Holding space for art that too often falls through the cracks

Arts and Culture
September 23, 2021
Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

C/O Zula Presents

With a mix of music, improvisation and film, the Something Else! festival has something for everyone this fall

By: Sarah Lopes Sadafi, Contributor

At the foot of Harbourfront Drive, the Something Else! festival is bringing live performance back to the Hamilton area at Bayfront Park this fall. The festival is a not-for-profit initiative highlighting diverse, marginalized and unique voices in the arts, in an effort to fill the gaps in Hamilton’s arts scene.

Cem Zafir, the director of Something Else! festival, began presenting music as a passion project in the early 2000s while also working as a postal worker. At the time, he focused on jazz, improvised music and the avant garde. After being transferred to a post office location in Hamilton in 2012, Zafir started writing grants for the Something Else! festival in 2014. Seeing the prominent rock music scene at the time, he seized the opportunity to fill the lack of diverse and unique voices in the Hamilton music scene. 

“As [my partner and I] spent time in Hamilton, we felt like there were so many [styles of music] that weren’t being covered . . . For a local scene to grow, we need to be open to new ideas — from poetry to spoken word, to various forms of music. Anything that’s more adventurous and generally falls through the cracks,” said Zafir.

Seven years later, the festival has expanded from jazz and improvisation to include film, dance and mixed and multimedia arts. Zafir’s not-for-profit organization, Zula Music & Arts Collective Hamilton, has now grown to a group of 15 people working to organize the Something Else! festival and associated arts series, Watch it Burn!

The name Something Else! was inspired by an Ornette Coleman album of the same name. Additionally, the name is reminiscent of the common saying ‘that was something else’, referring in particular to something off-center and apart from the norm—exactly what the festival strives to showcase.

Hungry for local acts, the Something Else! festival emphasises the importance of highlighting Hamiltonian voices in the arts. In order to feed Hamilton’s cultural fabric, Zafir holds that we need to amplify the unique talents that we have right here at home.

Ronley Teper and The Lipliners is a multi-genre local Hamilton music act that has participated in the festival since its conception in 2014, with a focus on improvisation and collaboration in musical expression.

C/O Saúl Lederman

Teper described feeling nervous prior to her performance at the festival on Sept. 11 for the first time in 18 months, followed by the joy of finally being back in front of an audience in a space with COVID-19 measures in place. She hopes the audience felt that range of emotions from her day at Bayfront Park.

“Joy and laughter are some things that I love to emit, but I also try to tempt the other emotions,” Said Teper. “People tell me that they love me or hate me, because you can’t hate without love. I always want people to feel something when they leave —i ndifference is dangerous.” 

As the end of September approached, there are still a few performances left to see before the end of Something Else! festival.

Brass Knuckle Sandwich is an improvisational duo of Nicole Rampersaud and Marilyn Lerner, with an upcoming performance at the festival on Oct. 8. They hope people walk into their set with an openness to experience.

“When being in front of audiences, being in the same space, learning and having an open mind opens up new connections and points of commonality. In an age of divide, divide, divide, we could all use some of that connection and an open mind can help make that happen,” said Rampersaud.

"When being in front of audiences, being in the same space, learning and having an open mind opens up new and points of commonality. In an age of divide, divide, divide, we could all use some of that connection and an open mind can help make that happen.”

Nicole Rampersaud, Brass Knuckle Sandwich Improvisional Duo Member

The festival operates in accordance with all provincial COVID-19 guidelines currently in place. It is run entirely outdoors with contact tracing for the limited capacity and staff and volunteers are masked at all times. Sanitizer, wipes and extra masks are also available at the venue.

Admission to the festival is granted on a pay what you can basis, in an effort to increase accessibility and ensure all arts-lovers have access to live performance. The suggested donation of $15-25 includes several diverse artistic acts, as well as a provided dinner.

Zafir emphasised the importance of coming to the festival with an open mind.

“The choices we make are entertaining, intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving. If you come in without judgement, if you just let it wash over you and be present, you’ll walk away with something. Coming with an open mind and being present will lead to getting turned on to new things, new ideas,” explained Zafir.

The festival will be running every Saturday until Oct. 9 at Bayfront Park Pavilion.

“It’s just music. It’s not precious, but it’s sacred,” said Zafir.

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