Arts Festival

Art Souterrain: an atypical contemporary art festival that redesigns Montreal’s underground pathways

An exhibit with no borders, spread across five Montreal locations

Festival Art Souterrain returns this year for its 15th edition. From March 18 to April 9, thousands of spectators can see a variety of artworks and performances throughout Montreal’s large underground network.

This non-profit organization was founded in 2009. Every year, they exhibit international contemporary art institutions, artists, and the architectural and cultural legacy of downtown Montreal’s underground city.

Exclusive to North America, Art Souterrain leads artworks out of artistic institutions and merges them into the daily lives of citizens. The organization aims to create a unique and distinctive concept in the realm of performing arts by facilitating exchange, diverse tools, and cultural mediation.

For this edition, the organization has commissioned Quebecois artists Eddy Firmin, Jean-François Prost, and Brazilian artist Ayrson Heráclito to oversee 30 artistic projects on this year’s theme “The Party.”

“From all the night and the city offer to our capacity for exploration, the party rises up and asserts itself, occasioning fortuitous encounters,” described Prost.

This year, the festival takes place in five different buildings in downtown Montreal. 

Entry points are situated at Place Ville Marie, Montréal World Trade Centre, the Jacques Parizeau Building, Palais des Congrès de Montréal, and Place de la cité international.

To make your journey easy, festival organizers have placed signs at the entrance of the buildings. They also provide a map on their website.


Want to travel, but can’t afford to? Write and receive postcards from people abroad instead!

Postcrossing: a website that allows people to exchange postcards

Postcrossing is a community with over 800,000 active members sprawling across 205 countries, that allows people to exchange postcards with one another. 

“It’s an online platform that allows anyone to exchange postcards from all over the world, for free,” said computer systems engineer and creator of Postcrossing, Paulo Magalhães. 

He shared that the idea stemmed from wanting to connect people who love writing postcards. 

Inspired by the famous website BookCrossing, which serves as a platform to exchange books with random people, Postcrossing strives to do the same with postcards.  

While postcard exchanges might seem like a thing of the past, it is always nice to receive one in the mail. 

Soon after the project started, it gained immense popularity. The year 2008 marked a million postcards sent. 

It connected thousands of people across the world who aspire to travel but do not necessarily have the time, finances, or ability to do so. 

Every postcrosser has a profile, where they write about themselves and the kind of postcards they would like to receive. This gives the sender cues for what they can choose to write about. 

Beyond mailing postcards, the community has grown to organize meetups for postcard exchanges. There’s a forum where people connect their lived realities and blog to report the stories of postcrossers around the world. 

In the summer of 2020, I was working in a tourist shop in the Old Port of Quebec City. There barely were any tourists, because it was only the start of the pandemic. The few people that did visit were from the province, sometimes Ontario, and did not have much interest in buying souvenirs. 

One day scavenging through the stock, I found hundreds of different postcards, representing facets of the city. Surfing the web, looking for inspiration on what people did with postcards of their own city, I fell upon Postcrossing. At first, I did not understand the full extent of its brilliance. 

I have written letters to prisoners for over ten years. It started as an activity product of boredom as a young teenager and turned into opening my mind to carceral justice and abolition.

Traveling across the world, I met like-minded people, who did not believe in the concept of borders and shared my interest in writing. We soon decided to write letters to each other and forge contact living miles away. 

I wrote postcards when traveling to people I cared about but never had thought of sending them from my own city. Postcrossing made me see a world where people are eager to know about my own town. 

“Every member I meet is someone like me — just someone wanting to share some thoughts and experiences from their little corner of the globe,” says Emma Wayne, a postcrosser from Germany.  

I encountered only a few setbacks. Canada has some of the most expensive stamps in the world, one factor being that they are taxed. With $2.71 per international stamp, there are only so many postcards that can be sent a month, without it being a costly endeavor. 

I met a community of artists, people who make their own postcards, taken from their own photos, or some who paint on cardboard, collages, and drawings. 

All age ranges exist, from older retired folks to five-year-olds who are learning to write. Once, a young girl from California filled an envelope with sand and attached a note saying that it was so I could also feel like I was at the beach. 

“Postcrossers are people of all ages and backgrounds, connected by their love for postcards. Since postcards and stamps are available nearly everywhere around the world, Postcrossing can be enjoyed by anyone,” added Magalhães. 

Most people write in English, but you can write in any language the destinee reads. It can be a language practice exercise for some. I’ve had someone write to me in Georgian. 

Determined to understand its meaning, I spent over two hours deciphering it. I would have never turned to Georgian if it had not appeared to me so randomly. 

I have stayed in contact with several people from the platform, some of whom have even welcomed me to their home while traveling. 

Postcrossing is more than a simple platform, it’s a community of nomads, travellers, people passing their time exchanging souvenirs of their own towns to the world. 

It’s free, accessible, builds community, and sometimes gives you free housing when travelling! 

Graphic by: James Fay


Canadian whiteness pervades the Montreal International Black Film Festival

Racism in the Great White North just isn’t worth denouncing for those who chose the opening movie of this year’s Festival

The opening of the Montreal International Black Film Festival with the screening of Lovely Jackson on Sept. 20 was nothing less than a pure expression of devious Canadian whiteness. 

Yes, there is such a thing.

A lot of Canadian identity is predicated on not being American. So when it comes to racism, the white Canadian rhetoric is that it’s simply “not as bad as it is in the States.” 

The result is a local form of whiteness that pushes Euro-Canadians to decry racial violence in the United States but harshly deny its existence in their own country, so as to preserve the myth of white innocence, of non-American superiority. I don’t know any Black person in Canada who hasn’t been humiliated by these seemingly contradictory reactions that actually go hand in hand. 

Yes, we are familiar with Canadian whiteness.

I expected more from the Montreal Black Film Festival because it established multiple events and opportunities around the theme of Being Black in Canada. I thus decided to give Lovely Jackson a chance despite the fact that it’s produced by a white male  — first red flag — , and was suspiciously acclaimed by a white Québécois executive of the Festival (who declared in his speech that it was “just so beautiful”) — second red flag.

The movie tells the story of Rickey Jones, an African American man who spent 39 years on death row in Cleveland, Ohio for the murder of a white man that he did not commit. Two white police officers wrongfully convicted him at age 18 by forcing a 12-year-old Black boy — the case’s sole eyewitness — to write a false statement “proving” his guilt.

He was released in 2014 at age 57, years after the Ohio Innocence Project started investigating his case.

As my heart juggled between rage, sadness and admiration for Jackson who boldly shared his incredible journey towards healing and happiness, I grew more and more disgusted at producer Matt Waldeck who carefully washed away the blood off the white criminals’ hands.

In fact, the Festival’s choice of this movie is far more than just disrespectful in the Canadian context as another strategic focus on U.S. racism that overshadows local tyranny. It’s also full of white saviourism. 

That is very clear: all white characters are angels. More blame is put on the poor child who bore the traumatic burden of the officers’ illegal manipulation and coercion for decades than on the policemen responsible for Jackson’s misery. 

The movie includes detailed follow-ups on the life and testimonies of the former, but the latter are completely erased from the story, despite Jackson implying the full extent of their guilt in one brief clip. 

This point-of-view remains unexplored. However, the white prosecutor who was the director of the Ohio Innocence Project gets heroic attention — never mind the fact that he admitted to believing all prisoners were evil until the project’s creator went on sabbatical leave, forcing him into the job.

The movie does not name “racism” or the prison-industrial complex, let alone the roots of the colonial capitalist system that rips families apart and instills planned suffering into Black people’s existence.

I went from being frustrated to holding back tears at the cruelty of this world, exhausted by Waldeck’s distortion of reality that was further empowered by the Canadian whiteness of the Festival.


