Demystifying Sound Healing: Alysha Brilla on her album Circle

DEMYSTIFYING SOUND HEALING: ALYSHA BRILLA ON HER ALBUM CIRCLE

By: Tia Julien | Art by: Michael Rancic

When I first listened to Alysha Brilla‘s latest album Circle all the way through, the concept of balm immediately came to mind. There’s a softness to the instrumental tones and mantra-like lyrics that act like a salve for thick skin, renewing what’s been weathered by hostile climates. In a phone interview with Brilla, we discuss the concept of sound healing and its place in the making of Circle. Beyond exploring the layers of instrumentation, vocal tone, rhythm, creative intent, collaboration, and production that all affect the listening experience, our conversation addresses Brilla’s desire to create healing music for herself and the broader public that is both accessible and moving.

Brilla is an incredibly thoughtful, self-produced female artist on a mission to promote healing through music. She is internationally active, producing “Overcome” in 2020 with four other international female artists, representing Canada in Midem Artist Accelerator in Cannes, France in 2016, and winning UK Songwriting Contest Co-Writing prize for her song entry “Never Gonna Get Me Back” in 2015. Brilla is a three-time Juno Award nominated composer, writer, multi-instrumentalist, and participating member of Keychange, an international movement advocating for an inclusive and equitable music industry for all genders. Circle is the latest of four full-length albums since 2014, and several EPs and singles since her teenage years. Unique within her rich discography, “[Circle] has been the most rewarding one because I created it with the least amount of thought or concern about its outcome[…]beyond it just coming out and that being the goal,” Brilla says. The stress of the pandemic contributed to a uniquely difficult time for artists who could no longer perform or collaborate, which contributed to the process of introspection and experimentation that went into Circle

Healing was part of the intention behind Circle, “prominently in the mixing process, as well as informing the instruments that were used,” Brilla says. Collaborating with bansuri player Hasheel and veena player Radhika Baskar, she incorporates traditional Indian instruments known for their therapeutic tones. The bansuri is a side-blown flute made of bamboo. Its rich and breathy tone has an enchanting quality that can be heard on “Healing.” Similar to sitar, veena is a traditional zither or lute instrument used in Indian classical music that can be heard interacting with the vocal melody on “Love.” This ancient instrument’s construction and use varies depending on region but is generally known for its use in spiritual music. Using live veena in the mix was among Brilla’s goals as a producer, representing a connection with her ancestral history. “Those instruments naturally live within a sound healing realm,” Brilla reflects, “and so integrating them is how I brought that into the music.”

Circle also involved collaboration with Lavanya Loganathan on violin, Sarah Thawer on tabla and drum kit, Gerima Harvey on djembe, and Sammy Duke on cajon. Brilla says, “the spirit of collaboration for a lot of this record was everyone’s incredible patience, devotion, and investment to making art during what was a very difficult time to make art.” The blending of genres on Circle is part of what makes it so inviting. The rhythmic presence grounds the mix while the softer instruments and vocal embellishments wander through melodies.

Beyond the arrangement of instruments, Circle is rich with frequencies that Brilla attributes to sound healing. “A lot of it was by ear based on what I felt was therapeutic sounding,” Brilla states. “I wanted to feel certain things when I was creating the music and give that feeling to the listener when they receive it.” 

There’s a line that artists often straddle between creating art for the purpose of self-actualization and creating art for an audience. Both angles have value and ultimately only limited scope considering that works of art are living entities. In the case of Circle, Brilla made this album with her sisters, friends, family, musician peers, and young listeners in mind, “people that [she] thought this record would feel like one place they could go to when they need some soothing.” On the other hand, it was her own judgment with the magic of collaboration producing sounds that she determined to be therapeutic for herself. While there is an element of universality in how music can affect the human brain, Brilla expresses that it is “subjective because all kinds of music are healing, [and] it’s so vast and varied for each person.” 

Brilla has an ear for drawing together stylistic influences and balancing a variety of tones and timbres. Reflecting on her production process, Brilla says, “I’m pulling threads from my background and tying them together into a language that I feel will similarly be accessed by people I know.” With a mixed background of Indo-Tanzanian and Canadian heritage, Brilla celebrates the musical influences of her upbringing in the lyrics and aesthetics of her music.

Many of the sounds found on Circle are also similar to those found in a lot of meditation music. After hosting combined yoga and music workshops with fellow Canadian artist Desiree Dawson, Brilla has been experimenting with synthesizers and manipulating vocal and breath sounds to achieve a lullaby-like quality. Drawing attention to the somatic relationships at work in her music, Brilla says, “Although this music might not necessarily put people to sleep[…]all those [sounds] were used with the intention of bringing a soothing energy to the nervous system of the listener.”

Part of what makes projects like Circle so important in the canon of music healing is that it’s a commonplace way for listeners to begin thinking about the role of sound in their own lives. Many of the songs are mellow, with affirmational lyrics, while also being rhythmic and danceable. Brilla shared Circle for free on YouTube in addition to her website with the intention of bypassing financial barriers for listeners. A cynical but legitimate concern is that capitalism is doing its thing by co-opting music healing by institutionalizing, privatizing, and gatekeeping services. Sound baths, guided meditation, and music therapy often come with a high price tag and limited resources. Like a lot of holistic healthcare, such resources only reach a fraction of the people who most need them. For Brilla, the goal with sharing music is to subvert capitalist essentialism and draw attention to the ways humans experience sound healing naturally in our everyday interactions. “It’s something we can all engage with and offer each other in small ways,” Brilla says. “As we talk more about sound healing and music as medicine, we will start to appreciate just how potent those more accessible, smaller interactions are.”

Part of broadening the conversations around sound healing involves partnering with other leaders in the field, including neuroscientist Dr. Kulreet Chaudhary. Brilla partnered with Chaudhary for a workshop on sound healing in 2021 through her online Frequency Portal, where members of an online community could connect through her website to learn about sound healing, songwriting, and music production. As a result, Circle emerges from a point of intersection between the scientific, spiritual, and social approaches to music as medicine. Brilla’s goal is “to cross pollinate with people who do have what the western world would look at as credentials, and then take the findings and the knowledge and again, subvert, reiterate, and strip away the pretense and what could feel intimidating about it, and bring it back to what it is.” 

“What it is” can be interpreted in boundless ways, as we are knowingly or not engaging in forms of sound healing all the time. “Even if we’re not cognitively reacting to the song,” Brilla explains, “our bodies do naturally, whether it’s just lifting a single finger and tapping it or even less visible, the waves of energy and pulsation actually going through our bodies and naturally making ourselves respond to rhythm.” The fact that sound affects us in invisible and inaudible ways really deepens the waters of not only sound healing but more generally our relationship to vibration. A few commonplace examples Brilla provides include “when a mother sings to their child[…]when someone is upset or anxious and another human uses a calming or dulcet tone to reassure them[…]when a cat’s with a human and the cat’s purring.” As a devoted dog person, I’m skeptical of that last one, but the takeaway is that everything that occurs in nature serves a function, and by the nature of life on earth, that function is relational. 

The nuance and generosity Brilla brought to our discussion reminded me of the importance of having these conversations. There is power in making music not only for healing but for accessing joy. “In every iteration of the world when there’s been extremely challenging moments including where we are now,” Brilla reflects, “we always find artists, and humans who use art regardless of whether they call themselves artists or not, who find meaning [in processing life’s challenges].” I believe that the process of interpreting, creating, and sharing meaning is a large part of what makes music healing in the context of everyday life. Music moves with us through life, affecting our senses and taking on different forms and contexts. In celebration, worship, mourning, protest, and entertainment, music is a tool for processing the human experience.

The healing properties of music have long been known, studied, and practiced in many cultural traditions around the world. More recently, neurologists of the colonial western world are joining an international conversation about the psychological and physiological benefits of therapeutic sound practices. Music’s role in medicine is gaining momentum with the development of standardized Music Therapy in Canada, a discipline in which certified music therapists use music to address cognitive, communicative, emotional, musical, physical, social, and spiritual human needs. It is now commonly accepted knowledge that certain frequencies affect the brain in ways that can treat conditions including Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, and others. Several studies published in the academic journal Music & Medicine have determined the controlled use of sound to be effective in improving relaxation, comfort, and connection among patients in palliative care as well as healthy individuals in randomized controlled trials. The Healing Forces of Music: History, Theory, and Practice is another great resource for understanding the scientific principles of music and sound healing.

In many ways, this research is catching up with and confirming what Indigenous knowledge systems have known for thousands of years. While the clinical applications of sound healing are incredible, sound and music are also being used to process emotions, soothe stress, and promote relaxation which can improve overall mental health. In my experience, interim healing from the demands of late capitalism is made possible by connecting with body, mind, self, others, and environments, and music prompts those connections. By observing environmental sounds, listening to music, or playing my own music, I’m able to slow down racing thoughts and process the busy world around me. Brilla hopes that by listening to Circle, “you are able to enter the space and the meaning that [she] found during that time.” Circle is a sort of placemaker for feelings and experiences that are phased out of social spaces, for both the artist in the process of making it and in turn for the listener. In this instance and many others, music is a portal to a world where we can express and observe what is naturally occurring. As Brilla recommends, “we should be dancing, crying, laughing, [and feeling] all the human emotions.”

People (plant, animal, human… extraterrestrial) are constantly inputting and outputting sonic information. Without digressing too far into what is and isn’t sound, I’ll suggest that sound is a naturally occurring constant in a precarious world. There is no one way and no right way to tune in. Sound can be received without perception, sensed through touch and sight as much as hearing, and has served a therapeutic role in civilizations long before western medicine caught up. However, as more research is being done to investigate the causal relationships between sound and wellness, scientists, artists, and listeners can all benefit from joining the conversation.

After The Gold Rush: Wonderhorse Reviewed

AFTER THE GOLD RUSH: WONDERHORSE REVIEWED

By: Tom Beedham | Art by: Tom Beedham

Long enduring turn-of-the-20th-century associations assigned from the dislocation of the Klondike Gold Rush and Jack London’s brand of American literary naturalism, to many outsiders, the Yukon is a hard place that bends only to climate and the whims of biological and socioeconomic determinism. Even with majestic views of mountain vistas and the quietly enchanting northern lights, it remains thought of as a high, untouchable place governed by its remote location and the financial speculation that brought in prospecting to supply the settlement of its boomtowns. The threat of danger lurking in boreal shadows (the territory is also home to cougars, wolves, and three types of bears) seems to dictate any question of free will out of the equation—forget the defiant collective project of an active underground arts scene. The Yukon is a place where things happen to people.

So when non-profit arts collective Something Shows reaches out to New Feeling and offers to fly someone from the co-op out to review Wonderhorse, it sounds like an invitation to break spells and witness progress as much as an opportunity to get a read of the local scene.

Operating on the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, otherwise known as Whitehorse, last fall, Something Shows inaugurated Wonderhorse as an answer to a long-felt local lack. Arriving in town in time for the beginning of Labour Day weekend, Whitehorse is in varying states of transition and abandonment. The territory’s capital and its most populous city, Whitehorse is far from a ghost town, but downtown’s windswept façades invite comparison. Some restaurant and business owners remain to rake in the last of the tourist money before closing up shop for the season, and many residents have left town for the long weekend (it’s also hunting season), but they’ll be back.

I don’t expect the first act I’ll watch will be a nine-year-old DJ/violinist, but Philly Groove steals the show at an Elk’s Lodge Battle of the Bands packed with tweens and complete family units. When he wins the competition, he earns a gig opening for Portland, Oregon’s Black Belt Eagle Scout the next day. While most festivals brandish terms like “all-ages”‘ in their marketing, they often fail to engage the younger segments of their communities; here in small town northern Canada, programming is shaped for youth in ways that legitimize their presence and give a stage to their burgeoning talent—give them a reason to stay.

Philly Groove photo by: Ashley Swinton

Speaking over the phone with program coordinator Zach McCann-Armitage post-fest, he emphasizes the importance of programming the festival for all-ages. 

“Knowing it can be shitty growing up in a small town and there’s so many issues facing our society, a lot of that is just falling onto young people,” he says. “Giving them the tools and opportunities and exposure to things that are happening and feel vibrant and can create connections—I think if festivals have a utility and are not just about people feeling joy, I think that would be it—building a more healthy and robust and connected community.”

The Battle of the Bands at the Elk’s Lodge is a strong start, but it’s technically not Wonderhorse’s opening show. The fest actually began the night prior with a satellite show six hours north in Dawson City. The Battle of the Bands was just one component of a larger holistic project to strengthen the arts network in the Yukon and in the Pacific Northwest; in addition to Black Belt Eagle Scout, Wonderhorse has also booked a modest but relatively significant contingent of Vancouver artists.

The Heart of Riverdale photo by: Cooper Muir

“Whitehorse is three quarters of the population of the territory as a whole, so in terms of how funding and decisions are administered, it’s very top-down and Whitehorse-centric [in the Yukon],” McCann-Armitage explains. He says the collective’s decision to spread programming out to the Yukon’s other gold rush boomtowns reaches back pre-pandemic when the festival was only an idea, crediting Wonderhorse founder and former program coordinator Jona Barr with the blueprint. “It was important to make sure Wonderhorse wasn’t just fixated on that sort of centricity and the economic and cultural interests of Whitehorse.”

With abundant references to the gold rush calling out to tourists from Whitehorse’s business signs and restaurant menus, there’s seldom escaping the Yukon’s association with the prospecting migration, but the grip of music industry gamification is loosened up here. Wonderhorse pays little mind to hipster appeal and breakout buzz, looking beyond pandering to industry vultures to curate around a community theory of value instead.

After the Battle of the Bands crowns Philly Groove this year’s winner, Wonderhorse’s youth emphasis continues through the night’s programming as the Wondercrawl draws audiences out for an art crawl along the Yukon River, giving wharf space to breakdancers, screening experimental films, and hosting an art gallery opening from youth involved in Wonderhorse’s Make Something Residency, before calling audiences back to the Elk’s Lodge for a set of pop trap from local North Gold Entertainment signee Princess Melia and a headlining performance from 2019 Polaris Music Prize winner Haviah Mighty.

Haviah Mighty photo by: Cooper Muir

With no dedicated music venues in town, what Whitehorse lacks in infrastructure it makes up for in savvy, bridging that gap by meeting audiences where they are. By the time I sit down at Arts Underground to watch Erica Dee Mah apply the guzheng to a contemporary Western folk music context and address the material struggles her ancestors faced as Chinese immigrants who relocated to the Yukon during the gold rush, I’ve already watched Franklin pour sludge all over the Go-Go’s classic “Our Lips Are Sealed” and Antarticus summon desert rock from the frigid desolation of the tundra in a music store parking lot. Before that, I saw Vancouver rap-rock chaos agent Jodie Jodie Roger and North Gold reps Mobb Diggity and Pumpskii make it rain free festival passes on kids at a skatepark generator party.

Far from industry scrutiny and trend economies of larger cities, Whitehorse becomes a canvas for this grassroots festival, and audiences eat it up wherever they can get it. So when Dawson City emo SoundCloud rapper KEEN performs a significant portion of his Saturday night United Church basement set cross-legged on the carpeted floor while local Jeremy Parkin tends a laptop dressed as his festival-minted Percy Owens persona (think Chaplin’s Tramp meets Depression era reporter), and a small crowd watches from the other side of the room, entertaining knock-knock jokes between songs, the cozy intimacy and relaxed atmosphere rivals that of watching an artist play from their living room. 

Mobb Diggity and Pumpskii photo by: Ashley Swinton

But of course, Whitehorse is not living under a rock, and when the festival brings a drag revue to the Yukon Theatre, it packs the seats to capacity. A couple hundred eager audience members cheer along as ANDYBOY, Lau D’arta, Beau Ryder, and Daddy Supreme work the room. By the time I gain access to the theatre, the show is almost at its close, but I arrive to a scene that is distinctly working class. In a finale, the night’s lineup trots across the stage in coveralls to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” twirling and benching cardboard totems of oversized screwdrivers and combination wrenches just blocks away from the offices of several unions and labour authorities.

After playing multiple mini-sets throughout the previous night’s Wondercrawl, when Vancouver’s Jeff Cancade takes the stage with his DEVOURS project, the crowd at the front of the cinema fills the rows that have been removed for dance space as Cancade launches into his brand of xenogothic synth-pop, encouraging the room to dig into its inner aliens. Warping nostalgic samples into obscurity (“Curmudgeon”) and serving up other songs about being a majority within a minority (“Jacuzzi My Stonewall”), at one point he excitedly asks the room, “Are any queers in the audience?” When a substantial section replies in the affirmative, he clocks how remarkable it is, explaining how he checked Grindr when he got into town only to turn up disappointing results.

The set might garner the festival’s most enthusiastic crowd participation, but after his first encore begets calls for more, Bingo Switch guitarist Brody Halfe jumps onstage to tell Cancade something, and when he turns back to the audience, there’s a mile-wide grin across his face. 

“Wow. Thank you so much Whitehorse! I’ve just been told that the northern lights are out, so I’m gonna go look at those and you should, too, but please buy my merch!”

DEVOURS photo by: Ashley Swinton

Embarking on a discovery ride further into the gold rush’s past (we take the Klondike Highway south instead of north), after a day in Dawson City and two in Whitehorse, for the festival’s finale, it packs up again, touching down in Carcross/Tagish First Nation. Piling into a van full of performers from St. John’s, Toronto, and Vancouver, the atmosphere is buzzing as we feast our eyes on the drive’s mountainous stretches and share our delight in catching the northern lights when we stop partway to take in the natural wonder of Emerald Lake. The official line on the green glow it gets its name from is the light of the sun catching white deposits of clay and calcium carbonate from the lake’s shallow bottom, but our driver, Something Shows board member Liz McCarville, says one friend claims it’s where the northern lights go to sleep.

I wonder out loud if residents are still impressed by the local phenomenon, but I’m quickly informed some are even more bought in, referencing apps that track conditions and venturing out into remote parts of the territory to escape what meagre light pollution there is downtown when conditions are prime. Plus, last night’s display was especially novel, McCarville says, for how early the lights arrived in the season and the spectra on display.

“The purples even came out.”

On the same drive, we pass Carcross Desert, what some locals deem “the smallest desert in the world,” though it is technically a collection of sand dunes formed by the last glacial period. Truth seems to stretch with time and distance, realisms becoming more penetrable.

Ellorie McKnight photo by: Cooper Muir

Pulling into Carcross Commons, Bria Rose is perched on the upper observation deck of the S.S. Tutshi memorial, the preserved remains of a steamboat that carried tourists and freight between communities and railyards following the gold rush. Her songs touch on themes of power, release, and connection, and at one point she sings a line about praying the northern lights would take her away, and many of us have already swallowed that pill. Her performance is the first of three acoustic sets from performers with deep ties to the landscape, followed by St. John’s singer and music therapist Valmy, whose songs are grounding exercises in themselves.  

The S.S. Tutshi performances cap off with a set from Whitehorse folk singer Ellorie McKnight. Her songs are inspired by the wonders of vast landscapes. Her performance at the centre of the hourglass bottleneck between the Bennett and Nares lakes feels all the more appropriate with a 360-degree view crossed by bridges and dotted with mountain peaks. As she digs into “White Pass,” she reflects on how this will likely be the closest she’ll ever get to the song’s titular railroad, and it suddenly hits home how significant a commodity proximity must be in the Yukon.

At Yáan át L’óon Gooch skatepark, kids and teens show off their best on the ramps while Toronto DJ Yunjin spins a breezy house set. When the competition wraps, Bingo Switch soundtracks a freeskate with a sun-dappled set of Jonathan Richman-indebted jazz rock. Festival goers have some time to sit by the Carcross beach before heading over to the Learning Centre, where the festival closes out with a family-oriented country dance led by the Western swing sounds of the Swinging Pines .(The Lucky Ones were also scheduled to play, but Ryan West, the band’s mandolinist injured his arm at the skate competition). Parents steal one last dance with each other before summer ends, teaching kids to two-step and guilting tweens into participation.

Bingo Switch photo by: Cooper Muir

“It’s certainly not as hip or cool as the other stuff, but that’s also because it’s kind of for the community itself,” McCann-Armitage concedes. “You kind of have to program with and for them. Because even if Bingo Switch is an Indigenous band, if nobody living around there from the community has heard of them or are even interested in that music, country music is a big part of the Indigenous population up here. So it’s just essentially being realistic and trying to think of it long term in terms of building an audience there.”

Looking forward, McCann-Armitage says the festival is looking to program workshops and other forms of community engagement to supplement the music programming of Wonderhorse’s satellite events, but this year’s Carcoss happenings were nearly cancelled altogether.

On August 13, the Tagish First Nation suffered the loss of Elder Kitty Grant-Smarch, and the community’s bereavement protocol traditionally calls for a moratorium on dancing for 30 days.

In a statement ahead of the event, the festival acknowledged the passing and explained it sought the advice of Carcross/Tagish First Nation (Wonderhorse presenting partners), whose leadership council encouraged them to proceed with the local programming as it was “something they thought Kitty would have enjoyed.” Still, McCann-Armitage explains, the Tagish Nation Dancers who were originally booked to perform during the events declined, and the turnout was smaller than last year’s family dance.

It’s the first time it occurs to me that locals might be conflicted about Wonderhorse’s galloping ambitions, but it’s apparent the territory’s pace and isolation gives the festival the space it needs to strengthen relations and heal. On land that spends half the year shrouded in near-24-hour darkness, connections are all that you have.

Yang Chen Is Cultivating Happiness

YANG CHEN IS CULTIVATING HAPPINESS

By: Laura Stanley | Photo by Evie Maynes | Art by: Laura Stanley

Over the wretched winter of 2020/2021, a pandemic period marked by lockdowns and loneliness, Toronto-based percussionist Yang Chen longed for community.

In December 2020, Chen conceived of a collaborative project that would allow them to reconnect with the friends they so dearly missed. By the new year, Chen decided to quit their job as an administrator at a music school to focus solely on writing a grant proposal that would fund the project. Chen sent what they characterize as “an infosheet” to friends who are musicians, composers, and improvisers that expressed how much they missed them and invited them to collaborate on a piece together. Chen also included an artistic prompt: “What are you longing for?”

Chen received the grant money, and the resulting project is their debut longing for _, a genre-blurring album of percussion-centric works, released this month via People Places Records.

“I think that this project could have only happened like this over the pandemic,” Chen says. “During that time I was also renegotiating with myself and asking, ‘How do I sustain relationships with anybody? I love seeing people in person, but now I can only see them on the screen. How can I connect with that?’ Sustaining creativity was right alongside sustaining friendships. At that time, these collaborations were like a lifeblood for me.”

Chen has always been drawn to how music facilitates community. In the early 2000s, Chen’s family immigrated to Toronto from Nanjing, China. Their family moved around a lot because of Chen’s dad’s work, and while living in Texas, Chen joined the school’s marching band. As a self-described “quintessential marching-band nerd,” Chen loved the structure and the camaraderie it provided. Later, when the family moved back to Toronto, the city may have lacked a marching-band culture, but that passion for percussion still helped Chen form relationships. These days, Chen spends their time gigging with orchestras and ensembles, playing taiko with RAW (Raging Asian Womxn) Taiko Drummers, and is the drummer of folky R&B/pop band (and “pioneers of soft mosh”) Tiger Balme.

“Playing music really helped me to not feel lonely,” Chen says. “I could connect with other people in a group—or even if I was playing solo, I could connect with the composer in some way, which I think is a theme that is still central to the music that I make today.”

With longing for _, Chen exemplifies the breadth of their friendships. Over the course of about a year, Chen and eight artists scattered throughout North America and across disciplines exchanged ideas, experimented, and grew as artists. While grant requirements meant that the project had some hard deadlines, Chen ensured its timeline put the artists’ well-being at the forefront.

“There was a lot of trial-and-error to accommodate growth, but I also wanted to tell people that if what we record on the album is a recorded iteration or version of your piece, that’s okay. I really believe in investing in artists,” Chen says. “I really value—especially in this project—people’s personal joy and what they are proud of showcasing. If that means they need an extra two weeks to master their electronic track so it sounds exactly like how they want it to sound, then that’s okay. That was time that was built into the project. When we’re happy, we’re happy, and then we put the piece on the record.”

“I wanted to give people the opportunity to work on a project that was by their design and to fulfil their artistic goals,” Chen adds. “I was seeing a lot of musicians and artists burn out during the pandemic, and I just wanted people to find something in the project that could compel them to continue to be artists because that’s what I was looking for myself, too—something to keep driving me.”

Multidisciplinary artist Andrew Noseworthy is one of Chen’s collaborators on longing for _ and he mixed and mastered the record. Chen gave Noseworthy, who previously had only mixed and mastered a few EPs as well as his own recordings, the opportunity to develop his audio engineering skills. With the grant money, they helped Noseworthy upgrade his home studio set-up and gave him the time and encouragement to learn.

“Something that I really appreciate about Yang is how fluid, multi-faceted, and sensitively they approach everything they are involved with,” Noseworthy says. “No matter what the situation is, they’re very good at giving people the space to be who they want to be and do what they want to do.”

The process of composing each piece varied with each artist. “It’s hard to talk about this album as a whole because each one of the pieces really exemplifies a very unique relationship that I have with the composer,” Chen explains. “crank/set,” a collaboration with composer Stephanie Orlando, a textured mélange of sounds that includes the whir of bicycle wheels, was a pretty standard commission. Chen asked Orlando to write a piece of music set for five minutes, and she delivered it. 

“Silt,” a piece by flautist and improviser Sara Constant, was, as Chen describes, an entirely unique creative exercise. “Sara is a really dear friend of mine, but she was like, ‘I’m not really a composer.’ I know that she has a background in improvising, so she gave me 15 or 20 little cards with grey watercolour images on them that she had created, and she said, ‘I want you to interpret each one of these cards as a graphic score and record something from that, and we’ll go from there.’ That was the beginning of a process of discovering each other through improvisation.”

The other side to longing for _ is each track’s short film. From conception, Chen wanted to include a visual component to provide multiple levels of engagement. “I don’t want to call them accompaniment because they really are one unit—the video and the audio,” they emphasize. After seeing videos that other contemporary classical artists were releasing, Chen set out to make something different.

“I kept watching these livestreams of concerts that were trying to get as close as possible to a concert-hall experience. For me, it’s nowhere close to sitting in a concert hall with other warm bodies in an acoustic space. I kept watching them because I was supporting my friends, but then [came] away feeling dissatisfied,” Chen says, adding with a laugh, “kind of like when you eat chips, but you really want steak.”

To help facilitate a different approach, Chen turned to friend and filmmaker Serville Poblete. Mirroring the creative process of the music pieces, the videos were rooted in experimentation. Poblete ended up producing three of the videos and producers Christy Kim and Michelle Ngo developed the others. In the dizzying Poblete-directed video for “EUPH0RIC,” a collaboration between Chen and interdisciplinary artist Yaz Lancaster, a dancer moves gracefully among tulle that hangs from the ceiling until finally they stand free under a warm light as the words that Chen speaks at the beginning of the piece still ring in your ears: “I am worth more than my labour.”

“I really felt that in the wider artistic community people were suffering financially and that was something that was driving other factors, like people that I really admire quitting the music field or mental-health stress. So I was like okay, I want to involve more people in this project, and I thought if we’re going to produce all of this digital art, we’re going to do it in a way that’s actually meaningful,” Chen says. 

Given that each track is a collaboration with a different artist, it follows that the pieces on longing for _ are tonally disparate. “All Good Pieces Have Two Things,” a joint effort between Chen and Noseworthy, contains some of the record’s harshest moments, thanks to his outbursts of distorted electric guitar. “til the dam breaks,” on the other hand, is an R&B track that features Chen playing the steel pan and Sarian Sankoh warmly singing an urgent-sounding melody. 

What ties the pieces together, of course, is Chen. Although they admit that any aesthetic cohesiveness of longing for _ was unintentional, when each piece is built with the same foundation of love, friendship, and joy, the end products share an inherent connection.

“I realized in the pandemic that I don’t have to do music as a career,” Chen says. “I could go be a baker, an electrician, or a paramedic—but I didn’t go and do any of those things because at the end of the day, music is what makes me happy. I am driven by happiness, and I hope to cultivate that in others, too.”

Editor’s Note: Issue 11 – Prospect

Editor’s Note: Issue 11 – Prospect

By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Michael Rancic

Every issue, the New Feeling team puts our collective heads together to come up with a theme that addresses the big picture — in music, in culture, in where we all find ourselves at large.

This time around, we landed on “prospect” — very fitting in a pandemic era in both noun and verb form: many of us have indeed been looking out into the distance, trying to figure out what’s next; and also anticipating the things that might be.

We certainly hope the prospect of great reads ahead has you excited for this issue’s features, which all touch on the idea of possibility. Laura Stanley profiles Toronto-based percussionist Yang Chen, who sought out community after the loneliness of lockdown. That prospecting for collaboration yielded unexpected connections — and their richly textured debut album, longing for_.

Prospecting is something the Yukon knows a thing or two about — quite literally, in the case of the gold rush. Tom Beedham headed to the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün and Ta’an Kwäch’än (otherwise known as Whitehorse) to bear witness to Wonderhorse — a community-focused event that’s turning the concept of the music festival on its head. From centering youth to platforming underground artists, Wonderhorse meets audiences where they are — in the process, reminding us how music and art are often a catalyst for reimagining existing paradigms.

And Tia Julien tells us about how Juno-nominated singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alysha Brilla drew on the introspection and experimentation necessitated by the pandemic to recognize the prospect of healing through music — which underscores her latest album, Circle, and also her work hosting yoga and music workshops with fellow Canadian artist Desiree Dawson.

As the year nears its end, New Feeling too has been prospecting in its own way — grateful to our members and readers for following us through 11 issues, and dreaming up meaningful new stories to bring you in the months ahead.

With Twitter ever-closer to being one big fail-whale, we encourage those interested in staying in touch and sharing thoughts about music to join us on Discord (it’s fun, we swear — and completely El*n-free!), and we’re always looking for new members to get involved with organizing, editorial, and other aspects of keeping the co-op running.

And don’t forget about our ongoing Reading Group series — in our final meeting of the year on Nov. 29, we’ll discuss Erica Campbell’s insightful Paste Magazine feature “Is This It? When Will Black Artists Get To Just Be Rock Artists?” To join in the conversation, register here.

So many of the meanings of “prospect” are at the core of what New Feeling is all about: hope; possibility; exploration. We hope this issue inspires you not just to dig into the musicians, albums, and art our writers are highlighting, but also to think about what the ideas inherent in the word prospect mean to you.

METALLIC CONVICTIONS

A stylized image in red, black and white depicting Michel Langevin, Thérèse Lanz and Topon Das foregrounding a raging fire.

Photo of Michel Langevin by: Catherine Deslauriers; Photo of Thérèse Lanz by: Alicia Montague; Photo of Topon Das by: Alex Carincross

Metallic Convictions: The Passion Behind Extreme Metal In Canada

By: Daniel G. Wilson | Art by Michael Rancic

“There were a couple of periods where people were telling me that I was crazy to keep on keepin’ on,” Michel “Away” Langevin tells me over a video call from his office in Montreal . Best known as the drummer and primary cover illustrator of Canadian “technical thrash” legends Voivod (he’s been the sole continuous member since the band’s inception nearly four decades ago), Langevin knows a thing or two about the fundamentals of being in an aggressive and extreme band. 

“You need to be very dedicated, and to the point where it’s almost crazy,” he points out. Voivod has achieved its legacy and global influence in spite of the lack of industry support for metal music in Canada. Though many sounds and styles that begin along the periphery are eventually subsumed into the industry proper, metal music—and extreme metal by extension—continues to confound, frighten, and evade that same fate. It’s clear in speaking to Langevin that it’s that same rebellious spirit still fuelling him today, one that connects him to a community of extreme-metal musicians and bands who persevere in a musical climate that wants nothing more than to look away.  

From the outset of their career in 1982, Voivoid never really fit in. Though technically in the family of hardcore punk-infused thrash-metal bands in the same vein as Guelph’s Razor and Ottawa’s Annihilator, they were (and are) defiantly weirder and more conceptual than their peers, drawing on progressive rock and science fiction to form a sound that is truly transgressive. 

That unique sound took shape on albums such as 1988’s Dimension Hatröss and its 1989 follow-up Nothingface, and has been cited as an inspiration by countless bands around the world, including Converge, Meshuggah, and Gojira. As an artist, Langevin has helped pioneer the visual style and language of extreme metal through the post-apocalyptic graphic design work he has done for the band, as well as other acts such as Dave Grohl and Toxic Holocaust. Over four decades, Voivod have been a defining influence on the experimental substrates of metal and punk, but their mercurial, experimental nature also makes “extreme metal” incredibly hard to pin down. 

A sci-fi panorama in black and white, Metallic constructs stand outside a futuristic city as skull-like celestial bodies crash from the night's sky to the surface.
The sleeve art for Voivod’s latest album Synchro Anarchy. Art by: Michel Langevin.

The term applies to music that pushes the principles, attitudes, and sonic elements of heavy metal (thrash, doom), aggressive forms of punk (grindcore), and noise well beyond the boundaries of conventional songwriting and composition. That might take the form of tempos hitting blistering or glacial speeds, vocal performances that verge on indecipherable, or sheer walls of turbulent cacophony. This advancement is often accomplished through physically demanding performances both in the studio and live in front of an audience. Just as important to the essence of extreme metal, however, is the attitude that drives it. 

Raison d’être

Despite the influence of Canadian musicians on extreme metal, extreme forms of music have always maintained an uphill battle in this country. By contrast, Langevin notes that “Canadian metal is really highly regarded around the world as being some sort of technical, heavy music, really well-performed, and so we have this signature.” 

While it’s true that bands like Voivod have received accolades and awards more recently, like being longlisted for the 2019 Polaris Prize, and winning a Juno that same year for their album The Wake, these instances are rare exceptions. There’s still a significant gulf between the recent mainstream recognition a band like Voivod receives compared to the extreme metal scene at large. “I’m still amazed that The Wake won a Juno. It is just so amazing,” Langevin says, beaming. Though it’s Canada’s largest music award, the Junos only added a heavy-metal category in 2012. 

Despite these occasional brushes with the mainstream, a sense of apathy toward conventional pop stardom and success pervades the genre. “Why are we looking for acceptance from people that don’t necessarily care to give it to us?” Topon Das challenges. “Like, who fuckin’ cares? I think that’s probably what the genre is built off of. It’s just like, ‘We’re gonna do what we want to do.’ And if people like it, great. If people don’t like it, then all right, there’s other music for them to enjoy.” 

Das is the guitarist of the longstanding Ottawa grindcore band Fuck The Facts, which originally started as a solo lo-fi experimental metal project in the ’90s. They went on to become one of the most exceptional acts within extreme metal, with albums such as 2001’s Mullet Fever and 2008’s Disgorge Mexico showcasing a musical ambition that never abandons the crushing riffs that are expected of the genre.

Extreme metal as a style and philosophy aspires to make music that cannot be easily commodified. As Canadian metal musician and music journalist Sarah Kitteringham notes in her 2014 masters thesis, Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses: The Treatment of Women in Black Metal, Death Metal, Doom Metal, and Grindcore, extreme metal is “not a commercially viable enterprise.” 

Kitteringham goes on to observe that “bands revered in the underground with several decade long careers often still work day jobs unless they are extremely fortunate; in this, extreme metal perpetuates an underground, nearly unknown aesthetic, and often revels in its own obscurity. Indeed, it is ‘extreme music for extreme people.'” 

“Just do what comes out. There’s no filter—that’s it,” Das says, explaining the ethos behind the experimental nature of his band, now well into its second decade. “The idea was to have a project where there wasn’t going to be any bounds.” 

Fuck The Facts have exemplified this attitude, from their abrasive band name that limits radio play, record visibility in big-box music stores, sponsorship opportunities, as well as their frequent inclusion of unothordox influences such as showtunes and rap music. There is a sense in their music of a creative freedom that can come from being unfettered by the trappings of commercial success—freedom to experiment without worrying about trends that may come and go, or the demands of an industry that does not always reward unorthodox thinking.  

This opportunity for rebelliousness also has implications for BIPOC involvement in the genre. As with all forms of music, especially those derived from rock, BIPOC have been instrumental in extreme music’s foundation. Two of the “big four” of Canadian thrash metal, Sacrifce and Annihilator, have been active since the emergence of the style, and include prominent non-white members. Other prominent examples from across Canada include bands such as Protest The Hero, Biipiigwan, Bison B.C, and Sarin, each of whom offers an example of the diversity of sound that can be found in extreme metal. That freedom affords the musicians the ability to assert their identities in their art in visceral and profound ways. 

”My inspiration is my mom, who is a tiny brown woman who has been working in white, male-dominated industries all her life,” says Thérèse Lanz, lead singer, guitarist, and album artist of Calgary doom-metal band Mares of Thrace, who have just returned from a nearly decade-long hiatus. 

“We’re both just filled with Satan. And if you tell us we’re not welcomed somewhere or there’s something we shouldn’t be doing, I’m gonna do it more—and harder, and I’m going to do it better than the people who are telling me I’m not welcome.” 

Coming out of Western Canada, a longstanding breeding ground for some of the country’s loudest bands like KEN mode (of whom Lanz was once a touring member), Mares Of Thrace have carved out a niche for themselves within Canadian doom metal with a forward thinking approach on albums such as 2010’s The Moulting and 2012’s The Pilgrimage, blending elements from various influences both inside and outside of extreme music along with a love of mythology. The 2022 release of their third album The Exile marks both a return to form and is their most dynamic album, so far. 

While the dedicated attitude fostered in extreme metal may seem ”over the top” to the casual observer, it’s directly responsible for the career longevity of the artists who gravitate to the style.

Lifers

The emphasis on freedom and rebellion can also extend to a rebellion against time itself. In contrast to other styles of music, physical age is less important than the mental or spiritual age of the people involved. An evergreen sensibility permeates the culture. 

It is not uncommon to see people wearing their band paraphernalia and going to shows well into their 50s and 60s, and for band members to keep performing with as much vigor as would be expected of musicians in their early 20s. 

“There’s definitely something that keeps us young in heavy metal, not to mention the fact that it’s very energetic music, so you need to keep in shape to be able to deliver,” Langevin says.

Indeed, during our conversation, it was easy to forget that he is nearing 60. The energy Langevin has and love of the extreme that he carries when he speaks is reminiscent of a teenager talking about his favourite band. 

“It was at the end of the ’90s—I saw Whitesnake in Montreal and I saw Tommy Aldridge doing double-kick drums for 90 minutes and I thought, ‘If I want to be that guy later, I better take care of myself,’” Langevin recalls.

The eternal youthful spirit is a fundamental quality of this kind of music that also extends into the relatively frequent comebacks that have occurred over the past decade, as in the case of Mares of Thrace. Unlike other genres that experience periods of stylistic nostalgia, extreme music rarely ever falls into such a conventional cycle. While there are periods when extreme music can bleed into the mainstream as seen in the commercialization of metalcore and screamo in the early-to mid-aughts, the underground always follows a much more resilient and enduring path. Following trends are not as important as creating music that is in effect timeless. 

This timelessness is a fundamental aspect of the style as musicians are free to do as they wish. Sonically an act from the ’80s can sound just as modern as an act from the 2010s with the only difference being the quality of the equipment used to record and produce. 

“Metal is definitely more forgiving of aging than being a pop singer,” Lanz says. “There definitely is a timelessness to it, and I hope that will always be the case.” 

This quality further adds to the universality of extreme music and the culture behind it as age no longer acts as a barrier for human understanding. Passion is necessary to keep performing and putting out music in the style. “I have a passion for music,” Das declares. “I don’t get sick of it.”

Community

It is through tight-knit support networks of passionate artists and fans that the music has been able to survive, evolve, and thrive despite the indifference it faces from the wider music industry and the average music consumer—those connectors can include everything from indie labels that release local music, to simple acts of camaraderie within the scene and bonds that can form from them. 

“This sense of community encapsulates a lot of what I think the heavy-metal scene was when we started doing shows,” Langevin says. “I realized that it was an escape for many people from being bullied at school or problems at home with their parents or having this feeling of not fitting in anywhere. And then you get to this show, and everybody’s sort of like-minded and friendly to each other.” 

Drawing on the DIY/DIT punk mentality of its roots, extreme metal scenes have existed and continue to exist based entirely on underground grassroots networks across the globe. 

“It was just this giant international community that was super-amazing,” Langevin says, reminiscing about his first experiences listening to, and later touring with, bands from different parts of the world. Whether trading cassettes and zines by mail and making phone calls or booking and promoting gigs through blogs, social media accounts, forums, and emails, a complex ecosystem has always existed to support each other within the scene.

The trading of cassettes, or “tape trading” as it is commonly known, has played a particularly vital role not only in the proliferation of extreme metal worldwide as a genre of music, but as a community that stretches across borders and even language barriers. Keith Kahn Harris’ definitive extreme-metal text, Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge, explains how the scene was built upon the global fanzine network established in the late 1970s by punks where there was little in the way of industry support or infrastructure. 

Fans would share their addresses in these zines, and as the scene grew, metal magazines also featured pen-pal advertisements that made it easier for fans to exchange letters and tapes of demos, live recordings and rehearsals. These trading networks existed well into the 1990s, with some coalescing into the established ‘distros’ that still support the scene today.

“I did a lot of tape trading back in the day,” Das says. “I worked at a Zellers for a bunch of years, and that’s where I would do all my photocopies of flyers and stuff.” 

It was through tape trading that many musicians like Das would find kindred spirits within the scene. “When we did our first European tour in 2009, I remember a few people coming out to see us that I had traded tapes with like a decade earlier,” he recalls. 

The common analogy that “no man is an island” does not fully encapsulate that full complexity of community in extreme metal. It is better to think of it more as if everyone is an island unto themselves in a sea of other islands sharing the same water and the same resources. 

“I’d like to think that the punk ethos of collectivism isn’t completely dead,” Lanz says. “I think that any community that exists on the margins tends to fare better if it sticks together and supports each other.” 

This blend of collectivism and individualism at the heart of extreme metal stands as a statement of defiance against the status quo, creating an ecosystem that is not defined by capitalistic forces and competition but by shared passion and camaraderie. 

“I think [the value of extreme metal] narrows down to being part of a collective,” Langevin says. “It’s always been known that the metal movement is a great community.”

Extreme metal offers so much more than a sonic palette designed for headbanging. For the people who perform and have a passion for it, it’s a form of expression, a rich worldwide community, a lifelong pursuit and fountain of youth. At the heart of those convictions is an aspirational spirit—one that models not seeking value, meaning or validation from an industry, but rather within art and connection to others first and foremost.

USING MUSIC TO PIECE TOGETHER LOST HISTORIES

Archival images of Dur Dur Band, Iftin, Waaberi and Shareero Band on a purple background, with headshots of OBUXUM and Poolblood in the foreground, underlined by two solid black lines.

HOW THE SOMALI DIASPORA IS USING MUSIC AS A TOOL TO PIECE TOGETHER LOST HISTORIES 

By: Sun Noor | Art by: Michael Rancic

For the Somali diaspora, exploring our roots through art has become a way to pay homage to our history. As a tight-knit community, connecting with other Somalis and creating chosen family is a natural process—including coming together through music. Unearthing the roots of our musical history has been incredibly affirming, especially when it comes to understanding why we express ourselves in certain ways.

When it comes to anything artistic, the Somali community often overlooks the depth to which our culture inadvertently impacts our vision. Recognizing the rich and influential artistic culture of my Somali heritage during adulthood, yet not having the privilege to fully explore those elements, often leaves me with a hollow feeling and a sense of deprivation.

Like most Somalis who live in the West, my family fled the country in 1991. Somalia was divided into territories by British, Italian, and French colonizers, creating instability within the country. Tensions mounted between the territories during a particularly unstable period from 1967 to 1990, sparking a civil war when dictator Siad Barre, who entered office in 1969, was forced out in 1991.

Along with Somalia’s geography, the war disfigured the country’s artistic landscape, too. Artists were among the primary targets of Barre’s oppressive regime. Not only were the arts an extension of our oral tradition, their proliferation became the ultimate means of decolonization following Somalia’s independence on July 1, 1960. Artists used their voices to revitalize lost history, marking Somalia’s rebirth and the dawn of a golden age of art. 

This crucial era between the early 1970s to mid-1980s captured a lot of pioneering sounds and techniques both within the music and poetry highlighting pre-and post-civil-war Somalia. Poetry (gabay) is the oldest form of communication known to Somalis and was only recited and memorized until the early 1970s, when orthography and transcription was introduced. Though this golden age lasted a little over a decade, it truly captured what Somali culture consisted of. The tragic turn of events contributed to an erasure of an important part of our history, as many artists fled the country while others were forced to destroy their work because it challenged the oppressive regime.

I still remember my mother’s description of pre-war Mogadishu. The country’s largest city sits along the coast of the Indian Ocean and was once characterized by its bright, beautiful beaches, minimalist yet picturesque stone architecture, and serene aura—the complete opposite of how the country has been portrayed post-war.

I also remember my family’s collection of worn-out VHS and cassette tapes filled with movies and live recordings of musical performances. I remember my dad’s briefcase packed with tattered yellow notepads of poetry he wrote, now faded and illegible as the years have passed. A wide range of music played around the house, from the legendary sounds of Ahmed Ismail Hussein Hudeidi’s oud to the iconic Dur-Dur Band’s intricate, rhythmic compositions and infectious grooves.

Like many of my generation, music from the country’s golden age in the 1970s and ’80s was my introduction to Somali music. It fascinated me, leaving a lasting impression. Although I went on to discover music outside of what my parents introduced me to, I often thought about the music that sounded like an amalgamation of funk, disco, and reggae music coming from those grainy, pixelated tapes.

So too have artists like Muxubo Mohamed, a Somali-Canadian DJ and producer based in Toronto who performs as OBUXUM (their first name spelled backwards). Mohamed is the first in their immediate family to pursue music, though after reconnecting with their father a few years ago, Mohamed discovered his involvement with Somalian reggae. “My dad was a huge reggae fan and claims that he used to write music and collaborate with artists such as Augustus Pablo, who is one of my favourite producers.”

Delving further into their family history, Mohamed emerged with their earliest project, the three-part series of instrumental EPs, The Metaphor. “Essentially, what I wanted to do with that was do a lot of work about my roots—where I come from—and share those stories because it’s intrinsic to who I am. It’s what’s going to influence what I do and how I do it.”

For Somali-Canadian indie songwriter Maryam Said, who performs as Poolblood, Somali music was the first music they remember hearing. “My cousins in the U.K. would drive us around to different spots,” Said recalls. “I remember being seven or eight, and we were in the car, and she was playing some Somali music. I think it was probably the early 2000s—very new generation of Somali music.”

Like Mohamed, over the past few years, Said began exploring their family history. “When COVID hit, I feel like everyone kind of got closer to family, or just started to really look inward,” Said says. “I started following lots of these archival accounts like Dhageeyso. There are a lot of archival Instagram pages that were doing a lot of great, honest work for Somali history, and I was just deep-diving into that.”

Archival photo of Mogadishu

With physical media not always standing the test of time, having access to digitized versions of Somali art has enabled us to reconnect with our cultural history despite the deteriorated sound quality. Online databases, Somali media, and beloved social media profiles like Dhageeyso account for most of the knowledge we carry.

Although reminiscing about Somalia’s golden age of art brings back fond memories for younger generations like myself, Mohamed, and Said, it often leaves our elders unsettled. Those who undergo traumatic events often look towards religion for salvation, leading many to believe that music and Islam could not coexist. Those who choose to look to resolve their trauma through religion also tend to forget about their roots. 

“When we think of Somalinimo [being Somali], music is something interesting because it is incredibly influential,” Mohamed explains. “Culturally, you see how music is important, but then it kind of challenges religion. You have people who aren’t for it.”

Hearing my parents’ stories about growing up in Somalia confirmed how conservatism was something that was adopted later on by Somalis who have assimilated to extremist rule in Somalia. These restrictive values greatly impacted our decisions to pursue artistic endeavors—and thus the preservation of music—as we were unsure of the response from our community. 

“Deciding to put yourself out there and make music is a struggle. If you’re a woman or queer on top of that, it’s a bigger struggle. I mean, I’ve never asked for acceptance because I’m not gonna go anywhere that doesn’t celebrate me, but it’s interesting to see the dialogue around it,” They add, “You can be Muslim and still love music and still be a musician and still be Somali. I make this [music] for me and for the other Somalis that are like me.”

Post-colonization, art flourished because it was such a natural extension of self-expression. Poetry proliferated. Folkloric dance troupes emerged and began touring adjacent to the beloved musicians who began experimenting with sound. The most popular genre of music at the time was called qaraami, a style once characterized by a primary instrument such as the oud or Somali drum. Records like the early output of Waaberi, a music, dance, and theatre group boasting over 300 members that was active from the early 1960s to 1990, captured the complex yet minimalist sound. The introduction of soul, jazz, bossa nova, funk, and rock through artists such as Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Bob Marley transformed the genre without diminishing its roots. One group that merged rock and funk was Shareero Band. And then there was Iftin, whose ambient synth-driven sounds were Afrofuturistic.

Women led the post-colonization musical revival. Cultural developments during this period birthed buraanbur, the pairing of epic poetry with drums and interpretive dances, mostly performed by women. This artistic tradition has since become a part of Somali wedding ceremonies, where women gather in a circle, clapping and singing as they take turns dancing in the centre, similar to Soul Train.

Since the nomadic lifestyle meant moving around frequently, singing became a mode of communication and expression. Having theatre troupes consisting of women or bands fronted by women only made sense. Their vocals, strikingly high-pitched and often experimental, tied everything together, and performance became a way to celebrate women. Legendary singers such as Hibo Nuura and Maryam Mursal, who were once part of Waaberi and remained active in music after fleeing Somalia, as well as Saado Ali Warsame, paved the way with their unique voices and inspired an entire generation, including Fadumo Qasim and Sahra Dawo, who would lead Dur-Dur Band.

Waaberi

Using music to convey truths became an underlying tradition of modern Somali music. Farxiyo Fiska’s 2015 song “Wadada Ku Qul Qul” (“Hit the Road”) in particular resonates with Mohamed. “It means a lot to hear a woman not singing a love song, basically saying that men need to take accountability. And the fact that she centres the stage? I’m still living for it!” she gushes.

As pre-war tensions began to build between Barre’s oppressive government and Somali civilians, music took a turn from poetic, introspective love songs to a medium in which prominent musicians could mobilize and uplift their fellow citizens in an earnest manner. Women were integral to the resistance movement and still managed to address ongoing issues amid censorship. The shift can be heard in the catalogues of many influential groups such as the 40-piece Somali/Djiboutian collective 4 Mars. Their later works captured the sentiment of loss, uncertainty, and despair leading up to the war. 

Not only does traditional Somali music resonate with younger Somalians simply given the language, it often inadvertently influences our artistic ideas on a deep level. Listening to how these compositions are structured, the instrumentation and storytelling leave me with a warm feeling. The way that musicians layer different sounds together, creating an elaborate soundscape, is unmatched.

“When Cumar Dhuule [the late Somalian singer dubbed “the king of Somali music”] plays his oud, it’s beautiful. It’s so meditative,” Said says. “Even in some of my music I was writing in my room, I [realized] the strumming patterns kind of sit the same. It feels so comforting.”

Surrounding ourselves with like-minded Somalis who are just as invested and curious about lost artforms became our newfound way of building a strong community. Somali-led archival projects such as Waaberi Phone and Dhageeyso and the stories from our elders that we hold on to provide us with a better understanding about the evolution of Somali music and history through sound and subject matter, highlighting key musical figures and traditions.

While few Somalian artists have broken through the modern mainstream, musicians such as Toronto’s K’naan and Ladan Hussein (formerly known as Cold Specks) have galvanized the younger generation by not shying away from drawing on their Somali background in their art. Emerging in the mid-2000s, K’naan (aka Keinan Warsame) in particular continued the tradition of poetic and political Somali music in his mashup of hip-hop, soul, and R&B. While Somali parents found his music to be overly nostalgic, diaspora kids saw him as a source of inspiration and pride as he pointedly described life in Somalia under extremist rule in early songs such as “Soobax.”

For the next generation, taking that initial step of sharing art becomes less daunting around like-minded and supportive people. “I found a lot of my community through Somali Twitter when I started making music,” Said recalls. “I found people who are genuinely looking for community, solidarity, and connection with both identities of being an artist and being Somali.”

Building this newfound community has created spaces that enable us to freely explore our artistic endeavours. “You find your people—and I feel like I found that within the artistic Somali community of playwrights, directors, poets, and other art forms. The people I am around are generally open,” Mohamed notes.

There are many spaces in which Somalis feel a sense of belonging, but when it comes to artistic spaces, making room for ourselves has been a constant challenge. “I feel like for so long, we’ve been invisible, and any representation about Somalia in the West has always been so negative,” Said says. 

Looking at the past and what Somalia’s once-prolific music scene could have become will not undo the circumstances that led to the demise of its golden age. By piecing together our music history, we started the process of continuation. The fact that the Somali diaspora has been creating plenty of meaningful art that connects us only indicates that we are on the right track. 

“There are a lot of people who genuinely enjoy their craft and use their Somalinimo in order to navigate their art, which is great,” Said insists. “It really is sort of a rewrite of our history in a diasporic way. We just literally need to exist and allow ourselves to have that existence.” 

We have already come to terms that dealing with unwarranted backlash or having our art deemed as inaccessible is a constant struggle. We recognize that we cannot allow the art to become diluted in search for widespread acceptance. 

“Never compromise what you’re visualizing,” Mohamed declares. “Bring it to life and make it deep. You’ll find your people along the way.”

Editor’s Note – Issue 10: FUNDAMENTALS

The word "Fundamentals" written in a black font resembling children's block letters. "Issue 10" appears below it, and below that, a wall of tetris blocks outlined in orange.

Editor’s Note – Issue 10: FUNDAMENTALS

By: Tabassum Siddiqui | Art by: Laura Stanley

Welcome to Issue #10, the Fundamentals issue. What does that term mean to you? Maybe you think of something elemental or foundational to who you are, or what you want the world around you to be. At New Feeling, we’re always thinking back to the core of what we’re hoping the writing and art we publish conveys: an enthusiasm for the deep creativity of the artists making great music across this country, through a lens of community and connection.

In this issue, Montreal writer Sun Noor takes us deep into the sounds that are fundamental to her and her Somali-Canadian peers—and how they’re taking inspiration from the golden age of Somalia’s music scene to fuel their own understanding of their roots and making music that reflects their unique place in the diaspora.

And Daniel G. Wilson examines the passion behind the Canadian extreme metal scene, exploring the legacy and influence of bands like Voivod, Fuck the Facts, and their next-gen counterparts like Mares Of Thrace. Wilson looks at some of the fundamental elements of the scene, including its timelessness, rebellion, and sense of community, while reminding us of its diversity of sound and the impact of the many BIPOC musicians instrumental in its foundation. 

In our Group Chat feature, Wilson, Tom Beedham, and Leslie Ken Chu offer up their perspectives on Edmonton metalcore band EXITS’ heavy tune “The Forever Crashing of Waves,” while Beedham, Galen Milne-Hines, and Wilson reflect on Toronto-born, Nunavut-based producer </DAD>’s lo-fi hip-hop track “Better Then the Worst.” More than mere reviews, these writeups get to the heart (or what is fundamental, you might say) of how these songs—tunes you may not have heard before but that are worth seeking out—make our writers feel and think.

Of course, New Feeling is more than just the publication of our online issues—behind the scenes, the co-op has been busy putting in place a ‘buddy triangle system’ that connects all members with a buddy and a third member to pool resources, diversify skill development and prevent burnout. It’s yet another move that helps to uphold our values by ensuring collective growth while prioritizing accountability.

Speaking of collectivity, we continue to reach out to readers and those discovering New Feeling for the first time to encourage everyone to join the co-op as a member—whether you want to get involved in writing for the publication, helping to organize behind the scenes, or just support the group’s work, there’s a place for you as a member! Increasing our membership will allow us to reach new goals this fall, including adding another feature story to each issue; grow our reserve fund for commissioning long-lead stories, invest in our website and deal with other expenses; and raise the rate paid for features. Learn more about the co-op and join or donate here.

We’ve got lots of interesting initiatives on the go of late, including What’s New, our bi-monthly newsletter; our Reading Group continues, with a terrific discussion earlier this month about Sasha Geffen’s history of gender fluidity in pop music, Glitter Up the Dark; and as New Feeling’s first Public Editor, I took over our Twitter account to explain more about the role and ask how I can best serve our readers (feel free to email me with any questions or ideas at nfpubliceditor[at]gmail.com).

We hope New Feeling becomes a fundamental part of your music reading—and that the music you read about in each issue also finds its way into your essential listening.

Group Chat: Wallgrin; Quinton Barnes

Art by: Galen Milne-Hines | Wallgrin photo by: Mackenzie Walker; Quinton Barnes photo by: Rahel Ellis

Welcome to New Feeling’s Group Chat. In this feature, we invite a panel of writers to give their takes on two songs selected by our editorial team, with the goal of offering a variety of perspectives on each track and discovering common threads of interest, analysis, and interpretation.

In our latest edition, Leslie Ken Chu, Jordan Currie, and Laura Stanley declare their devotion to Vancouver violinist Wallgrin’s avant-chamber pop composition “PseudoReligion.” Meanwhile, Tia Julien, Chu, and Jesse Locke wax animated about the viscerally conflicted and disorienting “Dead” by Hamilton-born singer-rapper Quinton Barnes.

Check out the takes below!

Leslie Ken Chu: Melodic drops of harp pool around salt-lamp synths and Wallgrin’s operatic voice like water in a pristine underground pond. Yet, counter to that tranquil imagery, the Vancouver composer lyrically wades through murky existential waters. “Am I a fool for seeking clarity / When I know that nothing will ever be clear?” they ponder. An electrical storm guitar solo rages, mirroring their inner conflict. Wallgrin’s skepticism that an unequivocal universal truth exists inspires feelings of insignificance. But light always breaks through the surface of even the darkest waters—as long as Wallgrin keeps swimming, they’re bound to reach a revelation and break through their uncertainty.

Jordan Currie: Wallgrin’s “PseudoReligion” is a cosmic, magical melting pot. If the poetry of Florence and the Machine, the whimsical vocals and delicate harps of Joanna Newsom and the rousing 1970s rock guitars of Yves Tumor had a baby, this song would be it. But make no mistake—the Vancouver artist spins all of these eclectic sounds into their own original creation. Confusion, faith, a search for meaning in life—these are all themes explored in the song. “Am I a fool for seeking clarity / When I know that nothing will ever be clear?” Tegan Wahlgren ponders. The track’s simmering build leads to an epic finale that can only be described as utterly mystical, like the image of Venus emerging from the ocean.

Laura Stanley: On “PseudoReligion,” Wallgrin (Tegan Wahlgren) steps up to the pulpit and lets loose. If Elisa Thorn’s twinkling harp is heaven and the face-melting rock opera-like guitar solo from Tristan Paxton is hell, then Wahlgren is caught somewhere in the middle trying to understand their life’s purpose and, as they write on Instagram, “surrender to absurdity.” Wahlgren’s striking avant-garde pop track twists and turns unexpectedly, but the weighty unease at the heart of “PseudoReligion” (and Wahlgren) is a steady conductor and a very relatable touchpoint. Light a prayer candle in preparation for Wallgrin’s second album, Yet Again the Wheel Turns, due out in September.

Leslie Ken Chu: It’s difficult to parse reality from paranoid fiction on “Dead,” the lead single from Quinton Barnes’ upcoming sophomore album, For the Love of Drugs. A harsh, jarring electronica beat undergirds the rapper’s innate swagger, revealing his inner turmoil. One moment, he’s boasting that no one can ever be on his level; the next, he’s crumbling completely: “Got a feeling I deserve something more / ‘Cause ain’t nothing working here at all / I got voices in my head telling me I’m better off dead.” That Barnes swings from flaunting confidence to wrestling with self-doubt in the same verse evinces one sure reality: it’s too easy for our disparaging internal voice to invade our thoughts.

Tia Julien: Quinton Barnes leans into the dark on the first single “Dead” from his upcoming album, For the Love of Drugs. The accompanying music video provides a chilling visual aid to the horror behind the narrative: “I got voices in my head / Telling me I’d be better off dead.” Consistent with his discography, “Dead” is a bold and stylized statement on a socially stigmatized dilemma—the temptation to succumb to your vices: “I’m liable to lose my mind at any time / Stop treating me crazy.” We know Barnes from his previous works, including As a Motherfucker (2021), as a multifaceted artist who isn’t afraid to be truly vulnerable in his songwriting. Laughing in the face of evil on “Dead,” Barnes shows his willingness to work and play with intense emotion through his music.

Jesse Locke: The devil on Quinton Barnes’ shoulder is laughing so loudly that he can’t be ignored. On his new single, “Dead,” intrusive thoughts bubble up to the surface and spill over like an oozing evil that refuses to remain bottled inside him. The young Kitchener-based rapper and producer revealed feelings of vulnerability under the leather-clad exterior of his 2021 debut, As A Motherfucker, but on this song he shines the spotlight directly into the darkness. Like his former Grimalkin Records labelmate Backxwash, Barnes speaks openly about the temptations to obliterate himself either temporarily or permanently, tearing down the stigmas that surround these very human conditions. When he laughs back at the devil, weakness becomes strength.

Finding kinship between two tongues: An interview with Francis Baptiste

Finding kinship between two tongues: An interview with Francis Baptiste

By: Cierra Bettens | Photo by: Gaetan Nerincx; Art by: Laura Stanley

“Our nsyilxcən language is our knowledge of the land, water and the tmixʷ. The sounds and pronunciations within our nsyilxcən language came from the tmixʷ and contain specific knowledge values and meaning to them.

Article 2, Syilx Okanagan Language Declaration

Francis Baptiste knows there’s a lot in a language. His latest album, Family (Snəqsilxʷ), is a culmination of songs in both English and nsyilxcən [nah-silx-sin], the language of the Syilx people. Today, fewer than 150 fluent speakers of nsyilxcən, Baptiste’s grandmother’s mother tongue, remain. 

The 30-something musician and music journalist currently resides in Vancouver but is originally from the Osoyoos Indian Band in the Okanagan. Raising his son Finn in the urban confines of Vancouver, a four hour drive away from Baptiste’s homelands, has come with its own set of challenges. 

After the death of his grandmother, Baptiste took it upon himself to learn the language. Not long after, he began incorporating nsyilxcən words into melodies, and eventually, into an album. Throughout Family (Snəqsilxʷ), listeners become privy to intimate parts of Baptiste’s life. At this point, he has few reservations about keeping his guard up or hiding truths about himself. Gone is any sense of pretension. 

Family (Snəqsilxʷ) is not merely an album but an act of preservation. It grapples with themes of addiction, separation, and identity. Baptiste rethinks, then reimagines, what it means to be Indigenous. I called him to talk about language, isolation, and the meaning of home. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Cierra Bettens: Let’s start with a very general question. The theme of this issue of New Feeling is Kinship. What does kinship mean to you?

Francis Baptiste: I guess when I hear that word, I think of family. Not just your literal biological family, but the family you create around you. I found since making this album that I’ve been thinking a lot about that in general. My son and I live in Vancouver, but all of my family is from the Okanagan. We all live on the Osoyoos Indian Band. 

It’s been a struggle trying to raise a son on your own and not having that kind of support system. I grew up with a lot of brothers and sisters and basically had built-in biological babysitters. Finn doesn’t have any siblings. He doesn’t have the constant presence of his cousins or the larger family in general. I mean, the Osoyoos Indian Band is only 500 people. It basically consists of three or four large families, including my own.

I’m used to being in a place where everyone is your family. Everyone just calls each other ‘cousins’ or ‘cuz’ because it’d be too exhausting to actually pay attention to who actually is your cousin. You kind of assume you’re related somehow. That kind of environment is what I think of when I think of [what it was like] when I was a child. 

Raising Finn out here where he doesn’t have anything like that feels a lot more solitary and isolated. There’s also the cultural aspect to that too because it feels like raising [Finn] in Vancouver is essentially raising him in this settler lifestyle. He doesn’t really understand what the rez is. He doesn’t have the context of what it means to be Indigenous, as dramatic as it sounds. There’s nothing Native about the way we live out here. I guess that kind of raises other questions of identity struggle in general. What does it mean to be an Indigenous man in this day and age in this country? When you take the rez aspect out of it, that becomes even more confusing. 

CB: Your latest album, Family (Snəqsilxʷ), blends songs written in both English and nsyilxcən. How does each respective language impact your songwriting process?

FB: Writing in English is easier. I’m not a fluent nsyilxcən speaker. I didn’t start learning the language until I started writing this album. This album has been the start of my journey of trying to reclaim the language for myself. 

It’s a lot more planning. I don’t have to think about the language when I write a song in English because I’ve been speaking English my whole life. There are just a lot of differences in the practicality of it. The syllables are different. There are a lot more consonant sounds in nsyilxcən. There are a lot of strange letters and sounds that don’t really exist in English. There are certain letters that kind of sound like a lisp, or throat sounds—these sounds that kind of aren’t singable. It made me realize how vowel-heavy English is and how every vowel sound is almost made to be a held note. It’s easy to turn those sounds into musical notes, you know? But it seems trickier in nsyilxcən. 

So for the songs that I did write in nsyilxcən, the melodies there are simpler. I have to keep things simple to make it work, but it’s also an ongoing learning process for me musically. Right now I’m writing the next song, and it feels like I’m slowly getting a little better at it, which is good. 

CB: I’m curious to know who you collaborated with on your album. What was the translation process like? 

FB: Originally, I had the idea that I would just write songs in English and send them to some of the better speakers back home. So, I would just write a song in English, send it to them, and they’d send me back a translation. I found out very early that that process just doesn’t work. You have a rough idea of how you think the melody is going to go, but the change in syllables is so extreme sometimes. It made it harder to try to shoehorn the language into a song. 

So instead of doing that, I just kind of spent more time looking at what vocabulary I was learning already. As I was learning, I would highlight certain words or certain phrases that could fit into a song. I’d come back to it later at my guitar and see if I could sing a word and play a few chords, see if I could make it sound good. 

CB: What kind of resources are available for Indigenous musicians looking to preserve endangered languages? 

FB: It’s very limited, but there are some organizations that are kind of working to get these languages recorded and preserved through writing. There are websites like firstvoices.com, which have been a really good resource for me. They do a whole bunch of other Indigenous languages as well. So if another Indigenous person was interested in trying to learn their language, they could go on there and see what they have. It’s usually PDFs you can download, and sound files, which I find super helpful. 

From my band, there’s an organization called the Syilx Language House. They have a website; it has a few resources there. When COVID came along the Sylix Language House couldn’t operate in a physical classroom anymore, so they started Zoom sessions, which is also super handy for me here in Vancouver, so far from home. It’s a chance for me to connect to other people in my community trying to learn the language and also just see family members I haven’t seen in a long time. 

CB: Family (Snəqsilxʷ) deals with a lot of personal themes like addiction, identity, and going through a divorce. How do you decide what to disclose to your listeners and what to keep private? 

FB: A friend told me a couple of years ago, “You don’t use a lot of metaphors—you’re kinda just literally saying things.” Since he brought that up, I’m always thinking, “My gosh, I should use more metaphors.” But it all comes out like a diary or journal—this is literally what was getting me down. 

It can become very personal or exposing. I’ve found the same thing in live performances, especially in the last two years. I’ve kind of made a conscious choice to be more open and be more vulnerable. But lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about if it could potentially be damaging in certain situations. There are a lot of songs about addiction. There’s a lot of talking or storytelling between songs. It’s hard to sometimes second-guess the stories I tell. 

I’m trying, I think, to just let it all out or live more with [my] guard down, that kind of thing. For one thing, it’s less pretentious, and it just simplifies everything. I’m 37 now—I don’t want to have to pretend to be better than I am anymore in my life. It’s just exhausting to put on these masks and put on a show. 

CB: How has the experience of creating the album affected you? 

FB: It’s felt like a good experience so far. It’s caused me to think more about what it means to be Indigenous and rethink what family is all about. It’s very cathartic. A lot of people are very supportive of it in general, especially when I started the Native language aspects. They seem to be very interested in it. I can’t wait to start working on the next one. 

Francis Baptiste’s Family (Snəqsilxʷ) is now available on Apple Music and all other major streaming platforms.