Inspired by Joni Mitchell and quarantine, Mac student Zoé Freeman created an album all by herself

C/O Zoé Freeman

By: Serena Habib, Contributor

Meet Zoé Freeman, also known as Zoé Alexis. A fourth-year student in the arts and science program, Freeman’s album River was released in December 2020. The process of single-handedly creating an album might seem daunting to most people, but Freeman saw it as a challenge that she felt compelled to undertake.

Music has been a part of Freeman’s life for as long as she can remember. From harmonizing to songs on the radio and recording covers in her basement to performing in choirs and musical theatre troupes in Toronto, Freeman grew up singing. However, she was always afraid to write her own music.

“Music was always a thing in my house so I actually have my parents to thank for that. I got my first little music player when I was seven or eight and I just listened to the same 12 Beatles songs over and over and over again,” said Freeman.

Music was always a thing in my house so I actually have my parents to thank for that. I got my first little music player when I was seven or eight and I just listened to the same 12 Beatles songs over and over and over again.

Zoé Freeman

Her fear of writing music changed when she moved to university. While going through a challenging time during first year, Freeman attempted to write her own melodies. However, she found it to be a discouraging process.

Freeman compared songwriting to flipping pancakes. Practice makes perfect, or in her case, a song she’s happy with. Through practice, the title track of Freeman’s album was born, with each drum beat created electronically and manually placed into the spellbinding track.

C/O Zoé Freeman

Freeman gained confidence while singing with an intense competitive music group in England while on exchange in her third year. When she returned home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she began a new musical journey.

“I was living completely alone during the first month or two of quarantine and I didn't see a single person, not even my family. So I went into overdrive. And I couldn't stop writing . . . The only reason I even decided to release an album was honestly because I liked the challenge. I thought to myself, “I wonder if I could write, record, produce, edit, mix and release an album, all by myself.” And once the seed was planted, I couldn't stop thinking about it. It became something I had to do to . . .  prove to myself that I can actually do it,” said Freeman.

I was living completely alone during the first month or two of quarantine and I didn't see a single person, not even my family. So I went into overdrive. And I couldn't stop writing.

Zoé Freeman

Using the same microphone, mix boxes and editing software she’s had since the age of 12, Freeman was determined to create the album on her own. In her writing, she intertwines memories to make her songs both ambiguous and relatable. This conception of memory is echoed in the childhood photos used as the artwork for her music.

“It was fun for me because I wrote about everything right now. I wrote about things that had happened years ago. I wrote about new things that were happening during quarantine. I wrote about things that people didn't even know I knew about,” explained Freeman.

Freeman’s favourite songwriter and greatest inspiration is Joni Mitchell, who invented her own type of guitar tuning and chord progression structure by ear because her polio prevented her from using traditional methods. Joni Mitchell’s story has helped Freeman overcome insecurities surrounding her own unorthodox way of creating and playing music by ear.

C/O Zoé Freeman

Freeman begins with the guitar, memorizing finger placements for her desired sounds and then designs a mental image of the other instruments. She then records voice memos of herself singing accompaniments and either send them to friends or constructs the harmonies herself. River is a tribute to Joni Mitchell’s song of the same title and the song “Oh Joni” pays homage to the singer as well.

“Part of her being my biggest musical inspiration is that it's made me realize there is no right way to play music. You can sort of just do it any way that you want and, as long as you end up getting the result that you want, it doesn't really matter how you got there,” said Freeman.

You can sort of just do it any way that you want and, as long as you end up getting the result that you want, it doesn't really matter how you got there.

Zoé Freeman

The end product of Freeman’s journey is an exquisite collection of music that stems from personal experience. However, it may be a while before fans have a new album to listen to. Freeman does not feel compelled to continue publicly releasing her music.

“I would love to be one of those people who leads a professional career, but plays in a band on the side, like that's my dream . . . Music has always been and will always be sort of something that I do for myself,” Freeman explained.

Freeman is heading to law school next year, but she plans to continue sharing her music with loved ones. Music has allowed her to connect with friends and family through hardship and it has been there for in times of loneliness. Regardless of whether she releases more songs, Freeman hopes that listening to River provides people with a sense that they are not alone.

This article has been edited as of Feb. 27, 2020

A previously published version of this article stated that Giroux phoned his daughter to ask about Casablancas. This has been corrected to state that he asked his son.

This article is part one of a two part series. Read part two here.

The latter half of the 2010 decade brought with it the rise of various right-winged movements throughout the world. Henry Giroux, a McMaster professor in the department of English and cultural studies, felt a sense of urgency; that the public needed to be educated in order to advance our democracy and combat the right side of politics. We recently had the chance to catch up with Giroux after he published his newest book, The Terror of the Unforeseen, which includes a forward by Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes.


In 2016, Giroux received a phone call from an agent asking if he knew who Julian Casablancas was, to which he responded, “No, I don’t”. He then phoned his son to ask who the mysterious rock star was.

Casablancas brought a film crew to Giroux’s Hamilton home and interviewed the professor about his work. This was the start of the duo’s friendship. Giroux then asked Casablancas if he wanted to write a forward in The Terror of the Unforeseen to open up his narrative to a much-wider audience. 

After the forward was written, Casablancas interviewed Giroux in front of a live audience at a  McMaster Library event at The Westdale Theatre (1014 King St. W.) on Oct. 24, 2019. The event was entitled “The Looming Threat of Fascist Politics”.


Giroux was born in Providence, Rhode Island, living in a working-class neighbourhood. He obtained a basketball scholarship from the University of Southern Maine and graduated from the university to become a high school teacher. He received a scholarship to complete his schooling at Carnegie-Mellon University, graduating with a PhD in 1977.

After becoming a professor at Boston University, Giroux began researching what education looks like at universities; what does it mean to get a university education

In 1981, Giroux’s research inspired his second book, Theory and Resistance in Education: a Pedagogy for the Opposition. In Theory and Resistance, he defends that education has become a privatized endeavour that does not prioritizes the public’s best interests, including the interests of students. This privatization has become apparent through the promotion of maths and sciences, and the undermining of social and behavioural teachings. Giroux concludes that universities are no longer producing public intellectuals, people who think and reason critically, with the absence of humanities and social sciences.

When Giroux went up for tenure at Boston University, everyone but the president of the University wanted to give him the teaching position. 

“[The president] was the east coast equivalent of Ronald Reagan, and a really ruthless guy.. he was denying tenure to everybody on the left [side of the political spectrum],” said Giroux.

Giroux moved to Miami University where he started the first cultural studies centre in the United States. He was then offered an endowed chair at Pennsylvania State University. When the opportunity came to apply to McMaster University, Giroux leapt at the offer and was hired in 2004.


Casablancas joined Giroux’s project because he saw the value in Giroux’s ideology.

“The idea for the book came out of a certain sense of incredible urgency . . . motivated by the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-winged movements throughout the world,” said Giroux.

The author coined the term “neoliberal fascism”: a cross between racist ideology and a ruling financial elite class that disregards lower classes. This term is the basis of Giroux’s book, which describes how neoliberal fascism affects universities and media, along with how it has contributed to the creation of alt-right culture.

“I tried to take seriously the notion that politics follows culture, meaning that, you can’t really talk about politics unless you talk about the way in which people are experiencing their everyday lives and the problems that confront them,” said Giroux.

He believes that fascism never goes away, that it will always manifest itself in some context. Giroux used the U.S. as an example. The wealth and power held by the governing financial elite has created a state that does not care about the inequalities faced by most of its citizens.

Giroux links the above issues to the war on youth that much of his work has focused on, with the belief that youth are a long-term investment that are being written out of democracy.


Giroux sees elements of youth being written out of democracy on our own campus. He also recognized that neoliberal ideology could have been a contributing cause to the province’s financial cuts to universities.

“The [ideal] model for education is now patterned after a business culture and with that, it seems to me, comes with an enormous set of dangers and anxieties,” stated Giroux.

According to Giroux, universities used to operate as public good; however, this is no longer their priority. Instead, universities are constantly worried about their bottom line, due in part to neoliberalism. This is especially evident in the elimination of or lack of funding for programs and courses that bring in less money for universities. Giroux cites the example of liberal arts education, which he believes is vital for every student to obtain. He believes this field teaches students a general understanding of our interactions with the world and how to become a socially responsible citizen; however, Giroux believes that liberal arts are being neglected in favour of teaching science and math.

While he understands that universities run deficits, this need to meet the bottom line can open the door for them to become influenced to opt-in to privatization and corporate influence. Giroux believes the only type of influence major corporations should have on campus are in the forms of sponsorships to allow the university to carry out its business as students are neither clients nor products.

“We have an obligation as educators, not to prepare students for just the work, but to prepare them for the world and what it means.” 

When asked about the Ford government’s stance on OSAP cuts, Giroux believes that the government has a limited notion of investment, likely stemming from neoliberalist ideals.

“You don’t invest in students, for them to return profits . . . you invest in students and do everything you can to make sure that they can distinguish between meaningful work and meaningless work; that they can have some vision of the future that’s rooted in democratic values, that has some sense of compassion for what it means to live in a world in which we’re completely interdependent.

The Terror of the Unforeseen is the 71st book by Henry Giroux. 

“I write because I believe that writing matters, I believe that elevating ideas into the public realm may help change the way people view the world,” said Giroux.

Stay tuned for part two of this series featuring our interview with Julian Casablancas.


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Photo C/O Celine Pinget

What is the value of an apology? That is one of the questions that JUNO-nominated singer and songwriter Khari Wendell McClelland is exploring in his new concert, We Now Recognize. The show, which consists of all new songs, will tour six Canadian cities for Black History Month. It comes to the Lincoln Alexander Centre in Hamilton on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m.

We Now Recognize is a partnership between McClelland and Project Humanity, a non-profit organization that uses the arts to raise social awareness. The two collaborated in 2017 and 2018 to create the documentary theatre musical of the Vancouver-based artist’s debut solo album, Freedom Singer. Freedom Singer interpreted songs that might have accompanied McClelland’s great-great-great-grandmother Kizzy as she escaped from slavery via the Underground Railroad.

This show is another personal work, although McClelland originally took inspiration from the current sociopolitical landscape. The number of political apologies that have occurred struck him in the past decade or so and especially in Justin Trudeau’s term. He began to question what constitutes a substantive and meaningful apology.

In writing the show, McClelland found himself reflecting on being wrong and the extent of his compassion for those who do wrong. He considered how recognizing wrongdoing feels and how to move forward from it. With this, he also thought about the relationships he has with the generations of men in his family.

“[I was] looking at my grandfather and my father and my brother and even considering what it would be to be… a father and what the implications might mean for a larger society… [I]t's men who are exerting power and have a lot of control in society… What are some of the ideas… I grew up with that I have at different times perpetuated in my own life and trying to figure out like what that might look like through a generational lens,” said McClelland.

The show explores other ideas that McClelland cares about, such as community and the way we wield power over the natural world. In bringing different ideas in proximity with one another, McClelland sees the work as an assemblage like a quilt or collage.

McClelland sees being able to explore a multitude of ideas as a way of celebrating Black life. Unlike his past work with Freedom Singer, which tackled the history of slavery head on, We Now Recognize, is a subtler approach to Black history that it more rooted in the present and in the future.

I feel like there are ways in which black life can be can be understood as a monolith, that black people in Black communities aren't allowed to have a diversity of experiences and perspectives. I'm very curious… about creating some kind of radical subjectivity around Black life, like being able to be all these different ways that we are just as human beings,” McClelland said.

Not only will the concert allow McClelland a chance to bring forth the multiplicity of Black life, it will allow him to stretch himself and grow as an artist. The personal show will force him to be vulnerable in a way that he hasn’t been before with the communities across Canada that has supported him.

McClelland sees the connection to music as something that erodes for many people over their lifetime. For him, however, it is something that he hasn’t stopped doing ever since it became a part of his life as a kid growing up in Detroit. It moves him in a way that isn’t necessarily positive or negative, but just is. He also sees the medium as essential to building community.

I feel like healthy communities move together. That they practice together, that they have rituals together… [O]ur connection to artful practices actually has the potential to heal us as communities and individuals coming together… has this real potential for a deep kind of healing… I think it is just a deep medicine in the way that we come together and make music and make art,” explained McClelland.

McClelland is looking forward to this tour to see how audiences connect with the new songs. He is eager to see the way in which people are moved by this meditation on wrongdoing and apology, whether positively or in a way that is a little uncomfortable.


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