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.

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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.

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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.

Photos by Brad Germain

Approximately once a month from last October through to June, Into the Abyss, a record store on Locke Street South, hosted concerts in its small but cheery space. With autumn back on the horizon, the store is starting up the Shopshows Series once again on September 29.

Store owner Brad Germain had been thinking of the idea long before the record store opened last year. He believes being able to enjoy music with music makers and other music lovers in a close environment is a special experience.

As a friend of musicians and a musician himself, he wanted to provide a unique venue where artists would want to play. The closeness of the shop setting delivers the sort of heightened experience that he knows artists are looking for.

“[A]ny time you can break down the barrier between audience and creator, I think it always makes for better art and always makes for a better experience… I think that it's so much easier to make a connection with the audience and the audience with you when you're all on the same level and… close to one another and able to feel each other's energy,” he explained.

At the same time, he also enjoys the fact that he is able to support hardworking and heartfelt artists by inviting them to play at the shop. The shows last year often included local Hamilton artists, such as improvised noise duet Eschaton and the band, Human Nun, known at the time as Poorage.

Like the music sold at the store, the artists that have played Into the Abyss come from many different places. Last year, there were shows featuring Canadian artists such as Montreal folk singer Corey Gulkin, and Winnipeg-based band Tunic. Internationally known artists, such as British folk act This Is The Kit, also came to play the shop.

Germain is looking forward to bringing some more internationally renowned artists into the store this year, giving his audiences a unique chance to see these larger artists in a smaller venue.

The intimacy of the space was not the only motivator behind Germain’s decision to start the shows. He also liked the idea of providing an alternate small space venue outside of the bar scene, something the Locke Street community didn’t have prior to Into the Abyss.

“I think a lot of music now… is tied to [having] a seat in a bar and then you have to drink. You have to… go out late at night and you know people tend to drink a lot and then it turns into this… party thing where the music becomes a secondary… part of the puzzle,” he explained.

“I felt that it was important to have another space in Hamilton [where] people could have access to live music and connect with it in a very quiet, intimate, small setting where the music is the focus… [It’s about] bringing people together… [and wanting] another space in town where people could go to see music without all that other type of pressure.”

Last year’s Shopshows series included kid-friendly shows and start times as early as four in the afternoon. Distancing the music viewing experience from the party experience gave Shopshows audiences a chance to truly enjoy and interact with the music they came to see.

For Germain, the music is the most important aspect. He loves working in music because he believes in the power that it has to change lives and foster community.

Well, you know, the power of music is crazy, the power of what music can do to a human being and the effect it has. The effect that music has on plants, the effect that music has on animals… I get… so excited about music when I talk about it... because it changes your life,” he said.

“When you think about all the moments in your life where music impacted you in profound ways and it's like, you know, speech has the power to do that as well, but sometimes tones arranged in the right way, performed by the right person and you listening to them at the right time is…transformative…[I]t's so vital to the human experience.”

The audiences that come out to the shows are able to feel that transformation. The small space breaks down the distance that exists between strangers and allows individuals to feel part of the larger community. By plugging into the music and to each other, the Shopshows give people a chance to unplug and truly feel the power of music.

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