Gloria Blizzard is a freelance writer
With so many pulls on my digital attention span, I give any presentation of music, video or podcasts about six seconds. Then I make a decision whether to stay with it or move on. (You know exactly what I mean, don’t you?). Three things have consistently held my attention long past the six second rule during this most recent lockdown: Netflix series Scandal (don’t judge me!), weekly Facebook jazz concerts on Live from Emmet’s Place, and the podcast series called REVERB.
In the spring of 2020, Toronto’s Brazilian community newspaper Jornal de Toronto launched three podcasts within two months. The first two Conversa Fora and Fala Toronto are in Portuguese. “Why don’t you do one in English?”, Turkish-Canadian designer and broadcaster Erin Ademoglu asked Alexandre Dias Ramos, the newspaper’s founder and podcast engineer. “My English is terrible. Why don’t you do it instead?” he responded.
Within two weeks of that conversation, REVERB was launched, a series featuring voices and perspectives absent from mainstream media. Guests are based in Toronto, but hail from over 13 countries, including Jamaica, Russia, Algeria, Iraq, Romania, Serbia as well as Canada. They are artists, educators and academics who share their practices and their ideas as they find ways to remain socially engaged, connect with a wider community or just living quietly and well.
New paths forward
There is a plethora of perspectives in the 21 episodes to date. In the first podcast, Erin is in conversation with Misha Artebyakin from Drom Taberna, a music venue and restaurant on Queen Street West, Toronto. The second anniversary of the establishment was in the summer of 2020. They had a celebration outdoors. They invited musicians to play but kept the sets very short, “so people would not do what they do at Drom: sweating, kissing and drinking,” says Misha. As he circulated the red tip hat, Misha told the small audience, “The only reason why we are doing it is so that you can remember how to be together… so that you don’t forget.”
In another episode, community groundbreaker Mosa McNeilly shares her artistic and education practices, her work with the Diasporic African Women’s Art Collective (DAWA) and her experience stepping into a new identity as a sacred leader of ceremony grounded in African, Caribbean, Black diasporic spiritual modalities, belief systems and traditions.
Musician and actor Ahmed Salah Moneka, co-founder of Moskitto Bar and creator of Moneka Arabic Jazz, along with French musician Tangi Lion tell of their magical meeting busking on the streets of Kensington Market, Toronto. During lockdown, instead of doing the planned cross-Canada tour, they describe how they have returned to the streets where it all began, the only place left to play.
Algerian multi-instrumentalist Fethi Nadjem, who also plays with Moskitto Bar and is a part of the world music fusion band named Djmawi Africa, shares how he has used this absence of audience-filled gigs as a time for his own compositions and videos.
For jazz musician Ori Dagan, this time has been an opportunity to challenge himself to do online concerts, singing and playing the piano. Inspired by the way front line workers take risks every day, Ori challenged himself to stretch beyond his comfort zone. “The luxury of being an artist is that when we screw up, nobody dies. What’s the worst that could happen? My ego would be bruised.” Through Ori’s online efforts, he’s expanded to new audiences in Europe, Brazil and beyond.
Peter Kingstone, a practicing artist and the Visual Art and Leadership Program Manager from the Toronto Arts Council, talks about artist grants and the TAC’s response to anti-Black racism.
Academic Dr. Carmen Logie talks about her work on stigma, discrimination and redistributing resources, in response to colonization which has hoarded resources for some.
In another episode, sculptor, doll maker and graphic designer Frantz Brent-Harris describes this time as ‘trying’ as people finally realize the existence of racism in Canada. He uses his energies in a new way, raising funds for StepStones for Youth (a program for young people who at age 18 are dropped from the foster care system which is full of Indigenous and Black kids) and Black Gay Men’s Network of Ontario amongst other organizations.
There is always an undercurrent of radical authenticity in these voices, as guests explore and share their quest for ways to care for self and community.
Where do they find their guests? “Oh, Erin knows everybody,” laughs Alex. All guests must come into the Jornal de Toronto News&Arts studios in Little Portugal, Toronto. (No zoom calls, thank you!). The studio consists of two rooms separated by a glass wall. The host sits in one room and guest in the other.
“Something happens in these meetings,” Alex tells me. “It’s almost like therapy. The guests get happy and want to stay and continue talking. People need that connection and conversation.”
It’s kind of like therapy for me as well. I am inspired by the fact that REVERB is amplifying alternate voices. I am inspired by the fact that the three podcasts produced by Jornal de Toronto amplify each other: Jose Francisco Schuster’s Fala Toronto is an inquiry into current events and issues. The irreverent Conversa Fora hosted by Alex and co-host Nilson Peixoto has recently hit a milestone at over 1100 downloads. Between the three shows, their podcasts are being downloaded in over 250 cities across 46 countries.
I am delighted that in this periodic 20-minute poke at the status quo, guests share music, art and conversation finding ways to continue to be creative, or spiritual or just keep quietly moving forward.
Until we have a chance to connect easily again in person – on a playground, in a coffee shop or maybe even a live music venue “sweating, kissing and drinking” as Misha says – let’s hang in there everyone and give your spastic digital attention to REVERB podcast, an intriguing and uplifting mix of music, personalities and ideas.