Toronto

Ola x OSHEAGA 2015 – The Visuals

Ola conquered Osheaga for the first time during the civic holiday weekend (from July 31 to August 3, 2015) at Parc Jean Drapeau in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The annual music and arts festival celebrated its 10th anniversary with utmost girth by bringing out  some of the most internationally-renowed artists. Amidst the chaos of waiting in long line-ups, running from stage to stage, sore feet, expensive beer and sneaking in to the VIP media area, the park’s natural, tranquil setting offset all to make for a truly rewarding and memorable experience. In this photo essay, you’ll find some of the moments Ola captured throughout her coverage with BanTOR Radio.

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Roots & Culture Cuisine – A Diasporic Food Feature

Welcome to Toronto, where the biggest party of the year is the colourful, enthralling celebration of Caribbean culture known as Caribana. The festival might only happen every summer, but West Indian culture is celebrated year round in “The Six” through music, fetes and, of course, food. Toronto is one of the best cities in the world for Caribbean cuisine. Jerk chicken and roti are the first dishes that come to mind when one mentions Caribbean food, but all of the dishes that reflect the true flavors of the Caribbean — pelau, ackee and saltfish, callaloo, bokit — are available in T.O. It’s a place where you can taste the flavour of almost every island. If you’re craving a five-dollar jerk chicken lunch special with rice ‘n peas packed up in a white Styrofoam box, there’s a good spot for that. If you’re searching for authentic Trinidadian doubles, reminiscent of those sold outside Piarco airport, a flight isn’t necessary. Toronto is more than a ‘mosaic’ of cultures – it’s a place where people share and explore different parts of the world. The city cherishes facets of the Caribbean and the Diaspora, which is why many of the restaurants in our list have been serving the city core and Greater Toronto Area for years. They are preserving culture, straight from the kitchen, and onto piping hot plates.

Priya Panda of Diemonds: Riding the wave of here and now

Photo by Marek Szkudlarek

Priya Panda likes her food hot. At Sneaky Dee’s, a Toronto institution for live music and Mexican fare, the lead vocalist of Diemonds orders two vegetarian tacos with rice, beans and salad. She asks for them “extra spicy,” so the waitress brings a bottle of their signature Habanero sauce.

Diemonds, a Toronto-based hard rock band, is supplying real “party rock” with heavy riffs and sixers of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Last year, the band played nearly 100 shows, but Panda yearns for more. As she digs into crunchy shells of cheese, avocado and tomato, she explains that her current appetite transcends what she eats for lunch.

“One of the things I’ve always wanted to commit my life to, other than music, is travel,” the vocalist says. “I’m that much more hungry to write more songs, play better live and stay in better shape for the longer tours.”

With guitarists C.C. Diemond and Daniel Dekay to Tommy Cee on bass and Aiden Tanquada on drums, Panda is all about the party on Diemonds’ debut full-length, In the Rough, to their 2012 release, The Bad Pack. The band has supported Doro Pesch, Slash and Megadeth to holding their own with sets at Montreal’s Heavy MTL festival. But Panda feels that Diemonds’ most enriching experience to date is one that correlates with her Indian ethnicity.

“India was surreal,” she says of performing in Shillong, a remote area of the Meghalaya state. “Bollywood dominates and it’s hard to infiltrate live entertainment, but once you do, there’s a good response.”

Diemonds made their mark as the first female-fronted band to perform in Shillong. The band’s grandiose arrival was supported by the same outdoor stage Scorpions played two years prior, billboards all over town and a “shitload of people.”

Yet, Panda recalls only two women in an audience surrounded by a “weird atmosphere” due to political unrest between the city and its neighbour, Tibet. Guards armed with AK47s traveled with Diemonds to every location, including the mosh pit, where alternative dancing to heavy music was foreign for locals.

“I had to get out of the pit as soon as I felt the nose of an AK47 hit my back,” Panda says. “We weren’t in Kansas anymore.”

Despite the risks, Panda says that touring the country “legitimized the band” to her parents, who are natives of Bombay. They didn’t immediately embrace their daughter’s career, but their values are present in Panda’s every motive.

“I saw my parents work themselves to the bone, and I think that has completely had an impact on how much time, dedication and effort I have towards everything I do,” she says of household values.

As her parents encouraged her to find a career, Panda studied journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto with hopes of applying her interests to a full-time job. But with her mind on the stage, it was during this time that Panda discovered a passion for spicy food and feisty music.

She worked consistently, and her favourite part-time gig was at Taste The Fourth Sense, a store with over 200 types of hot sauce. Lydia Taylor, its co-owner, is a Juno-award winning musician and founder of the Lydia & Taylor band, a group Panda picked up while shopping for vinyl and Guns N Roses cassette tapes at her local Value Village.

The vocalist insists that you “can’t deny” the aesthetic of the band’s album cover for Appetite For Destruction. The brash imagery of a cross, adorned with skulls of each band member, left a permanent mark on the vocalist, inspiring her second tattoo at age 17: a pair of black pistols on her upper left arm.

This physical tribute is mirrored in Panda’s goal to “bring the fun back to rock and roll.” Diemonds’ raw, sonic approach is driven by various sub-genres and has evolved stylistically on The Bad Pack is with tracks like “Take On The Night” and “Get The Fuck Outta Here.”

