Monday, March 18, 2013

Ten years in

I've been having many discussions with friends and colleagues about the state of the Montreal scene, or at least how I feel about it given the music I currently perform and for which I advocate. Kalmunity's upcoming tenth anniversary has me reflecting on these issues as well.

I moved to Montreal from Toronto in July 2002, and within the first year-and-a-half of my studies at McGill, I discovered many fledgling collectives: Kalmunity Vibe Collective, who took over a tiny Little Italy café every Tuesday night for an entirely improvised evening where musicians of all genres conversed with poets, singers and rappers; Moondata's LABProjects, a monthly event curated by alumni of a turn-of-the-millennium funk group that would unite musicians from different scenes, along with a DJ and visual projections; and the multi-lingual, multicultural hip-hop group Nomadic Massive. There was some overlap between these three communities: Kalmunity's founder, Jahsun, would often participate in the Moondata events; trumpeter and poet Jason "Blackbird" Selman is an integral part of both Nomadic and Kalmunity. The diverging elements were also intriguing: Moondata was more a gathering of guitarist Matt Lederman's friends and fellow artists, and the mash-ups of people were fascinating - mixing the jazz scene with the post-Arcade Fire indie scene. Moondata was my first exposure to artists like Patrick Watson, Lhasa and Land of Talk's Liz Powell, who were often thrust onstage alongside Kid Koala, P-Love and my McGill jazz program buddies. At that time, it felt like people were carving out specific artistic space in town. It lasted for a couple of years - bassists Sage Reynolds and Miles Perkin hosted the Mont-Royal Composer's Collective, spotlighting modern jazz music; trumpeter Ellwood Epps and other young lions of the musique actuelle scene started the Mardi Spaghetti series at Le Cagibi, a precursor to Epps' own space, L'Envers.

Over the last little while, the spaces have changed though the communities remain intact - Kalmunity is now at the much bigger Bobards (still on Tuesdays), Mardi Spaghetti is still going strong (with their annual marathon happening tomorrow), and Moondata has splintered off into the massive indie scene that Montreal is now renowned for, occupying lots of space at POP Montreal, which themselves recently celebrated their tenth birthday. L'Envers is gone, functioning now more as a presenter than a physical space. La Elástica, the space that hosted my MOVIM series dedicated to creative Latin music, is going on hiatus as of March 22. This relative stability is a hallmark of my time in Montreal, and stands in stark contrast to the Toronto I've followed over Facebook the past decade, with more openings and closings than I can keep track of. The recent spate of closings in New York - 92Y Tribeca being the latest casualty - is disheartening to read as well.

I hope that the openings of new spaces - La Elástica, Resonance Café, Le Bleury Bar À Vinyle, Rodos [shameless plug: I'll be playing at Rodos with frequent collaborators Sébastien Pellerin and Mark Nelson, alongside Jazz Amnesty Sound System] - means we're on the cusp of a new generation of artistic communities. One crew I find myself in these days is a young generation of Latino and Latinophile musicians who pursue work that falls outside the normal definition of musique du monde. Without meaning to humblebrag, MOVIM was an ideal place for these groups - not a dance club but a space one could dance in, not a jazz club but a room conducive to listening. The issue is to acclimate the potential audience for this music to these new spaces, and to embrace the audience that might already frequent these venues into our music. It's an eternal question for music and art that lives on the fringe, but hopefully one that Montrealers will be able to answer for another ten years.

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