Dispatches from the first Howl! Arts Festival

The Howl! Arts festival is running April 24 – 29 at various Montreal venues


Montreal is blessed by Howl!

art et révolution, une célébration

Review by Rana Bose

The second night of the Howl Arts festival, 25th April 2014, was set on fire by a mindbender of a hot lava-like pooled-jazz session at the iconic Sala Rossa on rue St-Laurent. A composition named “Regards sur le 7eme feu ensemble” was introduced by Montreal’s sonic poet and vocalizer Kaie Kellough. Drawn from several confluences/influences, this fifty-five minute movement, a revolutionary composition and statement, without a word being uttered, saves Montreal from contemporary jazz discomposure and ignominy. Most jazz happenings in Montreal continue to rehash Miles-Monk favourites in remakes that are half-hearted and accidentally improvisational.  It is rare to hear introspective and yet insurrectionary movements brought together in such an eloquent, evocative composition. Dashes of Yusef Lateef,  Pharaoh Sanders, Parker homages, brassy alto sax screams  and tenor meanderings, were interspersed with an occasional dull thumping dub style beat ( the drummer, a tight anchor for the whole evening, was unfortunately miked poorly even though he kept control with very subtle nuances ).  Balkan inspired guitar solos—which could very well be drawn from Central Asian and Indian Sarod– style instruments -made this composition simply tremendous and to use a cliché— borderless. There was an incipient nomadic feel to the entire composition- a sense that there is much to travel, much to be fought for against injustice and for dignity in our immediate topography.

Regards sur le 7eme feu ensemble.  Photo by Lisa Foster

Regards sur le 7eme feu ensemble.
Photo by Lisa Foster

Political activists (and pianists) like Stefan Christoff, a co-composer of the piece with Xarah Dion (also a pianist), have brought communities together with their deeply felt artistic inclinations and political beliefs and this was one great example of such an effort. Acclaimed poets like Ian Ferrier, members of the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble, the Kalmunity Vibe Collective coalesced to bring this composition together on the floor of the Salla Rossa.

The jazz study was preceded by the very well-known predominantly white all-women Choeur Maha- a team of 30-odd women who have been doing a cappella and folk/heritage songs with a conscious bent for many years in Montreal. Among their presentations was a very well-heard Odaya tune (an indigenous women’s art collective who had performed the night before-see last night’s report), as well as a Leonard Cohen Song and a well-known anti-apartheid song from South Africa and as well, a song in Finnish.

Photo by Rana Bose

Choeur Maha
Photo by Rana Bose




Benefit Concert for Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (Missing Justice)!

April 24, 2012

Review by Prasun Lala


Odaya. Photo by Heri Photography

Odaya performing at the festival. Photo by Heri Photography

The first Howl! Arts festival kicked off this Thursday (April 24th) with a benefit concert for the organisation Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women aka Missing Justice. The tagline for the festival is art et révolution, une célébration / a celebration of art and revolution, and this first event did not disappoint. Montreal harpist Sarah Pagé curated the list of performers and did an excellent job of filling the musical evening with both diversity and strong First Nations’ female voices. The turnout for the show was so great that they had to change the venue from Casa del Popolo to the nearby (and larger) La Vitriola. This show was only the third musical event at La Vitriola and the room holds promise as a venue with a capacity in between Casa and La Sala Rossa.

Odaya, an all-women traditional Native song and drum group, inaugurated the evening with a song and then came back for a full set later in the evening. These four, strident voices had the audience in utter silence as they sang, recited poetry, and recounted personal stories of how they came across the material they were sharing with us. Their music and poetry were augmented with the ethereal harp of Pagé, adding a beautiful new dimension to these traditional songs. Highlights included a water song replete with the gentle sound of water being poured from cupped hand to bowl as the song progressed as well as a healing song sung joyously in the round.

The husband and wife duo of Andrew Whiteman and Ariel Engle that form AroarA gave a short set of songs from their recent album In the Pines – based on the poems of Alice Notley. The unlikely subject matter are the visions of a woman taking strong medication for Hepatitis C – and the angular guitar riffs, sparse electronic beats, and soaring vocals serve the theme beautifully. This was their first show since the birth of their three month old daughter (I saw Whiteman and the very pregnant Engle put on a fantastic show at Sala Rossa in the fall), and while they might have forgone some of the theatrics of their fall show – the music and sincerity were obviously still intact. Both were visibly moved by the recent birth of their child and nature of the benefit for which they were performing – they put on a great show.

Sarah Pagé and her harp wear many musical hats within the Montreal scene but it is consistently a pleasure to see her perform. She often goes experimental within the context of Howl! shows and this night was no exception.  She and percussionist Will Eizlini have been working on a series of pieces inspired by the love amongst the stars (celestial-wood not Holly or Bolly) and the one they performed was (sort of) based on the blue passion within the Pleiades. Motifs on plucked and manipulated strings, bells, and tabla transcended us to within this heavenly tryst – magnificent as always.

Pagé also talked about her own ignorance about the issues surrounding violence against Indigenous women and her honour at being involved in the night’s events. She also gave a personal story of how when she first met the night’s last artist, Beatrice Deer, she was drawn into conversation by Deer’s singularly magnetic discourse.

Beatrice Deer began by speaking to us of how she grew up in a village of 375 people called Quaqtaq, up north in Nunavik. She sang original songs and covers drawn from her own experiences and was accompanied by guitarist Christopher McCarron’s looping progressions as well as Pagé’s sublime harp-ings. Her set included a song inspired by the government policy in the 50s of dropping off First Nations people in the remote north (with failed pronouncements and promises) as a “marker” of Canada’s claim over the territory; despite the adverse conditions, these people survived. Another standout song was one inspired by her village that incorporated stunning throat singing. She had the crowd singing along by the end of the night.

The musical acts were also interspersed with organizers describing both the goals of the festival as well as the Missing Justice campaign. The two women who came forth on behalf of Missing Justice were very informative on the need to raise awareness about the horrifyingly disproportionate number of Indigenous women who face violence and murder, and how the government’s research, statistics, and policies on the matter are woefully inadequate.

Bravo to Howl! Arts and its sponsors for adding a much needed theme to the Montreal festival circuit and for commencing with such a resounding success.