationships in both the characters’ lives. Bobby is a distressed single father, facing challenges with his ex-wife, which in turn jeopardize his ties with his daughter. On the other hand, Chris is a socially awkward teen who doesn’t really get along with anyone. The experience they share throughout the course of one night teaches them a lot about themselves.

Writer/director Jesse Noah Klein teamed up with his brother and friends to make the film, which is already a huge success. Photo by Josh Hansen.

The essence of the characters is also integral the storyline. “I wrote [Bobby’s] role for my older brother,” Klein explained. “That was one of the starting points for me. I saw something in him. I saw his range as an actor.” Klein said he started with the idea for the character, “and let the story evolve from there.”

“I see a lot of myself in both characters,” the filmmaker added. “I don’t think we’re restricted to age or gender when it comes to how we create characters, and I think that’s kind of liberating.”

Even prior to its theatrical release, We’re Still Together has already made waves across the globe. The film had its world premiere in July 2016 at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic—an experience Klein described as highly unforgettable.

“I remember sitting there for 82 minutes and thinking, ‘This is boring. This is boring. This is boring.’ And I was just terrified,” he exclaimed with a smile. “And then the response was great. It was a crazy experience. I was elated. During that standing ovation, I was like, ‘Where am I? What is going on?’”

The film has garnered praise since then and has been shown at festivals in India, Italy, Argentina and Mexico, among others. Both lead actors, Joey Klein and Jesse Camacho, have won ACTRA (Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists) awards in Toronto and Montreal, respectively. Yet, there’s something special about a theatrical release right around the corner, Klein admitted.

“Quite frankly, the thing about a theatrical release is that we don’t know,” he said, referring to the public’s response. Ultimately, he has faith in the audience’s love for film.

“There are still movie theatres,” Klein said, nodding. “People do still go to the movies and look at the box office of the opening weekend.” He then added, with a knowing smile, “I’m excited about this.”

We’re Still Together will be released on Sept. 29 at Cineplex Odeon Forum and Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin. Jesse Noah Klein will be available for Q&A sessions on the 29th at the Quartier Latin (in French) and on the 30th at the Forum (in English).


Why I’ll never let go of my foreign origins

Learning to embrace my unique cultural roots within Canada

I was four years old when my family moved from Bejaia, Algeria to Canada. I don’t remember much of the move, to be honest. I do remember the snowy evening in March when we arrived, and I have vague memories of the small apartment we shared with one of my parents’ friends for a few months before we found a place of our own.

According to my parents, I didn’t speak a word of French—or English—back then. I apparently learned French in the streets, with the help of the other kids in the apartment complex we rented in the St-Michel borough of Montreal. I don’t remember any of that. I do remember fitting in surprisingly well at first, though.

There’s one aspect about myself that was strikingly important to me back then—and still remains today. I have always identified as Algerian, first and foremost. It took me quite a while to realize and understand I was Canadian, too—even after getting all the paperwork out of the way.

My origins, my beliefs and my culture have always been a part of me I have tried to make as obvious and as clear as possible to whomever I spoke with. Call it patriotism, or whatever. I’ve seen it as a way to establish my identity, even when I was confused as to what exactly that entailed.

When proudly announcing that I was Algerian, especially as a child, I noticed a pattern. People would put me in a box—Muslim, Arab, probably loves soccer and makes a fuss about calling it “football.” Basically, they would assume things about me that were often wrong.

One thing most people often get wrong about me, to this day, is my ethnicity. Ever since I can remember, my parents have always been incredibly proud of being Amazigh, or Berber—in simple terms, indigenous people of North Africa. Despite the erasure of the culture strongly pushed forward by the Algerian government, there has been progress, like the officialization of Tamazight, the Amazigh language, in February 2016, but the discrimination is still prevalent. Yet, the Amazigh people of Algeria still have a strong influence in the country and within their diaspora, especially here in Montreal.

Out of the approximately 26,000 people in Canada who identify as Berbers, over 21,000 of them reside in Montreal, according to a 2011 Statistics Canada survey. That’s a massive community—and yet very few Montrealers, let alone Canadians, know about Berbers or the Berber culture.

And so I spent a lot of time, as a child and still today, explaining that yes, I am Algerian, but no, my native language isn’t Arabic (it’s Tamazight), and my culture involves more than my Muslim faith. In fact, I spent my life putting so much emphasis on this part of my identity that it took me quite a long time to realize I was Canadian, too.

It was in high school, as I grew older, somewhat wiser and more confused about the person I was, that it hit me—I wasn’t only Algerian. My identity and sense of belonging wasn’t limited to my country of origin, but most certainly extended to the country I have lived in for as long as I can remember.

As long as I live as a Canadian citizen, I am undoubtedly part of its political, social and cultural life. As a citizen, I can bring forth ideas, values and change, and express my views when voting, when protesting, when celebrating—even more so considering my cultural background. These differences don’t make me any less Canadian. If anything, they only add something to my Canadian identity that other citizens might not possess.

In high school, it dawned on me that it was important to pay attention to what is going on around me, in my country—the one I live in, not the one I absentmindedly long for from time to time, the one I only visit once every two years. What happens here, the feats and the downfalls, will affect me directly while whatever might be going on in Algeria will not. What I can bring to this country, Canada, will consequently be much more significant.

I still pride myself immensely on my Algerian heritage. It’s something nobody can take away from me, despite the racism and the constantly growing Islamophobia. However, I have come to pride myself on being Canadian, too. I love this country like my home—because that’s exactly what it is to me.


Responding to deceitful conservative views

Why supporting Milo Yiannopoulos is wrong and unjustified

“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” said Ben Shapiro, an American conservative political commentator, author and attorney. The same quote closed the article titled “Weighing in on a controversial book deal,” published in The Concordian on Jan. 17. Oddly enough, the opinion piece had nothing to do with facts. Nor Yiannopoulos’ book deal, actually.

The piece discussed the “silencing” of free speech—particularly right-wing, conservative speech—and used Milo Yiannopoulos’ Twitter ban as an example. Let’s use the same example to illustrate how free speech was not silenced, and how political correctness was definitely not to blame in this situation.

The tweets that preceded Yiannopoulos’ ban from the platform were directed at African-American actress Leslie Jones. She had been the victim of verbal racist attacks on Twitter after starring in the recent blockbuster reboot, Ghostbusters. This occurred a month before her website was hacked, leading to a leak of personal pictures and private information, including her phone number and Twitter password. Yiannopoulos referred to those racist attacks as “hate mail,” saying that “everyone gets [it],” reported the Independent. In other words, he was telling her to simply get over it.

Bold words, coming from a white man. As a woman of colour, I can definitely tell you that “getting over” racism isn’t easy—or possible at all.

Yiannopoulos’ statement was excusing hate speech, the hateful comments directed at Jones were somehow justified—by a flawed notion of freedom of speech—and that she was in the wrong for calling out her attackers.

It seems as though many forget that hate speech is not, in fact, free speech. We’re so quick to defend freedom of speech, yet we often forget exactly what it entails.

One of the earliest definitions of the principle dates back to the 1720s, written by British writers John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, who used the penname Cato. They referred to freedom of speech as “the Right of Every Man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the Right of another.” In simpler terms, freedom of speech prevails as long as one doesn’t hurt or control the rights of another.

Now, the concept of one’s rights being “hurt” by someone’s speech is rather abstract. It is clear, however, that racism does infringe one’s rights. The first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and the second also mentions that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind,” including race. The twelfth article further specifies that “no one shall be subjected to […] to attacks upon his honour and reputation.” Seemingly, speech that would encourage or excuse any of these attacks, especially targeted at one’s race, would go against these rights.

It seems pretty obvious racist speech is inappropriate—and therefore, someone spreading such sentiments should be held accountable for their actions. Hate speech isn’t free speech—it’s damaging and has to be stopped.

Shutting down Yiannopoulos’ Twitter account was a justified move. Belittling racism is just as bad as spreading it. Action has to be taken against it. It isn’t a question of political correctness, where we avoid to offend, but of simple common sense and respect of another’s fundamental rights.

