Tio’tia:ke united for Wet’suwet’en

Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists performed in solidarity at La Tulipe

“It does hurt his spirit,” Anachnid said after her performance at the Tio’tia:ke + Wet’suwet’en Concert last Thursday. “That’s why I sang that song for him.”

Anachnid is an Oji-Cree multidisciplinary artist based in Montreal. She performed “Braids,” a collaboration with saxophonist Ashton Phoenix Grey and producer Emmanuel Alias on Dreamweaver released Feb. 28. The song is written about Anachnid’s younger brother who is six years old.

With a techno beat that opens to a pulsating drum bass, Anachnid’s voice echoed encouragement for boys and girls who sport their braids. “Braids” embraces the flow of long hair because recently, her little brother was told to cut his lengthening strands at school.

The Tio’tia:ke + Wet’suwet’en Concert was organized by multidisciplinary artist Natasha Kanapé Fontaine and musician Elisapie Isaac in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs opposing the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.

Random Recipe, Lydia Képinski, Jesse Mac Cormack, Les Soeurs Boulay, Nomadic Massive, and 2018 Polaris Prize winner Jeremy Dutcher and others were all there to perform and show their support.

Fontaine and Isaac performed music and poetry throughout the night and hosted a diverse range of artists in support of the railway blockades and demonstrations that denounced the potential pipeline passage across unceded ancestral land.

There was traditional throat singing, drums, dance, contemporary song, rap, and poetry.

Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists filled the space with song and poetry, sharing their stories in solidarity amid the crisis to preserve Indigenous territories and culture, and in celebration of the earth.

Despite the dark and cloudy atmosphere of uncertainty as a result of COVID-19, there was clarity when the artists performed. From one artistic act to the next, there was pause, laughter, cheers, and applause for the diverse lineup, but also there was certainty in the eyes of the audience members and the performers. Everyone was there for the same reason: to show support during societal and political turbulence through music, art, and poetry.

The benefit carried and amplified the voices and songs of Indigenous artists too, both well-known and local.

“Braids represent the past, the present, and the future,” explained Anachnid. “Children, adults, and elder, and all three phases in life, united.”

When men, two-spirit, LGBTQI+, or other minorities are forced to cut their hair, Anachnid said they are usually forced to do so to adapt under societal pressures. She said they lose part of their culture, explaining that the longer the braids, the closer it is to the sweet grass—to the soul. Sweet grass represents the grass of Mother Earth; when burned, it cleanses like sage.

She also said that it was fine for people to cut their hair if they wanted to. “That’s how people shapeshift,” she said

When it came to performing, and creating music together, at first, Anachnid and Grey spoke different languages.

“I’m air,” she said about her creative chemistry with saxophonist Grey. “He’s fire—it amplifies, if anything.”

While it took love, anger, pain, and joy, like any other relationship, to be able to collaborate smoothly with one another, the ingenuity of both artists blended together well that night. Anachnid uplifted the crowd with her vocals as Grey played his instrument.

“She’s the creator,” said Grey, “She’s the mastermind.”

“No, no, no, we both are,” Anachnid said. 

Photos by Cecilia Piga.



Benefit show to raise awareness for Mosul refugee relief

York University music professor to perform Middle Eastern music at Casa del Popolo

A music professor from York University, Rob Simms will be performing a benefit show in Montreal to raise awareness for Mosul refugee relief on June 20 at Casa del Popolo at 8:30 p.m. It will be a free show, though people can donate money to the United Nations Refugee Agency in Canada (UNHCR) to help refugees from Mosul, Iraq. Simms will be performing a combination of solo improvisations and traditional Iraqi, Kurdish and Turkish songs.

Simms has been teaching in the music department of York University in Toronto since 2000. He is an ethnomusicologist—meaning he studies music in a cultural context—and also a multi-instrumentalist, specializing in traditional Middle Eastern and West African music. His passion for Middle Eastern music developed from his love of Spanish flamenco music. “I followed my passion of being a listener,” he said. “I got very deep into flamenco, and I started exploring the roots of flamenco—it took me to Arab music,” he said.

Simms said playing Middle Eastern music became even more enjoyable than listening to it because it allowed him to meet other passionate people and expand his knowledge of the music. “You start poking around, and you find more things that are more to your taste. There is an introduction, and then you find exactly what turns you on musically,” he said. “It’s a fantastic thing—it’s cultural, intellectual and pleasurable.” Over the years, Simms has learned to play the oud (a short-necked lute), the setar (a long-necked lute), the tanbur (a string instrument), the kora (a harp) and various percussion instruments.

Even though there are political differences between Middle Eastern countries, Simms said their music shares similarities. “The music is all related and complementary,” he said. “As soon as you put borders, it creates conflict—but when you listen to the music from these countries, they all fit together nicely.” According to Simms, when you bring these cultures together, musically and spiritually, they are like one big family. “I look at it as a family reunion. Of course there was a lot of agitation and colonization, but it’s a reminder of the connection as opposed of the division,” he said.

As he explored Middle Eastern music, Simms said he realized there had been great cultural loss in Iraq due to all the political conflict. “Many aspects of their culture have been destroyed in the last couple of decades due to the political turmoil,” he said. “It’s chaos there—the music has been lost.” According to Simms, this disruption of Iraqi culture significantly lessened the amount of available information about Middle Eastern music—and it’s what led him to write a book about the music. He has also written two books on Persian classical music. “Even though I am not the best person to write about Iraqi music, I did so to satisfy my own questions about it,” he said. “Then I realized that this music needs advocacy—it needs people to keep interest in this music.”

In 2003, Simms published The Repertoire of Iraqi Maqam, a book about the classical music of Iraq, known as Iraqi maqam. According to Simms, the word maqam also refers to your state of consciousness. “Maqam creates an atmosphere and hopefully it elevates people. Surely, as I play the music, it elevates me—you go deeper and deeper, and get into higher degrees of spiritual realization,” he said.

Simms will be performing classical Iraqi maqam at the benefit performance. He will be playing the oud, the Kurdish tanbur and the ney, a Turkish flute. According to Simms, Iraqi maqam sounds more like chamber music than concert music. “The music is heavy and slow—it’s ritual music used for meditation. It’s music that makes you go inside of yourself,” he said. He hopes his performance will allow people to reflect on the tragedies Iraqis have faced.

During the show, photographs depicting the realities of life in Mosul, Iraq and the experiences of its refugees will be projected behind the stage. According to the UNHCR, the fighting in Mosul started in October 2016, leaving 400,000 people trapped in Mosul refugee camps that lack clean water, food, support, shelter and fuel to generate heat.

“We need to have compassion for human beings. Forget about nationalities or religion, we have people suffering,” Simms said. “We need to remind people about the situation there. It’s not just about raising money, it’s about raising awareness.”


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