Conversations: OJO

Since the release of his first EP Last Summer, OJO has been steadily increasing his fan base, releasing singles, and performing around the city. His EP, Last Summer, is a project full of contemplative beats that takes listeners on a journey of longing and growth. Grounders sat down with OJO to discuss his evolution and the work behind his upcoming show, the Every Summer Concert on June 21st. 

https://open.spotify.com/embed/artist/5PRKNuGQzYJ0vDEfXqEDyR

 

Tell me your story.

Okay so, I am Nigerian. I grew up in Nigeria for most of my life I moved here when I was seventeen years old, which was five years ago, and I have been making music since I was eleven. When I was six years old I could give you the full lyrics of any song that came on. I started writing my own lyrics around thirteen, and that gradually built until I ended up being this guy – who is still building.

Did you always feel confident about releasing your work?

I was in a boarding school, so everyone knew what you were doing. It was like a wave. I was confident because people were gassing me up and then I did a performance that was terrible. It was bad, it became a joke for the rest of my time in school. So that was down, and it came back up again. Since then I haven’t had a down moment, at the very worst people will grow with me. I have been pretty confident about releasing things since then.

What built up your confidence after the performance?

I just kept doing it. I have a lot of excuses I could have given for the performance: the mic was bad, the hall was terrible, all kinds of excuses that helped me not take it too personally. Regardless of whether the performance was good or bad, people always thought I could sing. So that didn’t take away from what people thought my ability was. I was still singing, in the choir at school, you know a gradual process until I felt ready.

Tell me about the Last Summer EP.

The Last Summer project is almost like a review of my summer of 2016. Summer 2016 I had a girlfriend and we broke up, went through the regular recovery phase men usually go through, just being out and dealing with multiple people. I was just writing songs and I wasn’t really thinking about it as a cohesive project. Then I realized I could see my summer in every song I wrote. Last Summer became chronological order from breaking up at the beginning of the summer to the end when we never got back together. That was me and the producer T.E.A.Li, he went to school with me in Nigeria and he’s in Philly now. That was just us working and was birthed from the situation.

Do you have a favourite song from the project?

That’s hard. If I had to pick one, gun to my head, it would have to be “Forever.”

Why?

It’s a rap track for one, it’s the one I listened to the most and even in writing I feel like it is the strongest form of myself in that EP. A lot of it was a very vulnerable space and Forever felt …  rebellious in a way.

Rebellious to the vulnerability?

Kind of – It was very dismissive of issues that would bother me. The lyrics were like “I don’t give a shit” and that was the spirit of that particular song. The rest of the songs are moodier.

As an artist, what makes a good song?

Something that sticks. Not necessarily in a catchy way. You know when people say, “I don’t remember what they did but I remember how they made me feel.” I feel like if it makes you feel something it’s a good song. For one it must sound good, that’s the first gate. And then the lyrics are the second gate, that’s for the real music heads and critics. Once you get past those two that’s your great song right there.

How are you going to leave that lasting impression and feeling in your upcoming performance?

It’s about the connection. Lyrics wise I try to say things in my songs that I would say in real life. Because I find that the closer it is to me the more someone is going to hear it and not be like “that person is reaching.” When you start making music you’re just emulating people. I remember when I was thirteen and rapping about riding in Lamborghinis and stuff. [laugh] So it’s about speaking with my own voice and with the performance it’s the same thing. It’s understanding that I mean what I say when I say it, with the songs, and I want to give people a good time. I want people to see someone who is working for something and for them as well. And – of course – the bars are going to be on point, going to make sure my voice is on point, I’m not going to speak for a month – Beyoncé level preparations.

Is this your first show since the last one?

Yes, because the listening party, even though it was like a show, was by invitation. We did reach out to a lot of people so it was very show-ish, because we had a packed gallery, but this will be the first actual sold-tickets-concert-venue-real-life-show that I’ve done. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for months.

What are your plans for after?

I feel like every move I make at this point is an investment for the future. We work based on the opportunities that we are given. We are going to keep on making songs because that is an everyday situation. If the show goes how I want it to go, it could be a yearly thing. I’m thinking about dropping a project around the time of the concert too.

How would you say your new project is different from the Last Summer EP?

The new project is way more confident, it’s a different time and space. The last one I feel like there is a lot of turmoil and mental chaos. With this one I am more clear headed. It’s less moody and more confident. That’s the biggest difference in the tone and sound of it.

How are you getting new listeners and branching past your community of friends?

It’s about reaching out in any way possible. There’s open mics in the city, there’s people who are down to collaborate, hanging out with people, and trying not to be closed off. Before I was very in-house and about my people and nobody else. It’s about being more open to regular conversation with someone at a party and to meeting people, it generally spreads the word. And trying to be involved with entities like Grounders and Youtube people are big. I got a placement in a tv show which was wild – that brought a crapton of traffic

What kind of show?

It was a Nigerian show and apparently every Nigerian I know watches it. I didn’t know anything about this show until they used this song. I woke up and my phone was blowing up.

That’s awesome – Congratulations!

Thank you, it’s getting as far away from yourself as possible. It was the same thing for the listening party. When I was doing the invitations, I could have easily filled it up with my friends but then I thought “that doesn’t do anything for me because they know me.” I got five people on the outskirts of my circle and I told them to deal with the invitations. “If you think I know them, don’t invite them, I’ll deal with everyone I know.” That was pretty good for the listening party because a lot of people I know I’d just met for the first time.

How would you say Nigeria differs from Toronto in art and culture?

I left Nigeria when I was seventeen so I don’t feel like I was tapped in enough because I was in a boarding school and I don’t want to misspeak on their scene. But from what I’ve seen, it feels more accessible here. When I was in Nigeria it felt like such a reach to get a studio session or to find like minded people. Social media at the time wasn’t as easy to dm someone and link up, and I would say that’s probably still the case. As for the content of the art, it really isn’t all that different. Hip-hop is big down there, it’s big out here, afrobeats is big down there, afrobeats is pretty big out here, dancehall is big. It’s really such a seamless transition, everything feels pretty normal, except that it gets cold.

I would say it’s very similar. You have a lot of Caribbeans and second-generation kids out here. So, culturally, a lot of the traditions are similar; how people relate to their parents, how people work hard, and I feel like it bleeds into the art and culture of both places.

Would you move back to Nigeria?

I don’t think so. I like Toronto and given my style of music I think Toronto’s scene is more my scene. I will go back though because they like everything they like here but I don’t think it would be my main base.

Any last words for our readers?

I just feel like I believe in myself, everybody could do whatever they want to do as long as they put their minds to it. Might not necessarily be a top boy but you miss all the shots you don’t take.

Buy tickets for the Every Summer Concert here!

Follow OJO on Instagram and SoundCloud

 

Conversations: Plato Savana

After years of producing and writing, Plato Savana has finally started dropping his tracks. A carefully crafted sound, Plato’s lyrics are incredibly insightful. They speak to our generation – full of contradictions and people trying to redefine what success and happiness looks like. Grounders had the chance to interview Plato about his tracks Yeshua, Limited all Access, and the philosophy that drives him. 

Since posting the interview Plato Savana has dropped a new single. Check out “Canadian Warm” on iTunes and Spotify

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Plato Savana. What do I want people to know bout me? There’s not that much to say. The music will do me justice. My aim is neutrality. There is no “this” type of person for Plato Savana. It’s an essence – just a feel. It’s who I am. I’m not a rapper, I’m not a singer, I’m not this emotional guy, [Plato Savana] is a human being who goes through every single emotion. And knows how to gauge it, knows how to be optimistic, how to put it into perspective. I’m hoping to connect with people trying to find balance.  

What are you balancing right now?

I’m 26 right now but weirdly enough I don’t find myself getting old. I’m at a point where I’m fully in control of myself. A balance is – how do I stay stable but keep moving. It sounds like an oxymoron but that’s really what it is. Our parents think stability is buying a house, having investments, having a car. I don’t see it like that. I feel like we are in a time where we can run corporations off our cell phones. How do you maintain all that while getting healthy, spending time with your family, making sure your friends are good? We just need to wake up in the morning and not stress.

Do you meditate?

Too much.

Do you meditate intentionally?

I read and write a lot. What I’m reading now is so complex. It’s Aristotle “Rhetoric”, I just finished Plato’s “The Republic”

What did you think about the Theory of Forms? The one where there is one perfect of everything and everything in the real realm is a projection of this one perfect entity. 

Yah yah – you can’t be one of. You can only be that One. It’s a perfect theory. It kind of  represents being fake and following. You see this perfect image but really and truly you can’t see it because you aren’t it. It took me a while to get, I had to read it and walk.

Obviously philosophy is important to you, do these theories transfer to your music?

Definitely, but not in the sense of portraying knowledge. Just more by adapting and working through information.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/5wNmIbjwnVaaiQOz4YWKJS

Tell me about your singles, what are they balancing?

Yeshua is a prayer to God. Asking for great minds to converse with. In the beginning I’m saying “I’m not too sure the things I call blessings are good or do they need confessing.” I’m not sure, because I like some bad shit. So more or less it’s expression without going to Church. It’s just hoping that whatever, whoever is up there – as a supreme being, would understand my genuinity.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/2PMsD0eoZ00uOA9hutVet0

Limited All Access is going through emotions with the last few people I had interest in. I haven’t been in a dedicated relationship but we share interests and all that. It’s more being in a situation where you speaks with confidence and then things happen after. I call it Limited All Access – I want to give you everything but I can’t. I’m still being as open as possible but there are still things to it. And even though I can’t give you everything, you are the one making me stable, to know I have that person I can call and talk to and see at times. I’m being honest about going in a direction where I can’t promise you about settling down and not because I’m trying to play around, but that’s somewhat the present reality.

To me, that’s really powerful. I got into a series of similar relationships where you are emotionally bonding but neither of you are committed. Both people are moving too fast in different directions to fully obligate yourself. It’s cool because most songs are not about that, they are about “fucking bitches” or being in love. So I see what you mean about the balance. It should be a contradiction but it isn’t because we are a new generation.

Exactly, that’s why I feel like people will be able to connect. I’ve been studying music from a different angle. For me anybody can get up and rhyme and say the nastiest shit on the sickest beat, But there is this concept that less is more. How do you be straight up without being an asshole, and say it in a way that grabs your attention positively. Our generation, I believe, has a lot of music about “fucking bitches” and smoking weed. Slowly I’m seeing the neglect of education because it seems being knowledgeable is “lame” and you have a lot of intelligent people who just end up following or getting isolated. You get caught in the system where it’s like “okay there is nothing good that my friends are doing, but they’re my friends so I’m going to be stupid too” and you dumb down your intelligence. There’s a missing balance where you can still be cool even when you’re a nerd. With no brains you are going nowhere.

Did you go through that phase yourself? Of dumbing down your intelligence to do what felt fun?

Yah I was. Even my dressing. Especially after meeting some connects and they would say “N***” after every word and I realized I started using it as a conversation piece. But you surround yourself with those people and you find yourself doing that, smoking too much, drinking hard liquor, going out and doing stupid shit. Then I realized I couldn’t keep doing that and came back to my senses.

How can you realize when you are losing yourself?

The only way you can know is if you already have the will to step away for a bit. You get into that situation where you meet some people and you think “this is it, we are all going to make it.” But you have to know life isn’t rushing off anywhere. So if someone doesn’t want you around or threatens that if you stop, they are going to drop you, well that isn’t life. You were alive before you met them and you’re going to live after. So unless you have that courage to step away from the things you think are necessary to be popular, if you can do that you’re going to see all your mistakes.

These are great messages. Especially for young artists who think meeting people is the key to “making it.”

It isn’t at all.

What’s your plan for putting your music out?

Haha, I’m horrible at promotion. My thing is, I have to do what I know: making connects and talking to radio stations. For Toronto, I want to get connected with up and coming designers. To me, it doesn’t make sense to chase after artists who have already made it. It makes sense to bring a generation up and into the industry together. I want to connect with magazines too.

What’s your ideal consistency for dropping music?

I don’t want to streamline too much and too fast, my greatest asset is I’m over-prepared and overzealous. I trust my instincts and I’m always watching, so once that little voice says “drop”, its Go Time.

Where can we find your music?

It’s everywhere.

Find Plato Savana on iTunes and Spotify.

Any last words?

Yeah, I’m here now.

Stay up to date with Plato Savana by following him on Instagram

Conversations: Habibi Caramel Princess

Jude Mansour is an icon in the Vancouver scene. She is constantly planning events, supporting artists, and perfecting projects of her own. An outspoken representative for people of colour (POC), especially women, Jude’s work is striking for its visual honesty. Her social media is colourful, bold, and never hides the frizzy fly-away hairs or tries for flawless skin. It bears a striking contrast to the carefully curated perfection of most Instagram content and makes us, at Grounders, feel more confident in our skin. As Habibi Caramel Princess, Jude has branched into the music realm. Her mixes are an eclectic mix of worldly sounds with an irresistible dance beat. Grounders co-founder Ash sat down with Jude to talk about her experience as an immigrant and future projects. 

Listen to Jude’s newest mix Flutter

First off, tell me a little bit about yourself.

I am an immigrant, I moved here almost seven years ago from Alexandria in Egypt. I’m an Egyptian – born and raised – I moved here in Grade 9, and I live in Burnaby. My highschool life was miserable. There weren’t a lot of African Arabs, Middle Easterners, or Arabs in general that I could relate to in anyway. I experienced a lot of micro-aggressions as a Muslim woman of colour (WOC) living in Vancouver.

I started coming out to shows in Grade 12 and went to Emily Carr. And I started meeting people and making connections and that’s when my life started taking more of a positive turn. I’m so lucky to have met the people I know now. I’m an artist – I’m a DJ.

So why did your parents come to Vancouver?

Well growing up in a non-western country the goal is to get anywhere. My Mom always thought Vancouver was safe and it worked out perfectly when she got accepted into SFU. I was living through a revolution and she got accepted right when the revolution ended. It was perfect timing and we got the fuck out of there.

Growing up in a revolution, do you find social media changes things? How does it empower people?

I think social media is such an important tool. I was so uneducated even growing up as an Egyptian woman. I was so uneducated about myself. I didn’t even consider myself as a WOC, I didn’t even know what that was. But, when I moved here I felt “othered.” I didn’t know where that was coming from or why I was feeling that way. Going on Instagram, I saw a lot of people talking about the same problems I had and it really helped. I think it’s such an important tool, especially for women in non-Western countries to learn. Those resources are really lacking and WOC need to know what’s going on and why they feel the way they do.

I really vibe with that. I always grew up in white societies and I never realized what it meant to be a WOC – not until I came to university. But seeing people on the internet who talk about being a WOC and how they feel, realizing I related to them was such an important experience.

Honestly, shout out to Nazlie Najafi, my baby – my child. She saved my life. She is one of the co-founders of Elastic Collective. When I met her I was so insecure. I straightened my hair everyday, I was scared to go into the sun, and seeing her talk about that stuff online made me feel inspired.

Seeing how proud you are of your heritage now, it’s hard to imagine. Did you try to hide your heritage in highschool?

Oh yah, I was so embarrassed. Where I’m from we hate ourselves and each other. Even in Egypt, women suffer the most. Women of darker skin are the most oppressed. I hated myself so much as a woman of colour. 

When did you start becoming proud of your heritage?

I would say half way through first year university when I started unwhite-washing myself and my values. Because I tried to be that for so long. Again, social media, seeing beautiful women of colour who are so proud and outspoken. I thought, I’m like that too why can’t I be proud and like that. I’d say every POC country and society carry a lot of internalized racism.

photos by Shanice Bishop

Switching topics, when did you start making music?

That literally started last December.

That’s so recent wow!

Yeah, it all started when Rhi Blossom and Mairin Miller came up with Recess. One day I was at Rhi’s house and they asked if I wanted to try DJing and they showed me how and then asked if I wanted to do an event. And I thought “hell yeah!”

Wow, you jumped right in, were you confident about your first gig?

I kind of was, I was always a dancer so music feels like a part of my blood. So I went into it right away and Habibi Carmel Princess started popping off and I realized DJing is my shit.

Is that your go-to art form right now?

Definitely, I used to study photography at Emily Carr but I wasn’t really passionate about it. And every faculty in every university is normally male dominated but the photography department was very dominated and I was so uncomfortable.

Your mixes blend a lot of ethnic sounds, do you have a vision before you start a mix?

I usually do have a vision for sure. My art and music is mostly inspired by how vibrant and lively my culture is – it celebrates happiness and dance. I try and project that into all of my work, even if my mix is sad it’s still upbeat. My new mix is called Flutter. I’m also working on two other projects. One of them I want to release in the summer because it’s sexy and dance music. The mix afterwards is going to be all Egyptian artists, I’m so excited for it.

When does Flutter come out?

April 12th! I already did a photoshoot for it. I worked with Zuleyyma Prado on the photos.  

Listen to Flutter here!

photos by Zuleyyma Prado

In the future do you want to start producing your own stuff with beats and vocals?

Eventually yes but I’m very shy so hopefully in the future.

How would you compare the art scenes in Alexandria, Egypt versus Vancouver?

Alexandria is the second biggest city in Egypt after Cairo and it’s still pretty small. This shit doesn’t really happen there and I was really young. My life was school and sports, I was an athlete. I was a rhythmic gymnast and competed nationally, I was a competitive tennis player, I did equestrian, and I spent my youth in motion. I love to execute my feelings through energy and dynamism.

You’ve been pretty involved with the Elastic Collective, could you give me a quick rundown on them?

Hannah Turner, Rhi Blossom, and Nazlie Najafi are the founders and they are trying to make a space that celebrates art while including people who are often marginalized in society, such as women, BIPOC, and queer folk in Vancouver.

Are you guys planning to do anymore events?

Yah Elastic, Nazlie and I want to do a MENA party. Like a Middle Eastern – North African party with an art show and some poetry readings, maybe a DJ. Because Vancouver lacks a lot of representation in that region. 

Looking to the future, do you think you will stay and try to make Vancouver a more inclusive community or try to move?

I definitely plan to live here for a bit but I also plan to travel a lot. In a couple of months I’ll be going to Toronto and Montreal, hopefully playing shows.

What’s something else you want to say to readers of Grounders, POC, or people who moved here?

Stick to your roots, stick to what you know. You’re going to get confused in the long run. For immigrants, what you are is what white girls wanna be. You are what society is trying to profit off. You are magical and special, just glow and do your thing and no one can steal your glow because it’s impossible. 

 

To keep up with Jude follow her on Instagram and SoundCloud

Conversations: Leo Alexander Krukowski

Leo Alexander Krukowski, a softspoken 26 year old, is a Canadian artist based in Toronto. Leo’s projects probe at the meaning of what art is, how meaning changes over time, and the context of materials. As Leo explores new concepts he pursues new media creating a blend of techniques  throughout his work. 

 

Grounders sat down with Leo to discuss his latest series, Lionize, future projects, and his inspirations. Keep reading for the full interview. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself before we get into your work?

Right now, I’m sitting in a place called OFFSITE Concept Space where I will be having an exhibition from the sixth of January until the middle of February. The open invitation will be on my website and that is the most important thing to know about me, right here right now.

Will pieces be on sale as well?

They will.

All part of Lionize?

There will be one or two other things included but it will all about Lionize. Right now I am also speaking with a computer scientist named Xavier Snelgrove and we are working on making procedurally generated series of short videos based on my pieces – based on components that are extracted from my photos and analyzed by a computer.

[confirmed: Xavier has contributed a video experiment called Subjective Functions x Lionize]

[note: there is also an installation by Calder Ross, the curator and director of OFFSITE, which is based on Lionize]

What do you mean by procedurally?

It means algorithmically generated. So, we will feed images of Lionize through a program by Xavier called Subjective Functions which will learn, through viewing them them, a language.  Sometimes there are patterns of light and dark, sometimes there are dots of green, sometimes there is a fancy border… It will look at all these traits as components of the entity it is looking at, make a language based on them, and express sentences in that language. But, the way this program speaks is in images; so, it might create images and pieces in this series that don’t actually exist. For example, we may ask it to interpret the Mona Lisa in that language from my work.

Do you think it would be possible for any of these languages to be robust enough to create useful or relevant images?

I think technology is much more useful than art as a baseline. I don’t think it’s about usefulness necessarily, it’s about exploration in the same way these (Lionize) are an exploration of what a painting is, what an image is, what bronze is and what history and art are. Because these all contribute to the materiality of the project. The videos that Xavier is producing are treating data and information as a material.

So, coming back to Lionize, what is the process?

For those of you who are not sitting with us right now, this is one of the pieces from the series. It is the eighth piece and it is called Unseeing. This is what it sounds like [see below]. This is the remnant of the investment, which was used to produce the second piece in the series called Self Portrait. The process I am using is an adaptation of what is called the Lost Wax Process which is 4500 years old and allegedly invented by the Prince Sennacherib of Assyria.

The way you do that is you make a mold of an object, you pour wax into the mold, you remove that wax and cover it in ceramic, you melt the wax out through a hole, pour bronze into the hole, and then break the ceramic once it cools and hardens.

This is part of the mold that was facing the painting, so this is the texture of the second piece.

What is the wire for?

 a portion of the mold
a portion of the mold

When you pour in the bronze there is a thermal shock to the shell which can crack it or warp it. As the bronze cools it contracts which can warp its shape. This wire is to add strength against unexpected tensions.

Are you working with multiple people to produce this series?

Right now, I am working with a company called Artcast based in Georgetown. The owner is named Marcus Knoespel and he is doing a lot of the work directly with me. They are a really good company.

On your website you mentioned that most of your work is exploratory. What have you learned in your exploration through Lionize?

It’s hard to put into words. I’ve learned a lot about death, and the ends of things. About half of the paintings I used for this are destroyed in the process – and they are not my paintings with the exception of one of the recent ones. So, I am learning what it feels like to destroy something very personal to someone else to achieve some kind of ideal – which is something happens all the time to people who are hurt or abused or exploited.

I’ve learned a lot about appropriation. I was concerned about that at first. I am less concerned about it now. I’ve learned for me, the sensation of appropriation requires assuming the identity of someone else which I am not doing. I am very firmly seated as the person who is making these sculptures, not the person who painted them. I’ve learned a lot about durability as the absence of fragility rather than as something protecting fragility. It’s been a sad and painful process. Self Portrait is from a picture someone painted of me, and it is not one of the paintings that survived. So in making this I learned what it felt to tear apart a portrait of my own face, and then also have it gone in the final piece.

How did that make you feel?

Serious. When I do things like this it makes me want to earn the position of what I am doing.

When you mention durability and the feeling of destroying other people’s work. How do you feel about your work being destroyed?

Oh, it’s really hard to destroy this.

Do you mean physical or emotionally?

All of them. To be serious, it’s hard to destroy these because destruction is implicit in the process. When the vector you are on is degradation anyways they are really good at absorbing abuse.

Do you keep photos of the paintings before you use them?

No.

Is your main format normally sculpture?

No, it’s kind of new to me. The last artwork I made – you know how I said that these I made of art and history? The last artwork using this metaphor was made partly of privacy. It was a book of pictures that I made over the course of two and a half years. It was my third or fourth attempt at making it. The thing I did before that was study the French painter Delacroix and make kind of mashed up copies of his pictures. Before that I mostly painted pretty birds and trees.

You mentioned, on your website, that you get more inspiration from Asian art over Western. What are the main differences between the two?

One of them is an element of service. I was sitting at this table yesterday with an artist who is a friend of mine named Ekow Stone. He draws a lot of imagery from his roots growing up in the West Coast looking at Haida and Coast Salish art and his heritage from Africa – to engage with the spiritual symbols of his ancestry. We were talking about that yesterday and there is a greater sense of seriousness as soon as you get out of the European tradition. It is about honouring things. I don’t really buy the whole European notion of art being about expressing yourself. I don’t feel creative when I make work. It doesn’t feel like something I made. It feels like it’s something that I found either inside myself or outside of myself – and I’m trying to honour that.

When people look at your work, what do you imagine is the ideal response from someone looking at your work?

A moment of honesty. I describe a lot of my work as being quiet.

Funny because the pieces in Lionize make sound.

I’m talking with a local musician, Just John, about organizing a series of musical soirées where drummers from various percussion traditions would perform on pieces from Lionize. This, which is now a secret between me and Grounders, might happen at some point in 2018.

What was the question? Oh the perfect circumstance.

A few years ago, I made a work of art that really humbled me and taught me about being honest and I haven’t really made anything for someone else since about a quarter of the way into that project. I know that what I am engaging with, with my work, is vital and true enough that if people who are in a position to engage with it, to meet it, they will. And I’m really only concerned with my relationship with it. Not that I don’t appreciate my audience. I have a lot of people who don’t notice my work. I’ve also had people who spend an afternoon staring at a piece, and people who laugh and cry. Those are all amazing responses including the people who didn’t notice them.

 

After Leo’s showcase at the offsite space he will have another show at The Peäch Gallery (722 College)

You can also stay up to date with Leo by following his Instagram

 

 

 

Artist Profile: Karen Davis

Name: Karen Davis

Location: Draper, Utah

IG: @karun_the_wzrd

 

At only 19, Karen Davis has established her artistic style as one that gives the audience a peak into another world. She has dabbled in photography for most of her life, and recently began experimenting with complimentary poetry that gives the viewer an honest look into her mind. Below is a short interview with Davis, and samples of her work.


Tell us a little bit about yourself! When did you start writing poetry and taking photos?

I started taking photos at a very young age. I have always had a love for photography, and I have taken a liking to poetry recently. I enjoy letting my feelings out and maybe having someone relate to how I’m feeling.

Your photos all seem to tell a story, could you share what some of them are? Or the thought process behind them?

Most of the stories that I want to show through my photographs are ones that I want someone to look at and wish they were in. They’re an escape from my reality to a dream world! It’s everything I see, everything I would want my life to look like.

  

 

Are you behind the entire production of your images or do you collaborate with other people?

I generally have the subject do their own makeup or I will do it, but I have collaborated with a makeup artist and they’re fun to work with.

What would you like people to get from your work?

I want my work to inspire people. I want to motivate them and make it easier for them to express themselves. I want to support and love everyone for each one of the ideas and the creativity they have. I also want them to look at my photographs and wish they were a part of my own dream world.

FAVELA – BROUGHT TO YOU BY LOOT BAG

Written by: Antonio Velarde

All photos by: Antonio Velarde


 Pascal & Nilly (Loot Bag)
Pascal & Nilly (Loot Bag)

Favela is a monthly event inspired by music deriving from the slums (referred to as ‘favelas’) of Brazil. It’s seen as the youth movement down there. Each event is hosted at a local favourite known as “Apt. 200”. The non-stop traffic at this venue fuels the movement in Toronto and it’s been getting a great response since they’ve started.

However, this isn’t new. A lot of reputable DJ’s have been entwining it within their sets for the last couple of years. Needless to say, a lot of the influence comes from afro funk, batida, and kuduro which is also prominent in the beautiful country of Angola. 

Let me introduce you to NOY and TEO NEO, two of the resident DJ’s for this ongoing event. Firstly, they’re both from Angola. Additionally, Nilton (NOY) has also resided in Brazil, illustrating the importance of this music to him.

As mentioned, TEO and NOY are resident and they tend to have a third DJ in rotation every time. At the latest installation, they featured SADA (newest member of New Wav Radio), who’s been making huge waves in the city recently.

The recipe to success? They mix favela- tropical afro sound- with new hip hop and trap music to easily integrate it into the Toronto scene. Nonetheless, this steamy genre is undoubtedly gaining worldwide popularity.

Here’s some shots I took at the latest event:

Missed out on the last one? Stay in the loop by following me on the ‘gram and I’ll see you at the next! 


 Click here to view my personal site!
Click here to view my personal site!

Conversations: CXXLAID

Skynation is a Vancouver based digitally creative brand intersecting technology, entertainment, and design. CXXLAID is Skynation’s latest project. It is a hip-hop showcase that puts a spotlight on “Vancouver’s underground hip-hop scene.” CXXLAID is in its first season and about to do their third show this Saturday at the Rickshaw Theatre. The headliner is Quentin Miller, supposed ghost writer of Drake, and Skynation will be producing his first music video. 

 

Grounders sat down with the Kayode Fatoba and Victor Tochon, respectively Skynation’s co-founder and VP of Sound, to find out more about their project CXXLAID. 

Tell me about Skynation? How is it related to CXXLAID?

Kayode: I’m the co-founder of Skynation the other is Jerry Agudogo. He’s really the inspiration behind Skynation. He wanted to be a programmer and a lot of people were coming to him to hack into and jailbreak their Iphone 3. I told him he could make money off it and we should start a business. Then we came across the South African government who paid a lot of money for their government website. We decided to service individuals and Skynation started as a web development company to create affordable solutions for the African design community.

I love event planning and I see it as my mission to bring people together. So I said “dude we can bring technology and events together.” I’ll handle the design side and expose people to Skynation and you can handle the tech. We realized we were doing a lot for the event from ads to music for the ads and sourcing artists. We pivoted so much that we became a company that creates solutions intersecting technology and entertainment and design – like TED. We have a ton of creatives and projects in the pipeline. Our company has started to grow into this complex thing and we became responsible for a lot of projects. We produced SFU’s fashion show, African Business Forum at UBC, we pioneered the African Descent Festival and we have produced a couple of applications ourselves. CXXLAID is this concept that we are producing as our own project.

Victor what do you do for Skynation?

Victor: I am the Vice-President of Sound in production services. I manage artists and take care of music production. I produce anything to do with sound like music videos and events. In terms of CXXLAID I am managing relationships with all the artists performing. We have Quentin Miller coming and I am going to be managing him and the crew. We will be doing a couple of videos here in Vancouver.

Victor Tochon – VP of Sound

Do you hava timeline for those?

We can’t say more on that, there is a lot in the pipeline.

How do you balance CXXLAID being “underground Vancouver” while bringing artists from other places?

Kayode: Quentin Miller is relatively underground in that if we didn’t bring him out nobody would. The headliner from show two was from SFU and the artist we brought from Toronto for show two was not the headliner. Where else do you have that?

Vancouver is difficult because there aren’t many new places to perform. Are you going to try and change that?

Victor: Vancouver is different because it has a really strong folk scene. Which isn’t a bad thing we just have to compete with their infrastructure, also EDM. We need to find ways to highlight the underground hiphop scene in Vancouver.

Kayode: Historically it’s going to be written that CXXLAID started in Fortune Sound Club. Part of what we are doing is not trying to limit the showcase to that specific spot. If I’m trying to see an EDM show I can go to Caprice or Venue there are so many options. We want to build our brand then move around. But it depends on what we are trying to present. Hiphop is not just rap we are just using that to commercialize CXXLAID. Hiphop is more than that it’s music, fashion, dance, djs, graffiti, and more. We have live painting at all our shows and a dance battle in show two to show that we are not limiting ourselves.

Where do you want CXXLAID to be in a year?

Kayode: We have  three year plan.

Should I jump to the end of the three years?

Kayode: Haha nah I can’t say but we have a lot of plans. We are in a lot of talks with management and a lot of growth is being associated with our platform. After the third show we are going to have a merch section where you can buy posters of the artists and whatnot. Those proceeds will go straight to the artist. We are also developing partnerships with radio stations. Because it’s hard for them to curate music to a genre they don’t listen to.

So are you becoming a brand development agency + platform?

Kayode: Yeah because we are cross marketing all the artists for this huge stage where they are getting a quality production. We are trying to get partnerships with different blogs and magazines that would be able to have that exposure too. There are a lot of community stakeholders who want to purchase from our platform because we are curating locally but have an international feel that helps them step their game up.

What do you get out of that? How does Skynation benefit?

Kayode: Revenue from tickets. Our shows are not free and we pay all of our artists and production crew. With sponsors we also reinvest back into the platform and keep going.

So why “CXXLAID”?

Victor: Do you ever make yourself some Kool-aid? You know where on the blender it says one cup of water and the Kool-aid pack tells you to put in two spoons of sugars but you do three because you do what you want? I be jamming all night on that sugar high. Kool-aid is a culture thing.

Kayode: Adding to that. There is not a lot of black people in Vancouver

Victor: I was trying to hit that

I have no idea how that was going to happen but you did not.

Kayode: Vancouver is one of those cities which has practiced gentrification so well it is so normalized. Ecological gentrification is something that a lot of people speak about. But, rarely do they speak about the appropriation of culture from gentrification. Basically, the aspect of commercializing a culture is something that for me can be seen growing up with Kool-aid in Toronto. There was this stigma “oh you drink Lool-aid, you drink purple drank, you don’t drink normal juice.” I thought “that shit hurts.” As I grew up I realized that Kool-aid is actually a normal brand.

Victor: I mean every white kid drinks a Capri-Sun why don’t they get shit about it?

Kayode: See what I mean? We thought why don’t we pick something that symbolizes what we are trying to do without us explaining it. So [CXXLAID] captured the culture. What is actually interesting is that it is Canadian culture. As much as Africans listen to hip-hop they don’t drink Kool-aid. Us in Canada we are very diverse so how do you curate for a subculture who lowkey likes Kanye but your mom doesn’t know who he is? That frequency is who we are trying to target with CXXLAID.

So you are trying to target Canadians? Recently OVO, XO, and So-loki are making a name for Canada but people don’t understand that the reason that is possible is because of the Canadian environment.

Kayode: Yeah like Juni Kim is this rapper who is blowing up in Korea but we don’t know about that and he’s Canadian. It’s crazy because the question becomes how can you pick a name that isn’t generic but is encapsulating of individuals who consume what was black culture but has become a sub-culture. Because what is black what is white? We start to talk about colourism. So what I’m more focused on is something that is able to bring everyone together for the love of hiphop without it being trashy.

To avoid it being gentrifying?

Kayode: Exactly, so that is where we are coming from. A lot of artists are really pushing for it and there are return artists.

I know you have only had two shows but is the audience you want coming out?

Victor: That’s a good question. The audience we had come out for the first show has been hitting us up about this show so I would say they are committed. I spend a lot of time meeting the people coming to these shows and a lot of them are artists, photographers, musicians. I tell them to keep coming and sharing so we are hitting the people we want without caring about things like background and ethnicity.

How many shows do you think will happen this season?

Victor: Better to burn out then fade away. Every couple of months we have one so like three shows.

Kayode: Then we will have a wrap-up networking event. All the paintings from the shows and the photos from the shows we will put up on the wall. It might be at SFU Woodworks and it would be a 24hr showcase to see what Season 1 was.

How do people get involved?

Artists are hitting us up on Facebook. We are in the process of making a website which would have an application process. Right now our goal is to build concept pieces with potential partners.

Do you have anything you want to say?

Victor: Not really – you guys are waiting for me to say something – I got a business degree. I’ll start my album off like that.

What is your name going to be?

Victor: I’ll probably go with Foreign Sun but he doesn’t like that much. He like’s Fear of God more. I don’t think I’m into it anymore because I’m not as hard anymore.

Kayode Fatoba – CEO of Skynation

Your turn, Kayode, what’s your name?

Kayode: I’m just myself – Kayode Fatoba.

Victor: That’s the dopest thing you can be – you aren’t hiding behind anything.

So why do you have a stage name?

Victor: Yeah because I’m pretty weak. I’m strong enough to admit that.

Kayode: I was like that, I went through phases where I was picking artist names. What happened is I tried my first large scale event in Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the headliner was supposed to be K’naan and the project was $70,000 and my team raised $65,000. We were $5000 short. He pulled the plug so I had to go up on the stage and tell everyone. That was SFU’s first event, in 2010, and the articles were all full of who’s fault is it. I fell into depression and I went back home to Toronto. Everyone was stoked and like “you got a $70,000 scholarship and then you raised $65,000!” It was trippy. Back here everybody was saying I failed but at home everyone was excited about it.

Did you try again?

Kayode: I just started working on different events. SFU got talent, fashion week, a number of conferences. I got elected as the first VP of student life. Frosh, week of welcome, and then events in Skynation. Because of that mental need for me to overcome what was a “public failure.” Now I don’t see it as that because it was SFU’s first concert and I created the infrastructure for that on the mountain. I pushed myself to rewrite my name because I was scared that if I give my resume, they pop my name on google, and I won’t have a job. I redefined myself to have a lot more positive and then the community that came around me came around Kayode. So it makes sense to go by name.

 

We are excited. Hopefully we meet our targets for the next year and Show 3 is just the beginning.

 

Don’t miss CXXLAID’s third show happening April 29th in Vancouver, BC. 

Conversations: CGB

22 year old CGB began his journey with music seven years ago. Since then, he has had performed performed in Ottawa and Vancouver, worked with key artists like Mick Jenkins, and released his first full length EP. Continue reading for an interview with CGB about his inspirations and advice. 

Interview by Antonio Velarde.

Tell us about yourself- who inspired you to make music? Who inspires you to push your dreams further? 

I originally got inspired to make music after hanging out with my homie Cubez. We’ve been friends since we were 8, but we both kind of grew apart until we were like 13 or 14. I went to his house one day and he was making beats, rapping, singing, everything. After that, he really introduced me to the art of songwriting. He did and still does inspire me, but now a lot of my fans push me. Hearing about people using my music as therapy or an escape from whatever they’re going through is my inspiration and helps me get through my own shit.

 

Tell us about some milestones along the way, what are your short and long term goals?

I want to have a bigger reach more than anything else. I’m not really into this for the money. Like I was saying, knowing people use my music as an escape helps me as push as hard as possible and helps me create the best quality music I can make. Long term, I want to be a name people remember. Short term, I’m really just going with the flow and trying to make impactful music whilst balancing the craziness of life.

 

Let’s talk about your latest project “Homegrown“. I found that your track list has a lot of special meaning. Talk about the concept behind it. 

Homegrown is my debut EP and is really the first project where everything was crafted for me. It was my first real project as opposed to a mixtape of beats from Youtube which I had done a few times already. Every beat was made just for me, and I had different friends working on different aspects of it all. It was just a ‘Homegrown’ product, hence the name. 

It’s a story. I made it for y’all to kinda interpret it how you want, but everything is about what lead me up to where I am now, which is where the album ends. It’s the different stages of me as a person and as an artist. Losing my homie made me stronger, my mom beating cancer made me stronger, my girl leaving me made me stronger, and those are all things that are so powerful, music is the only way I can talk about them. I obviously talk a lot about relationships on the project but it slowly transitions into harder songs like 6:04AM and Test Me. It’s a story about a vulnerable and sensitive guy, getting the courage to address his problems which ultimately builds him into a more positive, confident artist. 

 

You’ve lived in two of Canada’s major cities. How would you describe the scenes in Ottawa and Vancouver? Any major differences? 

There’s amazing music coming out of both cities but Vancouver has a lot more opportunities. There’s more venues for hip-hop, as well as more supporters that are willing to go out to shows. Ottawa’s in between Montreal and Toronto so when bigger artists go on tour, they almost always skip here. It sucks but it feels like a treat when dope artists do get booked here and they want to involve local artists that might not get to perform as often as artists in cities like Vancouver or Toronto.

 

Being an upcoming artist, how would you describe today’s hip hop scene? 

Like I mentioned earlier, I was never really into trap. A lot of people hate on them but I’ll bump Young Thug, Yachty and all those cats when I’m having a drink with the homies. Sometimes I need more than a cool melody or beat to impress me but it’s cool they’re doing something different. I dunno how I feel about it affecting the culture, though. There’s a part of me that’s ecstatic that sounds are progressing and things are changing. But then there’s a huge part of me that wishes the artists that everyone idolizes were speaking on a more positive note. Music today is way more explicit and violent than it was 10 years ago, so it kinda scares me to think what those 13 year old kids will be like when they’re my age. That’s why I want to create personal, peaceful and positive hip-hop that can inspire change. 

 

If you had the chance to give advice to aspiring MC’s wanting to involve themselves in Ottawa or Vancouver’s music scenes, what would it be? 

Participation is key. Even now, I know tons of people in both scenes that won’t even show up to certain events if they aren’t involved directly which is whack. Show up to events, network, get to know other people that are heavily in the scene and show that you care.

 

Talk about any future plans – anything in the works? Coming soon? 

I just released my first line of merch which is available at my website and I’m hyped to have that out after so long. There’s gonna lots of videos. Lots of new music. I’m currently finishing up my 5th project which will be released later this year. I can’t say much about it just yet but it’ll be available on all major streaming platforms and there’s gonna be some crazy features on it. 

 

What about performances? Where would you like to perform in the near future? 

I wanted to keep this lowkey, but I believe in putting things out there and manifesting them with positive energy so I’m gonna talk a little bit about this.. I’m currently planning a small North America tour. Nothing huge. I just see the numbers getting bigger and which cities they’re coming from so I wanna go say thank you while traveling and livin’ life. Europe is next, too.

 

If you could teleport anywhere in the world right now- where would you go?

Probably Jamaica, to be honest. After this long Canadian winter all I need is some island vibes under the hot sun.

 

As we move away from traditional religion, do you worship anything and what?

I don’t worship any one particular religion, I see great values in a few religions and contribute them into my everyday life. It sounds hella cheesy but I believe in unity over everything. We are the problem, as well as the solution. We are one, and we can’t change the world if we don’t wake up and change ourselves. One love.

Conversations: Conor Cunningham

Conor Cunninham’s photography (@mescondi) has been making a splash in the Vancouver art scene. Surprisingly colourful and whimsical his photography, and recent foray into film, paints a new picture of Vancouver. Continue reading to find out about Conor’s explosive growth and journey with photography. 

 

What should I know about you?

I have been doing art for a long time and I just started doing photography about a year ago. I used to walk around with my friend who used to take photos of me. Then I said “actually – you don’t see things the way I do, pass me the camera – I wanna try something.” I instantly loved it. I bought a cheap camera off my friend and still use the same set up today. Literally I think I just hit my year anniversary with my camera.

 

What setup do you use?

I use a T3I and a portrait lens, that’s all I have. I feel like I have learned to maximize that lens, I even use it for video.

 

 

 A portrait of the artist (Conor Cunningham)
A portrait of the artist (Conor Cunningham)

I noticed a really big change in your Instagram about a year ago where you went from cold and gloomy photos and then suddenly it became saturated colours, what happened?

I just kind of fell in love with colour. My first couple of shoots with friends were based off what I was seeing around from other photographers. Especially around the city (Vancouver) it’s cold and earth toney. But in my experiences, I was always seeing colour so I made the switch. It’s more fun to work with and plan shoots with colour.

 

Take me through a shoot with you!

It’s pretty chill. I will meet up with a model and we will discuss what we are going to wear and stuff. Or if I have a concept I’ll style them in my clothes. I shoot kind of differently – according to my models. It’s slower not a lot of rapid fire stuff. I plan everything out. I look for people who are down to do whatever and I will bring weird props. It’s super chill, laid back – I usually become friends with the people I shoot with. I take it seriously in my head, because I am very critical of myself and my work. Everything needs to be perfect in my eyes but the environment needs to be relaxed.

 

What is perfection in your eyes?

Literally whatever I think is perfect. Things could be off, like your hair doesn’t need to be perfect, but when I see the photo it needs to feel perfect. I like imperfection though. When I first started people would send me Instagrams of these really hot girls and tell me to shoot with them. But I thought it was boring. Using models is cool because they know how to pose, but my favourite is picking someone who looks interesting. In the photos you can always see it. They are a little uncomfortable because they haven’t been asked to take photos before. The audience can connect to it versus a model who has done a pose a billion times. It’s a lot more real.

I like that, I feel like what your photography has been showing me is a super colourful representation of Vancouver which is hard because it is cold and rainy.

People ask me all the time where I shoot and I say Vancouver and they are like where did you find the colour. I just tell them to look.

 

 

How do you look?

I think my brain has gotten to the point where it picks it out when it sees it because I’ve trained it. My nine-to-five job has me driving around the city all the time. So I’m always seeing new places and I’ll take down the cross streets.

 

How much of your work is post editing?

Oh – like all of it. I like film a lot so I try to mimic a film look when I edit. Digital obviously looks so different, especially when I work with colour I need to bump it up so much. Digital tends to wash everything. I actually just picked up two film cameras.

 

Tell me about filming videos, what have you been experimenting with?

One of my buddies is a musician here and before he moves to LA he wants to have a catalog of videos. He is pretty much the one who got me into doing art and sharing it because I used to be self conscious about it – like years ago. He just told me to do it. So he came to me and said he wants to do this video project of five music videos and a short film. I told him I don’t have a dope camera but we can try it on this so we did it.

I’ve always been into video. When people ask me who my inspiration is it’s a lot more directors than photographers. I like my photos to be cinematic like screenshots of a film. It was kind of inevitable that I would get into film and I’m working on my own short film.

 

Tell me more about the short film

It is about being a kid who is into art and wants to do that in the place we are right now. Any place where they don’t push you up to do it. It’s about the escape of it all – which is what it is to me – so it is about the kids who want to escape into art and make it their life.

 

Do you want to make art your life?

Yeah I dropped out of school – I was like nope this is not what I’m doing. I went to Simon Fraser University (SFU) for two years and I took random classes and hated it. I would skip class all the time to do photo stuff or draw anything. I used to think there is something wrong with me. Am I lazy? But nah, I work hard. I work till I die and I have a better chance at making it with something like this rather than an office job.

 

 

A lot of your paintings beforehand had this really fragmented look. It was almost Picasso like and that didn’t appear in your photos but it seems to be back in your videos with two overlaying shots.

The fragmented paintings were from back when I was in SFU. I wasn’t super happy. I felt like I had one side of me that was prim and proper for my parents and the other was just art – art – art. The fragmented stuff was me expressing the two sides. So half a face that is very make-up clean and the other is in my mind and a gong show. In the photos I think it stopped because that is when I stopped school and I was able to be that side. It came back in the videos because I am not super comfortable with it. The videos are also for somebody else so it’s chopped up in that it has both our sides in it.

 

Do you have any big projects?

I kind of slowed down the photos in the last two months because the weather sucks. But I have a couple of shoots that I have been waiting to do since November but the flowers are coming out now. Then the short film and my buddy’s thing. There are two more videos to film. That’s it so far, I just want to keep growing. I’m going to LA in May, with a couple of friends, and I am going to work with a couple of people and go to a Street Dreams party.

 

Are you visiting or trying to root yourself in LA?

I am visiting but I am going to try and do the most I can in three weeks. My goal is to move to the States or to move out of Vancouver. I am not rushing out but I feel like I can’t stay here forever.

 

Why is that?

The attitude towards art I find here, there are amazing and super talented people here, but as a whole – I want to e shooting people like ASAP rocky and I know I have to venture out there. I can’t make it what I want to do personally here.

 

I feel that – a lot of things in Vancouver are temporary.

It’s a good place, especially to start. It isn’t flooded with people actually trying. It’s a little sad because there are so many people I know who are talented but just go to school and feel like there is no possibility of making it. It has to be a mindset, if you put everything out there people are going to notice.

 

Do you have anything else you would like to say?

I hope people see my stuff and don’t think I am always taking portraits. I really use it – art – as a way to escape, I want to create my own world. I look at people like Tarantino and my bigger influences. I look at every scene and break it down – that is what I try to do. Every little detail is that way for a specific person.

That is partially why I use colour, it’s because that is how I want things to be. It looks happy but I don’t usually have a lot of smiling in my photos. I want things to be that colourful but the place I am in now is kind of dystopian and that is why I have that contrast. My photos have a small representation of what I am going through at the moment.

 

Do you have a favourite movie?

Kill Bill – I don’t think that’s the greatest movie ever but personally I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched that movie. The cinematography is insane.