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East End Spotlight is a monthly news piece where we highlight a series of east end artists, arts organizations, creative spaces & professionals that we want to shine a spotlight on💙!

For September 2020, we got in touch with some new artists and arts organizations from east Toronto. Scroll down to read more about the following people and organizations this month:

    1. Amélie Lefebvre – Artist – East York Days
    2. Andrea Ramolo – Artist – East York Days
    3. Denielle Bassels – Artist – East York Days
    4. Jenna Marie Pinard & Jay Yoo – Artists – East York Days
    5. Joanne Morra – Artist – East York Days
    6. Louis Simão – Artist – East York Days
    7. Dusk Dances – Arts Organization

*Banner image from Dusk Dances’ “Space Within Us”. Photo by David Wong.*

1. Artist Spotlight: Amélie Lefebvre

(Amélie Lefebvre will perform in our upcoming series, East York Days: Behind the Music, on Wednesday September 30th, 7-8pm)

Name: Amélie Lefebvre

Discipline: Singer/songwriter

Artist on Social:
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

I am originally from Québec City. I lived in Vancouver for 12 years where I studied theatre arts and when I moved to Toronto that’s when I began my journey as a French singer-songwriter. Listening to music, all genres, were a big part of my family and my upbringing. Music for me has always been an escape when I needed it to be, or a celebration. And it was important for me to stay connected to my roots, which is why I chose to keep writing and performing in French even when living in predominantly English-speaking cities. And so, I put out a debut album in 2006 as a solo artist.

I joined Les Singes Bleus in 2007 and we formed Amélie & Les Singes Bleus (ALSB) for fun, with a few performances here and there. The band was already covering some of my favorite French songs from Piaf, Brel, Brassens, Gainsbourg, and it was so much fun the way they could play with different arrangements that I knew a bigger audience would enjoy this project. So, I led us to start applying for grants and showcases to get us a little more exposure and shows. We recorded two albums, a mix of our original work and completely new renditions of well-known French songs.

Amélie & Les Singes Bleus’ real magic is in its performances. We all enjoy that so much.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice? 

The band and I have not been able to get together to rehearse the new songs we had started to work on, and we lost all the performing opportunities we had. I applied for one online performance in collaboration with Music Together in June where only three of us stretched out on my back deck to perform a few tunes. I haven’t been in touch with the band much either.

I personally have had to pick a full time job (very lucky to have found one during this time, it’s a rarity in this community) to help support my family, which has left me very little time to be creative and write. I asked Rizaldo (guitarist) to compose something new and he kindly obliged. Riz is good that way, but again, I’ve had very little energy to put toward music, which has been really odd. Every now and again I’ll pick up my ukulele.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

The best support at this time would be to listen to our music on your preferred platforms, become fans on our Facebook page, and share links and videos with friends and family so that when we can perform again, more people will have heard of us and will be excited to come to shows! They can also buy our albums by contacting lessingesbleus@gmail.com. And if they have a big backyard or front lawn, we’ll happily perform for small audiences outside while the weather is still nice!

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

I am taking part in a collaborative song and video performance called Franc’Choeur in September as well. Look for it, it will be a gathering of francophones from all over Ontario with the message that we are all connected through thick and thin.

I also am excited to follow the initiative Porchside Songs and other porch concert initiatives. A testament that art always finds ways to shine through even in the darkest times.

A fun fact about you for our readers:

I am a huge fan of the Frozen movies.

2. Artist Spotlight: Andrea Ramolo

(Andrea Ramolo will perform in our upcoming series, East York Days: Behind the Music, on Wednesday September 16th, 7-8pm)

Name: Andrea Ramolo

Discipline: Music

Artist Website: www.andrearamolo.com

Artist on Social:
Instagram
Facebook
YouTube
Twitter

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

I was born to Italian immigrants and grew up as a dancer. I always loved to sing but only picked up the guitar for the first time when I was 23 and my mother was battling stage 3 breast cancer. It became therapeutic to learn an instrument and then songs just started coming out. I released my first album Thank You For The Ride and decided to buy a van and live in it for 3 years playing as many shows as I could. It was incredible. I became confident on my guitar and I saw all the nooks and crannies of this country many times over.

I then released a second solo record and formed the folk/pop duo Scarlett Jane with Cindy Doire, and it seemed like we were on tour for the entire time behind the release of two records together. I then met Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies singing backups in the studio on a Lee Harvey Osmond record and I knew I wanted to work with him. I loved his way of leaving the artist so much space to really explore themselves and find their sound and I released NUDA which was hugely transformational for me. I wrote that album during a very dark time in my life so the entire process was pretty powerful. And then I wanted to have some fun and experiment with my sound and so I chose 10 of my favourite Leonard Cohen songs and tried to find my own unique way into the poetry. It was an interesting and challenging process. Timmins and I worked together again on that and HOMAGE came out in 2018.

I think the reason I make music is two-fold. For my self, I need to process the highs and lows of life in a way that works for me, and music has always been that. It is a very powerful healer. And secondly, I love making people feel things. Or rather, I love providing a space, a story, and a sound where people feel inspired to go deep into their own feelings. Music connects me to other people and it’s a really beautiful conversation.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice? 

Well part of my practice as an artist is to play for people and sing for people and have that very human experience I mentioned, and with all tours and shows cancelled in a live setting, it makes that completely impossible. So a huge part of the practice is forbidden. That leaves online shows and live streams, which definitely has shown how we can adapt as human beings, but it’s really not the same. Singing into a screen, all alone at home. Sounds like the first line to a sad country song. However, I will say that with having been given all this free time, it’s allowed me time to feel and write songs.

I’m not very technologically inclined, but I managed to produce and record three songs during the first few months of COVID. One of them was an extra challenge because it was my first song in my second language which is Italian. In the early months of COVID when the world didn’t know how it would all unravel, Italy got hit pretty hard and went on complete lock down. I have a lot of friends and family there and I think it just ignited my fear and worry about it all. So I wrote a love letter to the Italians during the pandemic.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

Well I’d say come to a show but they are rare these days. Support for artists, especially now I think, comes by buying their music… and if you love the music, tell your friends how much you love it. I also have so many brand new songs I’d love to record and may think about doing a small album pre-sale fundraiser. Following artists on the platforms you like to frequent is important because you’ll always be kept up to date on new music and ways that you can continue to support.

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

I’m really excited about this new online discussion group and forum I joined a few months back called Unreal Life Initiative. It was spearheaded by musicians and activists Katie Lee, Simone Schmidt, and Nicholas Dourado, and it’s an online learning forum where the focus is to educate ourselves and dissect and dismantle power dynamics and oppression within the music ‘industry.’ Our focus is learning more about the BIPOC experience through facilitated online panels and discussions, videos and documentaries, and lots of reading and exploring with an aim to learn how to build a community by bringing musicians together to learn about our power as spiritual and cultural workers and as a labour force. We map out power in the administrative realms of the industry, explore history, key players and pioneers that may have been absent from our musical education, and we present research through shared documents. It is quite deep work and I know they have discussed more online forums and events which I look forward to.

A fun fact about you for our readers:

I’m nearly legally blind and am also a high school teacher. Friends often get a kick out of that.

3. Artist Spotlight: Denielle Bassels

(Denielle Bassels will perform in our upcoming series, East York Days: Behind the Music, on Wednesday September 23rd, 7-8pm)

Name: Denielle Bassels

Discipline: Voice, Songwriting, arranging, production

Artist Website: www.deniellebassels.ca

Artist on Social:
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter
Soundcloud
Bandcamp

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

My influences are a large mishmash of genres from Fats Waller, to Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin to Django Reinhardt, Nina Simone to Feist, and the Specials. I don’t try to write in any one genre, instead I give the story and mood to the music it needs to live, be it ska, or bossa or a march. I always write from a place of strength, never victim-hood. I believe we are the masters of our own lives. So even when I am down and out, there is always room for hope and new direction. I think that comes from my past and landing at rock bottom a few times. Music has always been a resource for me for overcoming hard times. It’s offered an escape as well as mindfulness and a channel to purge myself of difficult emotions. “Poppies in Bloom”, the new album coming out this fall is a stripped down version of my usual kitchen sink style songs. You’ll be hearing songs with a deeper message, sparse band from acappella to 4 piece at the largest.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice? 

At first the pandemic had me stifled and for about a month I couldn’t sing or write or do anything creative. I was really in a funk. It wasn’t until I was picked up by family and taken to the country that I started to really breathe again and find my voice. I started writing in an old barn by the river and really just have been on a roll since then. I’ve found a whole new way to write and have learned so much about putting recordings together with all instruments from start to finish.

It’s nice to write and be creative but I’m also really missing my band, their adorable personalities, great talents and the amazing chemistry we have when playing together. It was performing that brought me into music as a career so although I love writing, I really miss the interaction with my band. Most of all, I miss playing for audiences in a live setting. Seeing their faces and hearing their stories when you’ve touched some part of their lives through your song. That energy transfer is such a huge part of why I perform. I can’t wait to get back to the venues.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

Audiences can support us artists on sites such as Patreon. For as low as 5$ a month, fans and supporters can get perks to shows and music as well as pre-releases, weekly or monthly videos and it helps the artist create more material as it takes money to be able to create music and videos. They can also leave a tip through PayPal or e-transfer while watching online streaming performances. I have some fans that have dropped off clothes and food for me and that has been such a lovely surprise and God send. Just recently my roommate moved out and took the piano so I’ve needed a new one since then. A few fans have offered to pitch in to help with that cost, and though I haven’t taken them up on it yet, it’s lovely to know that support is there. Bandcamp is also really great for artists. You can purchase CD’s, digital music and artwork and the artist gets most of the revenue.

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

I’m excited about releasing my new album “Poppies In Bloom”. It’s really been an uphill battle making this album, from illness to the pandemic and my producer moving away. But we got there and I can’t wait to share it with the world. The first single will be released in November of this year!

A fun fact about you for our readers:

A jarring dream brought me to Switzerland where I discovered myself as a jazz musician.

4. Artists Spotlight: Jenna Marie and Jay Yoo

(Jenna Marie and Jay Yoo will perform in our upcoming series, East York Days: Behind the Music, on Wednesday September 23rd, 7-8pm)

Name: Jenna Marie and Jay Yoo

Discipline: Jazz Duo

Artist Website: www.jennamarieofficial.com

Artist on Social:
-Jenna-
Facebook
Instagram
-Jay Yoo-
Facebook
Instagram

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

Jenna Marie Pinard and Jay Yoo are a jazz duo from Toronto, