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Arts

For a unique brunch experience, head to Le Balcon!

The Concordian was invited to attend a lively gospel brunch hosted by Le Balcon on February 26

Le Balcon is a cabaret located in the rustically beautiful St. James United Church in downtown Montreal. It offers dinner shows as well as gospel brunches.

The Concordian was invited to attend a gospel brunch on February 26th, featuring local band HOWzik. It was a dazzling experience that energized all the senses. 

When arriving, guests were escorted through the church to the Le Balcon area. As soon as one walks in, the amount of care and thought put into the space was evident. The interior design was splendid, with each piece of decor complementing the other nicely. Red lights illuminated beautiful stained glass windows, matching perfectly with red tablecloths and the stage’s red curtains. Eagle-eyed guests could spot “Le Balcon” faintly written in white letters on the thick curtains.The tables were decorated with black handkerchiefs and magnificent clear yellow rectangular candles. Several large black and white photos of the various artists that have performed at Le Balcon adorned the walls of the space. The interior design wasn’t the only thing that enhanced the experience, though: as guests dined, gospel music played in the background. 

Yogurt was served as an entrée. It contained blueberry jam, crispy granola, honey, and almonds. Afterwards, guests had a choice of crêpes or strata for their main meal. The strata contained egg and chorizo gratin, bread, aged cheddar, bell pepper, arugula, and herbed fingerling potatoes. In addition, there was a vegetarian version of this meal. The strata was described by another guest as savoury, fresh, light and refreshing but still filling. She added that the flavour combination was amazing and pesto added to the presentation. 

The other option, crêpes, were rolled with roasted apples, maple and salt flower caramel, and apple and spice jelly with crumble. They were delicious. The apple filling was smooth, tasty, fresh and juicy. The caramel added a kick. Overall, the flavour combination was mouthwatering. 

Along with the food, drinks such as mimosas and alcoholized coffee were available. 

After dinner came the main attraction: the band HOWzik. Before their set, the group introduced themselves and the history of gospel music. They told us we would be taken through the journey of gospel. They were right.

The group began with African songs such as, “Kumbaya” by Soweto Gospel Choir and “Nazo bondela yo” by Rosny Kayiba. The bands also presented on the history of the music they performed, stating they were ancestral songs from Africa that predated slavery. 

Afterwards, the group switched to a song dating from the period when enslaved Africans arrived in the Americas, called “Oh Freedom!”

The group then switched to a different era, in which the Christianization of enslaved people occurred and gospel music began to appear. The five songs performed in this phase were “Wade in the water we Dey,” “Très longtemps,” “Amazing grace,” “Let praises rise” and “Oh happy day.” The first two songs were performed before a break, which gave a chance for both the band and audience to relax and refresh. The last three songs were performed afterwards. 

Finally, the group performed three upbeat and uplifting original songs in French. These were “Cris de joie,” “Plus haut,” and “Apprends moi à t’aimer.” 

As the group sang, lights and visual effects enhanced the experience. Indeed, different coloured lights accompanied by dancing shapes projected on the walls around the stage served to further immerse the audience into the spectacle. Also, flashing  lights were used to add intensity. For example, during the “Nazo bondela yo” number, blue lights illuminated the stage and stained glass windows while white foliage-like shapes covered the walls. Given the slower pace of the song, the lights only flashed sparingly. In comparison, during the more upbeat “Yindule/Soki toko lingana” number, pink lights aggressively flashed while pink shapes, which occasionally turned white, covered the walls. Special effects perfectly matched the tones of the songs, as quieter more emotional tracks like “Wade in the Water we Dey” had fewer special effects while more upbeat songs like “Cris de joie” had more flashy effects. 

Another aspect that added to the immersive nature of the experience was the harmony between the band. The musicians and singers complemented each other perfectly. They even wore matching black outfits for the first part of the set. Then after the break, they wore matching white shirts and blue jeans. Harmony was not just found among their outfits, but also within their voices. Each singer also had a chance to shine. During different numbers, different singers took turns taking centre stage.

The band also energized the crowd by asking them to sing, clap, or dance along. For example, during the performance of “Wade in the Water we Dey,” the crowd was encouraged to sing along. This made the audience part of the performance which enhanced the experience. 

Overall, gospel brunches at Le Balcon are a perfect weekend morning activity for music lovers no matter their religious background. Every day, different artists perform at Le Balcon. Upcoming events include a Flamenco evening.

 

Visuals courtesy Sydney Gastaldo 

Categories
Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Kanye West – Donda

Donda is finally here.

After over a year of delays, teasing and announcements, Kanye West’s tenth studio album has been released at last. Donda, named after West’s late mother, was originally slated for a July 2020 release, but turned into frequent delays that saw it pushed further and further with no official tracks ever coming out. This led to a series of listening parties hosted by West throughout the summer, leading fans and listeners into what has been one of, if not the most anticipated album of the year.

Donda marks West’s first album since 2019’s JESUS IS KING, and continues to create sounds that bring together genres like gospel, rap, and ambient. However, the album falls short on listeners with its overbearing length. Coming in at a whopping 108 minutes of playtime, Donda is a difficult listen for one sitting, and is now the longest project in West’s discography.

Thematically, Donda is not much different from the artist’s last two bodies of work, ye and JESUS IS KING. West’s raps focus on his Christian faith and his family with the help of choirs, synths, and organs, leaving this album almost as a continuation of these older projects. Tracks like “Come to Life” and “Pure Souls” could just have easily come from JESUS IS KING.

Like any Kanye West album, Donda is ripe with features from a plethora of artists such as The Weeknd, Playboi Carti and Travis Scott, just to name a few. Throughout the 27-track project there are a great deal of highlights surrounded by moments that are questionable. While some features are incredibly compatible with their beats such as Jay-Z on “Jail,” there are also features whose verses simply lack a connection with the track, like the late Pop Smoke’s verse on “Tell The Vision.”

There are a great deal of homages to Donda West, such as West rapping “And if I talk to Christ, can I bring my mother back to life?” It’s moments like these that offer a glimpse into the love that West has for his mother and touch back to the idea of a tribute album. On the other hand there are insipid verses such as Baby Keem’s on “Praise God,” that seem to be nothing more than random words over a beat. While the diverse range of collaborators can draw in listeners of other fanbases, some end up souring the notion that this album is supposed to honour someone’s life.

Powerful tracks like “Hurricane” or the beautiful “Jesus Lord” are moments where this album excels, but they get lost in a sea of too many tracks on one record. As a result of this long and seemingly unending listen, Donda sounds like the work of a perfectionist who didn’t know where to stop — which is a shame for the casual listener that will not listen to almost 30 tracks straight.

At its core, Donda would have made for an incredible 12 to 15 track project if fewer songs made the final cut. With the amount of talent poured into the writing and production credits there is something to be said about West’s perfectionism, but at the same time the album is too long for its own good. As a work with multiple tracks that serve as multi-minute interludes and songs that have part ones and two, this album feels like it has too much going on to be a cohesive body of work.

Trial track: Come to Life

7/10

 

Graphic by James Fay

Categories
Music

Jesus is King doesn’t deserve a crown

Despite Kanye West’s abysmal rapping, Jesus is King is still richly produced and somewhat enjoyable

Amidst a long-spanning controversy over his support of Donald Trump, bold wrongful claims about slavery being a choice, and simply releasing sub-par music (I’m looking at you “I Love It”), Kanye West is back with Jesus is King, an album born from West’s embrace of Christianity.

The album was originally intended to be released on Sept. 27, but was delayed indefinitely after it failed to show up on streaming services that day. No one was surprised, really; it is Kanye West we’re talking about here.

The project is another tonal shift for West. The Life of Pablo and Ye were his only albums to not sound like he was trying to change the soundscape of hip hop and music in general. He has definitely embraced Christianity before, like on “Jesus Walks” and “Ultralight Beam,” but West has never gone so far as to dedicate an entire album to it.

Through and through, Jesus is King is a gospel album. Beginning with the Sunday Service Choir-assisted “Every Hour,” West assures the listener that this was going to be a project dedicated to Christ.

Across the album, the instrumentals are what you’d expect from West. Heavy on the sampling, gorgeous melodies, and peculiar arrangements. This is especially true on standout “Selah” that features a powerful choir harmony singing “Hallelujah” at the instrumental peak of the track. This song also contains West’s best verses on the album. That being said, the verse isn’t exactly strong.

The track bleeds hypocrisy as he raps: “Love God and our neighbour, as written by Luke.” If West really wanted to love his neighbour, he should maybe consider not supporting Trump in favour of the Democratic nominees with actual good ideas (hey, Bernie).

“Follow God” is another strongly produced track that features a Pablo type beat and cadence, but is once again burdened by horrible lines— “I was looking at the gram and I don’t even like likes.”

Despite the continuous flaws in West’s lyricism, the album still remains somewhat gripping due to the powerful production and great guest performances, most notably Ty Dolla $ign on “Everything We Need.” The track was recycled from West’s unreleased Yandhi but they chose to remove XXXTentacion’s verse.