Winter exchange programs resume: McGill students express their thoughts on exchange programs on their reinstatement

McGill students share their frustration after the university reinstated their exchange program after cancelling it two weeks prior.

On Oct. 5, McGill University cancelled its student exchanges for the Winter 2022 semester due to the Canadian government’s global travel advisory, which advised Canadians to “Avoid non-essential travel” amid ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, in an email sent to students on Oct. 22, McGill announced the possibility of resuming exchanges for the winter semester due to the removal of the global travel advisory. In light of this news, many McGill students expressed their frustration with the university’s decision to cancel exchanges abroad for the third time, while Concordia University’s exchange program operated throughout the pandemic.

“Why can’t McGill logistically deal with this, when there is a school right down the street that’s doing it and has been doing it throughout this pandemic?” asked Max Garcia, a third-year geography student at McGill.

Discouraged and frustrated, Garcia took it upon himself to start a petition demanding a clear answer from the university.

After reaching 500 signatures, Garcia contacted the university and met with Fabrice Labeau, the deputy provost of student life and learning at McGill University, to further discuss how the cancellation affected students’ academic plans.

“People planned their lives around this. I took a course last winter in preparation for the exchange because it is a required thing that only happens in the winter, and I was supposed to take it this year. It’s things like that that [Labeau] just wasn’t getting,” said Garcia.

With Global Affairs Canada lifting the worldwide travel advisory for fully vaccinated Canadians, McGill is currently working with host universities to determine whether reinstatement of the Winter 2022 exchanges will be possible for some students. 

But Madison Gordon, a third-year psychology major at McGill, shares the same frustration as Labeau.

“McGill was too quick to cancel the exchange and not look ahead at what the consequences would be. While they likely were not aware of when the global travel advisory would be lifted, I think that reinstating it after cancelling it was just a slap in the face, especially after many cancelled their accommodations [and] flights.”

The cancellation and reinstatement of the exchange program was a disruption to many other students. McGill stated in their email that exchanges actually happening are not guaranteed; however, the university is working with students and partner universities to ensure students proceed with their exchanges.

“It’s very possible that the host universities will have given away our spots to other international students. It’s not even a guarantee that I’m going to be able to go,” said Allie Fishman, a third-year management student.

All three students have stated that going on exchange is a personal choice, and a risk they are willing to take despite the pandemic.

“I just think it was kind of strange that McGill was making that decision on my behalf. When you know, there are already international students that come to McGill,” said Fishman.

According to Téo L. Blackburn, director of Concordia International, which represents the university in partnerships with over 180 educational facilities, said their team talked a lot about making a distinction between allowing exchanges and promoting them.

“It’s important that everybody understands that we weren’t recommending that you go on exchange. We are allowing you to go on exchange and making sure that if you were going on exchange, you are well informed, and you understood that we were there in case something happened,” Blackburn said.

Though McGill and UQAM based their decision on the Canadian Government’s global travel advisory recommendations, the Concordia International team decided to continue exchanges to give students the freedom of choice.  

“I don’t know that I personally would have gone on exchange during COVID, and I know some of my international leaders and officers may not, and others may have, and that’s personal to them,” said Blackburn. “It’s personal to the students who do end up going.”


Photo collage by Kit Mergaert


Amid the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Canada chooses neutrality

Ottawa suspends all exports of military drone technology to Turkey, as the Azerbaijan-Armenia tensions lead to casualties.

Canada will no longer supply its combat drone technology to Turkey, since it allegedly further escalated the military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, a self-proclaimed republic that is home to both Azerbaijani and Armenian ethnic groups.

On Sept. 27, bombardment resumed in the war-torn territory, killing at least 31 civilians and hundreds of service people. These clashes in the Caucasus region continue to this day, with Azerbaijan making advances in seven key villages.

These actions are all part of a decades-long conflict which began in the late 1980s. The war in Nagorno-Karabakh (also known as the Republic of Artsakh in Armenia) erupted as an ethnic Armenian majority attempted to secede from Azerbaijan in the south-west of the country.

Long-lasting mountain warfare forced over 800,000 ethnic Azerbaijanis to flee the region as refugees, as well as 230,000 Armenians. While Azerbaijan tries to regain control of its territory, Armenian forces remain fully committed to protecting their own ethnic group.

To this day, not a single UN member state including Armenia has recognized the republic as a sovereign state, meaning the conflict is taking place solely on Azerbaijani territory.

Last week, Canada’s Armenian diaspora urged the Trudeau government to stop exporting military drone technology to Turkey, which includes drone optics and laser targeting systems. Since Azerbaijan uses Turkish combat drones against Armenian targets in Nagorno-Karabakh, Canada was allegedly supporting the Azeri side indirectly.

In response to such reports, Canada suspended all of its drone technology exports to Turkey on Oct. 6. Moreover, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne directed the officials to investigate the use of Canada’s technology in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Champagne also stated that Canada is deeply concerned with the shelling of civilians, and that “the parties to the conflict must stop the violence and respect the ceasefire agreement.”

According to Sevag Belian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee in Canada, Ottawa’s decision to suspend exports was very much appreciated by the Armenian community. He explained that Armenia is looking for nothing other than a peaceful resolution.

“The dictators of Azerbaijan and Turkey are willing to finish the genocide of their ancestors,” Belian told The Concordian, referring to the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, which Canada recognizes as a genocide.

“Once those two countries stop their aggression, there will be peace in the region. However, once Armenia and Artsakh stop defending themselves, there will be a second genocide.”

Armenia’s perspective, though, differs significantly from that of Azerbaijan. The Turkic nation also witnessed atrocities committed by their Armenian neighbour in February 1992, known as the Khojaly massacre.

The Armenian armed forces committed a mass murder of 613 ethnic Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojaly, which is also located in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Human Rights Watch organization described this event as “the largest massacre to date in the conflict.”

Executive Director of the Network of Azerbaijani Canadians, Ismayil Alakbarov, told The Concordian that Azerbaijan is a peaceful nation that has absolutely no interest in war.

If Azerbaijan wanted to liberate its territories with the use of force, we could have done it 30 years ago,” he said.

In this situation, the numbers are indeed favouring Azerbaijan. Its military budget is five times larger than that of Armenia, while its population of 10 million compares to just three million in Armenia.

Despite Armenia’s small population, however, its diaspora in Canada is actively engaging with the Canadian government. On Oct. 4, more than 1,000 Armenian protesters in Montreal called for peace from the Azerbaijani side. The community’s demands have been successful so far, as it already convinced Ottawa to suspend the exports of its drone technology.

Alakbarov, on the other hand, claimed that “We are seeing big propaganda by the Armenian diaspora here in Canada, who is influencing our members of Parliament.” He also urged his community not to follow Armenia’s example and to refrain from mass protests due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns.

In the end, Canada continues to play the role of a peacemaker and condemns violence in Nagorno-Karabakh from both parties. On Oct. 6, Champagne made it clear that war is not the answer to the conflict.

[Its resolution] can only be delivered through a negotiated settlement and not through military action.”

Both Belian and Alakbarov agreed with the Foreign Affairs Minister’s statement, confirming that diplomacy is the only way forward.

However, as military engagements between Armenia and Azerbaijan are far from over, both parties continue to deal not only with bombardment in Nagorno-Karabakh, but also worldwide misinformation regarding the truth behind this brutal and controversial conflict.


World in Brief

Donald Trump said that peace negotiations with the Taliban were officially dead on Monday. According to the BBC, Trump canceled the hosting of a Taliban delegation after the group admitted to killing a U.S. soldier. The two sides were said to be getting closer to a deal. The talks were aimed at ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan. The Taliban had previously said that the U.S. would “lose the most” if negotiations were canceled.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran is installing new centrifuges, trespassing the limits of a nuclear deal. According to the Associated Press, the nuclear deal was meant to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons in exchange for economic incentives. However, the U.S.’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal last year prompted struggle from other signatories to meet Iran’s demands and salvage the treaty.