Graphic by Florence Yee

Student Life

Showing Montrealers real Saudi culture

The Montreal Saudi Student Association organized its second annual Saudi Exhibition

The Montreal Saudi Student Association held its second annual Saudi Exhibition on Nov. 14, in partnership with Concordia’s Saudi Student Association.

“Today’s event is about [promoting] Saudi culture,” said Sawsan Alshayeb, a volunteer and member of Concordia’s Saudi Student Association. “We want to showcase our culture… so people can see how [Saudis] really are and how we love our country, and [we] want to show it in a positive way so that people can enjoy it.”

The event was held in Concordia’s EV Building lobby, from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m., and attracted many curious eyes. In order to promote Saudi heritage, different kiosks were set up, each displaying an aspect of Saudi culture. Some kiosks offered attendees free food, most of which were typical Saudi delicacies.

The menu included traditional dishes like Saudi pastries and maamoun, which are small cakes. The large table also displayed cupcakes decorated with Montreal Saudi Student Association’s official logo.

Attendees could also buy honey, imported directly from the Asir province of Saudi Arabia. Other promotional products were offered, such as information brochures on various touristic regions of Saudi Arabia, as well as coffee mugs and other accessories.

A kiosk that caught the attention of many was the Arabic calligraphy kiosk, where many attendees, students and teachers alike, lined up to have their name written in Arabic by a professional calligrapher. The henna kiosk was also particularly popular.

Photo by Sarah Boumedda

The main point of attraction at the event, however, was the immense tent set up near the entrance of the EV building. Inside, The Concordian was welcomed by Mohammad Alhumaidhi, a student and volunteer at the event.

“That’s the actual tent [which] we go out [camping] with, in Saudi Arabia,” said Alhumaidhi, motioning to the heavy pieces of fabric enclosing the area around him. “We brought it from Saudi Arabia for this event specifically.”

The displayed tent was four meters long by four metres wide in size, the standard size for one of those traditional camping tents, said Alhumaidhi. He added that the fabrics that make up the tents differ, depending on the environment in which they were used. Thicker materials suit the colder mountainous regions of the country, whereas the thinner, fur-covered fabrics are more useful in the desert, where they can block the sandy winds.

In the tent, volunteers like Alhumaidhi were draped in a thobe, the traditional Saudi dress for men, and wearing a ghutra, a traditional headdress. Each of them welcomed curious students and Concordia teachers, teaching them about traditions of Saudi culture while sitting on one of the numerous decorated cushions that surrounded the area inside the tent. Attendees could learn about Arab coffee and tea, as well as traditional Arab music and singing.

For Alhumaidhi, the Saudi Exhibition is an extremely important event, and goes beyond simple promotion of his native country. “A lot of people hear about Saudi Arabia, and they don’t know [much] except for the image they see [in the media],” Alhumaidhi said. “They don’t know the real Saudi Arabia.”

Photo by Sarah Boumedda

“We [Saudis] live in houses, we drive cars. A lot of people think that we still ride horses in the streets. And I’m not joking at all. A lot of people are surprised that I drive a car,” he said. “Of course I do, it’s 2016!”

Preconceived ideas of Saudis and Arabs don’t just limit themselves to car driving. “I hear people come up to me and say, ‘Oh wow, you’re funny, you’re from Saudi Arabia, you’re Muslim—how is that possible?’ I’m a human being, I’m allowed to be funny,” said Alhumaidhi.

Indeed, representation of Arabs and Muslims in Western media is often negative, “depicting Muslims generally as violent, fanatical, bigoted, or as extremists and terrorists,” according to Belinda F. Espiritu in a paper published in Global Research in 2015. Espiritu is a researcher and an associate professor of communications at the University of the Philippines.

Espiritu said this negative image results in fear among the Western population—something Alhumaidhi has experienced himself.

Photo by Sarah Boumedda

“A lot of people get scared when they look at me wearing what I’m wearing right now,” he said, motioning to his traditional Saudi dress. “[If I’m] walking in the street, people move away from me. People literally move away from me, because they’re scared.”

Alhumaidhi believes such an event is necessary to eradicate this fear and inform people about real Arab culture.