West is clearly inspired and he’s trying, but the album is hollow beyond its production. West’s rapping is as lazy as it’s ever been, and his plight of Christianity feels half-baked as if he created this album weeks before it was even announced.

Content aside, the mixing is another point in which the album falters. “Selah,” “Follow God,” and “Water,” among others, are noticeably poorly mixed. Whether or not this is by design is moot; the album doesn’t reach its potential because of this. It seems rushed.

Even with the attempt to pair it with a short film, aptly titled Jesus is King, his message only becomes more muddled. The movie doesn’t add anything to the narrative. Its empty, albeit well-shot visuals, make for a pleasant viewing experience, but nothing actually happens. There are a few close-ups of the choir, one continuous shot of West holding his newborn son, Psalm, and a few other unmemorable moments.

The film only becomes somewhat interesting towards the end as West sings a softer, modified version of his 808s & Heartbreak stunner, “Street Lights.”

Simply put, Jesus is King is too uninteresting to merit multiple listens. It sounds nice, but the ideas aren’t fleshed out enough. Sure, we know West is a born-again Christian now, but what of it?

Following Ye, he needed something more substantive to truly paint a clearer portrait of a man affected by bipolar disorder. Instead of explaining to us where he is mentally, he resorts to underwhelming bars about Christianity that make Donald Trump Jr. happy.

Still, the album has enjoyable moments, if you can tune out whatever the hell West is saying. There are some high points on it that are unfortunately too few and far between to make this project a contender for the year’s best.

Jesus is King is at its strongest when West barely even appears. “Use This Gospel” is masterfully produced, featuring rich keys and melodies from West as he sings the short but sweet hook. Also assisted by a Clipse reunion, Pusha T and No Malice return with killer verses that outshine anything West had done on any of the previous tracks.

“Closed on Sunday” has a gorgeous string leading into it that’s unfortunately marred by a horrid bar about Chick-Fil-A. “Hands On” features a lovely refrain by Fred Hammond backed by a skeletal, chilling instrumental.

Jesus is King is, unfortunately, the weakest entry in West’s discography, but it still isn’t a failure.

It’s simply insubstantial and it would’ve benefited from a few extra tracks and fleshing out the shorter tracks. It would have also been more entertaining if West wasn’t so obnoxious in his rapping. How does someone go from claiming he is a god to following God? If only West rapped more insightfully about his transition to Christianity.

Album rating:

5/10

Trial Track: “Use This Gospel”

Star Bar: “A lot of damaged souls, I done damaged those

And in my arrogance, took a camera pose

Caught with a trunk of Barry Manilows

They sing a different tune when the slammer close”

  • (No Malice on “Use This Gospel”)

Film rating:

4/10

Categories
Music

Award-winning, platinum-recording Montreal gospel choir to hit Theatre Outremont

Gospel Choir – Press photo

“At CN I had successfully climbed the ladder, maybe even broke some glass ceilings for a black woman,” said Carol Bernard, reminiscing about her past as senior manager at Canadian National Railway. Bernard, born in Montreal to Jamaican parents, has no regrets but it was a long winding road to where she is today: directing Montreal’s Jireh Gospel Choir.

“People are surprised when they learn that my first degree was in mathematics,” said Bernard, who sees her mathematics background as an asset, if not a necessity. “Music is science as well as art. Just like in mathematics, where the answer is right or wrong, the note that a singer sings is either right [on pitch] or wrong.”

Her analytical skills have been invaluable for her position with CN as much as choir director. It’s been more than a decade since her transition from day-job to living the dream. Bernard was recently informed of her selection as one of Black History Month’s candidates for their 2013 calendar.

“Anybody who knew me knew that I was more passionate about gospel music than I was about transporting goods,” explained Bernard.

Armed with the knowledge that it was time for her to follow her passion and the skills she gathered along the way, she left her job at CN and has since helped create Montreal’s most authentic and talented gospel choir, Jireh.

Named after the Hebrew word for ‘provider’ (in the Bible, ‘Jehovah Jireh’ is used for God, meaning ‘God our Provider’), Jireh Gospel choir provides a dynamic ensemble of top notch vocal talent with a distinct French-Canadian flavour.

“I don’t want to live anywhere else,” said Bernard of her hometown, Montreal. “I love this city for the people, the food, the unique European/French flavour and the passion for the arts.”

But most of all, Bernard feels that Montreal needs Jireh because “so many people here do not consider themselves religious and need to hear the message [of God] through gospel music.”

Despite the general trend of people turning away from the church, Jireh is able to transcend the rigid idea of religious music by mixing traditional and contemporary styles, from jazz, R&B, classical music and even rock. They also perform original compositions, including the song “Quoi qu’il arrive,” which won them the Gospel Music Association of Canada’s Gospel Song of the Year in 2012.

“The word ‘religious’ has the connotation of dos and don’ts,” said Bernard, insisting that what gospel music can offer transcends rules. Instead, it offers the listener the experience of “real joy, hope, love and peace.”

With Bernard at the helm, Jireh has accomplished more than she could ever have imagined.

“[From] performing with Cirque du Soleil at the Montreal International Jazz Festival in front of more than 200,000 people, as well as the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, to producing a platinum selling CD with popular Quebec singer Mario Pelchat,” said Bernard, her face lighting up.

But for those who are considering a career in the music industry, Bernard has a warning: “don’t do it unless you are prepared to eat peanut butter sandwiches or mac and cheese. In other words, don’t do it for the money, fame or glory. Do it if you can’t see yourself doing anything else with your life.”

 

Carol Bernard and the Jireh Gospel Choir will appear at ONE: Christmas Gospel Celebration 2012 at Theatre Outremont on Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are 25$ (20$ for students).

Categories
Music

Not yet The End of That for Plants and Animals

Plants and Animals play and sound like a band that has lived through decades together. But there is a good reason why a band with only three full-length albums, the first of which was released as recently as 2008, sounds so mature.
Bandmates Warren Spicer and Matthew ‘Woody’ Woodley first met as 12-year-olds in Halifax, N.S., but they found their missing piece, Quebec native Nic Basque, over 10 years ago in the depths of Concordia’s music department.
Combined, they bring a tight, red-hot gospel/soul sound that escaped rock somewhere between the ‘80s and today.
Woodley’s skittering, feet-flicking drum beat and Basque’s classic-rock-country trilling guitar provides the canvas for Spicer’s gargling, soulful voice and easy-to-relate-to tales of ecstasy, disappointment and growing older.
Since their debut album Parc Avenue got shortlisted for the 2008 Polaris Prize, Plants and Animals have toured Europe and North America extensively, played the summer music festival circuit, and opened for Grizzly Bear, Gnarls Barkley and The National—to name a few.
Despite hobnobbing with industry elites and dealing with the distractions of rock ‘n’ roll life on the road, Woodley claims that his bond with Spicer and Basque has only strengthened.
“The one thing that’s changed the most is we’re more comfortable being open with each other,” revealed Woodley. “We’re not afraid to say what we think to each other, not too shy and don’t take things too personally.”
Fresh off the shelves, The End of That has already garnered significant commercial attention. The album was featured as CBC Music’s Album of the Week, its first single, “Lightshow,” was Amazon MP3’s Song of the Day on Feb. 29, and the band stole the cover of several Montreal publications in February alone.
While Parc Avenue was Plants and Animals’ love letter to Mile End, and La La Land (2010) revealed the gritty truth of touring around Los Angeles, The End of That is a therapeutic return home.
Vocalist Spicer dealt with some life issues through the lyrics. In “Crisis!” he returns home to find “everyone is getting married or breaking up / And the stroller situation on the sidewalk / is way out of control,” while on “The End of That” he reflects on his foray into cocaine.
“I don’t think that we wanted to be happy-go-lucky,” said Woodley, “but we wanted to put something out that hit people in the heart a little more quickly, not such a slow burn.”
Woodley and Basque often have their music charted out before Spicer brings the lyrics into the studio, which Woodley admits completely changes the way it plays out.
“It’s kind of an obtuse feeling when a song hits, and when you put words on top, they can really change the message of the music,” explained Woodley. “Sometimes I find it’s an adjustment, playing it, coming to grips with it.”
The band recorded the album at La Frette, a manor just outside Paris where they ate, slept and played while touring in France.
“We got there after playing a show at two in the morning, turned on the lights, and realized, ‘Oh man, we have to work here again, we’ve got to settle down and do it here,’” recounted Woodley.
“It isn’t the fact that it’s in France, the city close by, or even the river down the street. It’s the space itself and what it felt like that made it so special.”
With roots in improvisation, Plants and Animals are known for seducing crowds to the dance floor with their loud, jam-rocking live shows. They take their albums’ work to the stage on an entirely different level.
“There’s nothing like [playing] live,” professed Woodley. “It’s in the moment, it’s about the people.”
This time around, the Mile Enders wanted to produce an album that already reflected as much of their live material as possible.
“I think you might find the live show as close to the album as we have ever gotten,” said Woodley. “It’s still louder, and still rockier, but it’s closer in character.”

Plants and Animals play Le Cabaret du Mile End (5240 Parc Ave.) on March 10. Tickets are $17 in advance or $20 at the door.

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