A typhoon with wind speeds up to 207 km/h killed two and caused travel chaos in Tokyo on Monday, according to the Agence France Presse. More than 30 people were injured and about 2,000 had to take refuge in nearby shelters. The train system and the airport had to shut down their services. Taxis and buses were the only remaining options.


International students’ tuition hikes are added hurdles

One student’s experience with epilepsy, expenses and finding hope at Concordia

The debate over raising tuition at Concordia, particularly for international students such as myself, fails to acknowledge the various reasons we chose to study in Canada. When I applied to 12 universities at the end of my high school career, I had no idea Concordia University even existed. That all changed in 2016, the day before Thanksgiving, when I had my first seizure.

At the time, I had started college in Kalamazoo, Mich. I had chosen to attend that university because of a generous scholarship, but the annual price of $45,000 still took a toll on my parents’s finances. As my seizures grew in intensity, my parents’s budget shrank. They now had to pay for an American education and increasing medical costs. Granted, their insurance handled a portion of the financial burden, but nothing could prepare them for the massive bills to come when I started my second year of college.

Two weeks into the academic year, while walking home from a party, I had two massive seizures, each lasting for a dangerously long few minutes. In the aftermath, unbeknownst to me, my mind became overwhelmed with paranoia, delusions and confusion (known as the postictal state). These post-seizure symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways and usually last anywhere from a few seconds to a few weeks. After refusing to be taken to a hospital, aware from previous experiences the ambulance ride would cost $6,000, I became convinced my anticonvulsant drugs were prescribed by a malicious doctor intent on provoking seizures and taking money from the pharmaceutical industry.

A year later, I am aware that delusion is absurd, but in the days following the seizures, my mind deteriorated to the point where my behaviour became noticeably concerning. The college chaplin I worked with took me to the medical centre. Following a brief evaluation, I was involuntarily committed to a for-profit neuro-psychiatric facility in nearby Indiana. As each day passed, my postictal state subsided and in its place, I developed a tremendous sense of guilt. Even with my parents insurance, the hospital, ambulance and tuition would cost my parents tens of thousands of dollars.

After a few days, I received a notebook and pen, an incredible privilege at an institution where many mentally impaired individuals have violent tendencies. In the notebook, I wrote down the pros and cons of staying in Michigan, and I ultimately decided that when I got out, I’d apply to Concordia. I knew of the university because, the previous spring, I had visited a friend in Montreal and fell in love with the city.

My acceptance letter filled me with mixed emotions; I felt sad to leave my internship and friends behind, but was also excited for the adventure ahead. In January 2018, I started classes at Concordia. Meanwhile, my parents continued paying off the never-ending stream of medical bills.

The annual cost of tuition, housing and living expenses in Canada saved my parents over $20,000 a year. Insurance, as part of the university health plan, reduced my monthly medication cost from $260 to $0.

According to The Concordian, Concordia president Alan Shepard said the recent tuition increase for international engineering and computer science students matches tuition hikes for non-international students. At first glance, this new financial approach makes sense, but fails to acknowledge the complex circumstances that motivate international students to study at Concordia. Raising international students’ tuition in order to maintain proportionality to what Canadian citizens pay is simplistic, and harms international students with unique circumstances like me.

I love Concordia University, and have made a home here. Canada and Quebec’s principle of the right to affordable education and medical care is something the United States desperately needs. Many of my American friends view their northern neighbours’s values with awe. Let’s work to ensure they are preserved so international and domestic students alike can obtain an education and fulfill their dreams.

Note: All costs mentioned have been converted from American to Canadian dollars.

Graphic by spooky_soda

Student Life

Au Contraire Film Festival puts the focus on mental illness

Four days of international films that reflect the realities of stigmatization

The Au Contraire Film Festival (ACFF) received over 300 film submissions from around the world for its  fifth edition.  Among those, the festival’s jury selected the top 25 films to present in Montreal from Oct. 24 to 27. “We want films that entertain, that make people aware and that educate the audience. That’s the thread of how we select films,” said Philip Silverberg, the festival’s founder.

The ACFF is an initiative of Paradis Urbain, a charity created by  Silverberg and festival director Marcel Pinchevsky, along with a small team. “Our mission was to provide a stage for adults who live with persistent or chronic mental illness to rehabilitate,” Silverberg said. In an effort to expand the charity’s mission and raise money, the team developed the ACFF.

“It has now become an important event in the annual Montreal mental health continuum—the festival is there to destigmatize mental illness,” Silverberg said. The ACFF showcases international, thought-provoking films that explore mental health issues from different perspectives. “We want to screen films that will change people’s perception on mental illness,” Silverberg explained. “Our films actually reflect all the realities of stigmatization, the feelings of being afraid, ignored, devalued and rejected. The films we select demonstrate that mental illness is not a fault, it is not a weakness and it is not a lack of character.”

Stills from the opening film of the festival, Elizabeth Blue.

Over the past few years, the ACFF has acquired an international reputation. “We have attracted not only good films but the directors and producers who attend the festival,” Silverberg said.  On Oct. 26, the ACFF screened a documentaries series featuring short films under the patronage of Réseau Alternatif et Communautaire des Organismes (RACOR), an association that represents nearly 100 community and alternative organizations involved in the mental health of Montrealers. One of these films was 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide, a documentary that showcases the life and mental illness of Ruth Litoff, the sister of the film’s director, Hope Litoff.

This years festival offered a workshop called Re-Animation Introductory Workshop which was developed, designed and delivered by Animation Therapy Ltd. Focusing on both mental and physical health as one, the workshop was delivered to interested attendees including the animation department at Concordia University, Up House and The Museum of fine arts Art Therapy department.

Unique to this year’s fifth edition of the festival, the ACFF focused one night on francophone films at an event called Soirée-Lumière. This screening put the spotlight on Quebec films, with all proceeds going towards the ACFF and Weekend Champêtres, an experimental camp program for those with persistent mental illness. Silverberg said he hopes Soirée-Lumière will become a main stay in the festival’s program.

According to Silverberg, the festival’s goal is to enlighten the audience’s perceptions of mental illness through participation and discussion. “Whoever attends our festival should be prepared to be amazed, to laugh, to cry and to learn,” he said.


The singer-songwriter perspective

Agustin Mukdisi from the Montreal-based band Blank Sonna discusses new EP and future projects

After a year and a half of hard work performing at venues and local bars, such as Metropolis and Le Petit Campus, Montreal-based indie band Blank Sonna released their first self-titled EP on Dec 15. It is difficult to characterize this band’s genre, as their music combines a wide variety of beautifully executed sounds. From soft, acoustic rock to classic 80s background melodies, their sound is reminiscent of bands like Radiohead and Arcade Fire.

Blank Sonna’s lineup consists of singer-songwriter Agustin Nicolas Mukdisi, his sister Camila Mukdisi on vocals and keyboards, bassist Remi Baracat, guitarist Simon Tardif and drummer Jordan Markov. There is a strong sense of multiculturalism within the band, as they each come from different parts of the world. “We blend various influences such as Argentinian, Arabic, Bulgarian and Québécois music,” said Camila.

Agustin said travelling has always influenced the band’s music. As the songwriter of the quintet, he has written most of the song lyrics while on the road. “The landscapes I see when I travel, I hear them in the music,” Agustin said. “Travelling has played an important role in our music as it gave us experiences that are different from everyday life.”

Blank Sonna is a quintet indie band with members from around the world. Photo by Alex Dimitrovici

For instance, Agustin wrote the song “Rescuer” during a trip to Brazil to see Argentina play in the World Cup two years ago. “I went to Brazil with a friend to see the game but we didn’t have any money. All we had was an acoustic guitar and a Peruvian cajón,” a box-shaped percussion instrument, said Agustin. He and his friend decided to play on the streets of Brazil for money. “On the first few days, we started feeling low. We weren’t motivated because we weren’t making enough money and I got sick,” Agustin said. “Out of nowhere, a girl who was walking by stopped to hear us play and we became friends. She took us to a hostel and paid for everything and took us out to dinner.” She motivated them again, said Agustin. They continued to play on the streets and ended up making enough money to go to the game. “Based on this experience, I wrote the song ’Rescuer’ because I felt that she rescued us that day,” said Agustin.

Currently, Agustin is in the mountain village Villa General Belgrano in Córdoba, Argentina. It is the hometown of Sofia Bursi, the artist who drew Blank Sonna’s EP cover album. “We spoke together about the album cover, I told her about the idea we had of having a mirror, because one of our songs is called “Reflection” and we wanted a reflection of a soul on the cover,” said Agustin. The reflection is staring at a mirror that leads the way to a colourful forest in contrast to the black and white background. Agustin said what he loves most about the drawing is that it represents all four songs of the album.

When it comes to songwriting, for Blank Sonna, the instrumentation comes first. “The music is always more important to me,” he said. “The words must fit the music, not the other way around. The song lyrics and titles come last.” Agustin said he will not force himself to write a song. He will start off by playing around with an instrument and naturally sing along.“There is no formula for songwriting,” he said. “Do whatever works best for you, but never try to imitate anyone.” To remain original, he said it’s important to forget everyone’s music and to do whatever your voice wants to do. “Get carried away and just go with it.”

Agustin Mukdisi performing live. Photo by Pedro Luiz Freire Cardadeiro

Blank Sonna performed at Metropolis last spring as part of the Emergenza Battles of the Bands Festival. From now on, however, the band has decided to avoid competitive shows and only perform for fun. “It was great to play at Metropolis but we didn’t enjoy the competitive aspect of the Emergenza Festival, where we had pressure to sell many tickets to get to the next round. I felt it got in the way of the performance,” said Agustin. Blank Sonna then performed at Le Petit Campus, along with another band from the Emergenza Festival, North of the Border. “The show was completely free of any pressure. We realized how much more fun we had by ourselves and that’s how we will do our next show,” said Agustin. Agustin said he believes Blank Sonna’s chemistry has improved thanks to all the live performances. “The shows helped us grow as a band,” he said. “There is a definite stronger feeling of togetherness. We’re more on the same page and have a defined sense as to where we are all headed musically.”

Agustin will be heading to Buenos Aires at the end of January to start recording his first solo album. “I have songs that I didn’t think would work with the sound of Blank Sonna,” Agustin said. “I do not want it to sound like the band. I want it to be different. It’s going to be much more electronic and it won’t have an acoustic drum set.” He will be working alongside music producer Shaw, who also worked on mastering Blank Sonna’s EP. Agustin said he will return to Montreal by the end of February. “We want to do a show to promote the EP upon my return, and our goal as a band would be to add new songs to our album to eventually release an LP when we are ready,” said Agustin.

Student Life

Extraction from Tripoli, Libya

Passenger arrive in Malta, an island south of Sicily.

“It was the first time I ever heard gunfire. It’s not really a situation you except to be in, even while living in Libya,” Ed told me when he recalled what it was like during the turmoil in Tripoli, the capital of Libya.

Eduardo Bezerra has been a good friend of mine for roughly 20 years and currently works for Odebrecht, a Brazilian engineering company responsible for building large scale constructions throughout the world, including some of the stadiums for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Ed had been living in Tripoli since June of last year, and was getting used to being there, despite the many cultural differences, which included a six-day work week, a legal ban on eating pork and, worst of all, a ban on alcohol.

February 20

On the Feb. 20, a rumour went around his office of conflicts going on between rebels and dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s men on the outskirts of the city. His Libyan coworkers were allowed to go to their hometowns, but the foreigners were assured that it would be fine and that they should keep working and continue with their routine. For Ed this included working out, smoking some hookah and watching TV until it was time for bed.

February 21

The next day, when he woke up, his roommates told him that they were not supposed to go to the office, but that everything was alright. Ed went to the local market, surprised to see it open, and bought enough food to last him the week. Soon after, one of his bosses called to tell him that the unrest would soon end and he would be required to show up for work the next day.

Eduardo Bezerra arrives in Malta after being extracted from Libya.

That afternoon, the same boss was due to show up to a job site just outside Tripoli. He was sitting in a car with one of Ed’s roommates waiting at the toll booth. They looked out the windows and saw four men with AK-47s kneeling 20 yards away. Suddenly, three men in the car in front of them got out and began to walk away from the toll. The men with the AKs immediately opened fire and gunned them down. His boss and roommate had to put their heads down to best avoid any stray bullets.

February 22

The incident at the toll booth led Odebrecht to speed up the process of extracting their employees, and on the following day the foreign employees were sent to their office because a plane was being arranged to get them out of the country. After waiting in the office for about three hours, they were informed that no planes were allowed to land anywhere in the country at that time, so they went back home.

Luckily, Ed had gone to the market the day before and there was plenty of food for him and his three roommates. They sat around, mostly in silence, and watched one of the few movies they hadn’t all seen, Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers — not exactly what one would call relaxing.

That night, Ed realized he had left his only black suit at the tailor’s 50 km away – he knew he would never see it again. He had bought it a few months before as a gift to himself when he received a generous bonus from his company. “That hurt a lot, but I just wanted to get out of there, to be honest. It was a nice suit, though,” he said.

A tent city was set up outside the airport. Photos courtesy of Eduardo Bezerra

February 23

He woke up around 8 a.m. to a call from his boss telling him a plane should arrive at 3 p.m. to pick them up. They were told that they were allowed to pack only two bags, but by then, everyone was already packed from the day before. When the bus arrived at 11 a.m., the driver told them that they were allowed to take only one bag, not two. Having both a large suitcase and a small carry-on luggage, everyone figured they would leave the smaller one behind until the driver informed them that their bags were way too big and they could only take the carry-on bags.

“We were a bit shocked because we had our entire lives in those suitcases, but we didn’t really hesitate. Everyone just threw their large bags into the house and got into the bus as fast as we could,” Ed recalled.

The drive to the airport was tense, but they arrived without any encounters with the rebels or Gadhafi’s men. It did however, take roughly four hours to make what was supposed to be only a 30-minute ride. Ed described the airport as “madness.” They stayed at the large tent-camp that had been setup a few kilometers away from the actual airport while they waited for their flight. The plane was supposed to leave Tripoli at 3 p.m. but by 10 p.m., it had yet to even leave Greece.

February 24

At around midnight, three buses departed from the tent-camp to the airport, taking only single men, including Ed, because these passengers would have to wait outdoors for the longest. With an average nightly temperature of 2 to 3 degrees in Tripoli during this time of year, spending all night outdoors is not exactly comfortable.

“It was the longest night of my life, no doubt. I figured I would never leave,” Ed told me, clearly still shaken about the events that happened that night. He explained how all night there was a buzz that the plane was about to arrive, but it never did. Ed didn’t sleep at all that night. At 9 a.m. the plane was finally there. An hour and a half later, they boarded. Ed said that despite what one might think, there was not a sense of relief, everyone was too tired.

The plane left soon after they boarded, and they arrived in Malta, an island just south of Sicily several hours later. They slept and went out for a much deserved celebration, hitting up a local bar.

February 25, 26

The next morning, they went to Lisbon, where many of his former coworkers from his time in Brazil were waiting for him. Finally, 24 hours later, he had landed in Brazil and was free from all of it.

“Hey, want to come with me to buy a new suit?” he called me up and asked after arriving home. “Sure, how come?” I replied. “Long story. Tell you later.” And with that, life slowly seemed to be getting back to normal for Ed.

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