“Our personalities are a big part of the band, which is something that was lost at some point when it was Ace, Peter, Gene and Paul,” she says of a similar bond Diemonds and KISS share. “It’s like a big family in the genre that we play, which is kind of sleazy, hard rock. There’s a whole new wave and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Being in an underground scene of resurgence has earned Diemonds high rank on an international scale. With their latest album released in Japan to performing at South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and the band is crossing borders to bring their signature sound to a diverse audience through one passion-fueled goal.

“When we’re on stage, we’re bleeding for you,” Panda says of her greatest high. “When the crowd reacts, they put out 110 per cent of the energy we have given.”

Panda isn’t in the newsroom, but she’s telling another story about following her dreams. When Diemonds became her focus, she stopped worrying about expectations, income and monotony.

“We aren’t animals in a man made world,” she says. “We have desires beyond a piece of paper or what money can ever be quenched by.” With a Canadian tour this spring, writing a new album with Diemonds and scourging vintage stores for classic albums and denim jackets, Panda is going to need lots of water – and it’s not because of the Habanero sauce.

This piece was first published in the Spring 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

AKUA: Cultivating Sound

Photo by Maja Hajduk

In the West African country of Ghana, “Akua” means “Wednesday” in the Fante dialect. In Canada, it’s the name of the innovative artist that graces this page. The singer is not in The Gold Coast, but Toronto’s High Park. And it’s a Monday. The ground is soggy after a morning rainfall, rather than dry and dusty like the African plains. Cherry blossom buds have barely made an appearance for this year’s bloom, yet their pink leaves are peaking, slowly but surely. They’re transitioning between seasons, like a songwriter and new compositions.

Akua Carson is budding like a cherry blossom and doing it in the most unconventional way. The 28-year-old uses her voice as a “metaphor” for personal development, where confidence has played a huge role throughout years of self-exploration. Her curly hair, tall stance and spunky style evoke individuality on another level and it’s audible in the music, too. With downtempo-laden synth, tribal percussion and a voice both richly soulful and full of grace, “Gravity” is the centerpiece single from Akua’s new EP, One’s Company.

The track is also featured on Episode 12 of the Showcase series, Lost Girl. Akua believes that public exposure isn’t a factor of affirming hard work, but rather an imposition from society.

“It’s funny because I’m getting past that point of needing approval. I think it’s part of my Ontario upbringing of succeeding and being acknowledged for something,” says the London native. “I had a lot of themes of what is legitimate because I didn’t grow up around artists or in an artistic home.”

Originally a closet singer, Akua’s talent wasn’t unveiled until she auditioned for an elementary school play at age 10. Raised by doting, biracial parents; a Nova Scotian mother and Ghanaian father, she always knew she could sing with a “hairbrush in hand” or in the shower, but didn’t know how to share her raw talent.

Everything changed when Akua moved to Montreal to study international relations at McGill University. She joined an acapella choir singing contemporary pop before branching out into the local indie music scene.

During her undergrad, Akua began to compose original music, mostly alone in her room, feeling intense emotions, encouraging her to write captivating lyrics of relationships and identity. She describes her sound as “more melancholic” than “sunshine,” yet doesn’t imply that her audiences should feel the same.

“I’m not at a place where I need lyrics to hit people and move them. It’s more of a personal exercise,” Akua says. “It’s cathartic for me.”

Writing One’s Company wasn’t easy. In November 2012, Akua lost her father to prostate cancer after many years of struggle with the disease and moved home from Montreal to be with her family. Months after the grieving process, Akua reclaimed her strength, putting “emotion to pen.” She believes that the best way to honour an influential person is through chorus and verse.

“If it weren’t for my dad’s illness, I wouldn’t have taken that pause to explore music. There are all of these tiny little blessings in dark times, you just have to look for them.”

The candid musician truly believes that “the power of people” has enabled her to develop relationships in the arts scene. From opening for Atlanta R&B artist Cody ChesnuTT to playing Canadian Music Week at the Silver Dollar Room, venue size doesn’t concern Akua, for it’s all a “matter of vibe.”

After performing at North By Northeast Festival in June 2012, Akua received an inquiry from a high school acquaintance, which led to an open-air homecoming set for the London community.

“It was the most beautiful, intimate show,” she says of lights strung and lawn chairs filled with neighbours young and old.

Akua has also connected with others as a vocal instructor at the Rock Camp for Girls program with national charity, Girls Action Foundation. Last summer, the artist witnessed young women emerge from cocoon to butterfly.

“I truly like watching 13-year-old girls pick up a guitar on Monday and play a song on Friday,” Akua regards the impact of the program. “You see that confidence being cultivated in the way the girls take risks and interact in a healthier way.”

With the release of One’s Company, this solo artist is more than comfortable in her own skin – be it on stage, with fellow artists and new environments. Growing from her past, Akua states that her voice now “mirrors” her confidence as a platform to share sub rosa messages with others.

“In terms of personal expression and exploration, I’m on a spectrum. I’m not saying all of the things I want to say yet.”

Akua has bloomed. But the shape of each petal wavers in every note she hits and chord she plays. For the songstress, poise is in place, but the pursuit is still in its prime.

This piece was first published in the Summer 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine