On a Montreal winter night in December over a hundred people gathered at L’Envers for the first concert in the Howl! series. The lineup featured a solo performance by cellist Rebecca Foon and a quartet formed by Sam Shalabi playing guitar, Omar Dewachi on oud, Zayid Al-Baghdadi on nay/clarinet and Jérémi Roy on contrabass, presenting Sama’i Saba (To Albert Ayler), a piece that introduced improvisation into traditional Arabic composition modes. I presented three piano compositions including ‘Piano for Open Skies’ a song released for download by Art Threat this past fall.
Howl! took place at L’Envers on avenue Van Horne in Montreal where multiple industrial locals, revamped by loving hands over the past decade into performance spaces, have made major contributions to alternative culture in Canada.
Artistic spaces like L’Envers fly over the bureaucracy of official cultural institutions, offering a platform to artistry that challenges conformist iPod culture, illuminating uplifting and engaging art.
L’Envers is a musician-run art space opened in summer 2008, inspired by recent sister projects like La Brique and past performance/recording locals like Hotel2Tango, now a full-fledged analogue recording studio down the bloc. In focusing on improvisational music and jazz-inspired sounds, L’Envers built uniquely on past cultural loft projects in Montreal and has attracted a serious underground following for truly creative concerts.
Howl! concert series launches at L’Envers
As a performance space rooted in nurturing innovative art L’Envers was a perfect location to hold the first Howl! concert in Montreal, a new music series focused on highlighting community-driven culture. Howl! aims to challenge corporate-directed musical modes by celebrating grassroots artists in concert, while actively building bridges between the arts and social activism.
Howl! is driven by an incredible history of artists playing front-line roles in struggles for freedom around the world, from the Nueva canción musical movement that emerged in Latin America over recent generations, to poets like Allen Ginsberg who challenged McCarthy-era conservative social codes in America via the poem Howl, an inspirational piece targeting both the artistic and political establishment — a poem celebrated in name by our new concert series in Montreal.
Art & Revolution
Art can translate via song, poetry and a multitude of mediums the contemporary zeitgeist of an era, the concerns of people on the streets and it is that complicated relationship between art and society that we aim to explore via Howl!. As an alternative to art presented simply as entertainment or as a commodity on the capitalist marketplace, Howl! will work to build bonds between artists and activists, not in slogans but in practice via striking concerts and social interventions.
It is often in the context of wider social struggles that creative spaces in society open up for artistic exploration to take unexpected leaps in new directions, from the origins of hip-hop on the streets of the Bronx via Afrika Bambaataa or the ways that jazz expressed the struggle for equality in America — think John Coltrane performing Alabama.
Social struggles rooted in demands for equality and justice create inspiration for greater artistic freedom, while in turn it is artistic expression in sound, in visuals or in words that often empowers new people to get involved. Certainly the bonds between arts and political struggle are complex, but the most inspiring artists of our time are often rooted in highlighting this amazing relationship between culture and the streets.
Howl! concert series is supported by Art Threat, CKUT Radio Montreal, English Language Arts Network (ELAN), Four Minutes to Midnight (11:56), Indyish, Pop Montreal, Suoni per il Popolo and Wired on Words. Howl! will continue on March 24th @ Sala Rossa in Montreal, 4848 St. Laurent. Stay tuned for details.