“Saudis are not angry,” he said in a cheerful tone. “We smile, we love camping and singing, drinking coffee.”

Although this is only the second edition of the Saudi Exhibition, both the Montreal Saudi Student Association and Concordia’s Saudi Student Association are determined to keep up this annual event, in the hopes of teaching as many people as possible about Saudi culture.

Music Quickspins

Far East Movement – Identity

Far East Movement – Identity (Transparent Agency, 2016)

The anticipation of Far East Movement’s new release, Identity, had everything needed to impress its listeners. It promised to feature both American and Asian artists in its songs, creating a bond between two flourishing music industries from opposite sides of the globe. In this respect, Identity truly did a good job. With some songs featuring both K-Pop stars and renowned American artists, one cannot help but be intrigued when listening to it. Musically, however, Identity falls a little short. The album isn’t bad per se—in fact, many songs truly captivate the listener, like the pre-release single “Freal Luv,” featuring K-Pop group EXO’s Chanyeol and American R&B singer Tinashe, or the soothing “Church” with Elijah Blake. Despite its great and surprising variety of styles, rhythms and breakdowns, the album as a whole is still lacking that spark that would make us want to listen to it on repeat. Overall, Identity is a good album—it’s just too bad it’s not a great one.

Trial track: “Freal Luv” feat. Marshmello, Chanyeol and Tinashe



Björk Digital debuts in Montreal

Take a virtual reality tour through Iceland with Björk’s newest album, Vulicura

From a dark cave to the vast, rock-covered beaches of Iceland—and all through the realm of music and digital space—that’s exactly what Björk Digital is all about. It is an exhibition that takes the term “audiovisual” to a whole other level.

Björk Digital allows the audience to experience Björk’s music in a unique, singular way. The highlight of the show resides in the virtual reality (VR) installations that make up the biggest part of the exhibition. The Montreal exhibition is the North American premiere of the project, which previously toured Sydney, Tokyo and London.

Each of the five VR installations feature a song taken from the Icelandic singer’s latest album, Vulnicura. They are more than simple music videos: each work offers a new perspective on the artist’s music that is simply impossible to experience anywhere else. For the most part, the installations are each about nine minutes long and can welcome 25 visitors at once.

“Black Lake” opens the exhibition. Using the Oculus Rift, a head-mounted VR display apparatus, and headphones, this installation takes the audience through the depths of a dark cave, where two screens are mounted against opposite walls of the cave. Each screen displays a different angle from which we can see Björk singing and dancing with disheartening emotion—at first sharing the same cave space, then moving to the outside world. “Black Lake” is a good piece to start with: it familiarizes the audience with Björk’s music, without it being overwhelming or too unsettling. The piece is almost peaceful, setting the mood for what is yet to come.

The following installation, “Stonemilker,” consists of a total 360-degree VR experience. In other words, we are immersed in the video. We can see the beach in which the video is set in no matter direction we turn. That aspect is explored heavily in the music video—as the song progresses, Björk keeps moving around the viewers, sometimes even duplicating herself and appearing at two, three or four places at once. Each of these representations of the singer are singular and do not imitate each other in movement—it becomes almost confusing at times, as you don’t know where to look and are afraid to miss something.

The last piece, “Family,” directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, is premiering in Montreal and distinguishes itself from the rest of the VR pieces in the project. The experience is different from the previous four, as “Family” is experienced in pairs rather than groups, and requires the viewer to be standing rather than sitting. “Family” is an interactive VR experience. Viewers are invited to walk around the space and grab things as they come to them, all while the landscape changes and the music progresses. This final piece is, without a doubt, the best of the five.

Björk Digital doesn’t limit itself to VR installations, though. The exhibition also presents Biophilia, a project which involves an app on which Björk’s album of the same name is featured along with educational activities relating each of the 10 songs to a scientific concept. Finally, the exhibition closes on Björk Cinema, a room where visitors are invited to sit on the floor and watch a continuous series of Björk’s previous music videos.

The exhibition, Björk Digital, is one of the various events being held in the city by the Red Bull Music Academy from Sept. 24 until Oct. 24. The exhibition is will be held at the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art until Nov. 12.

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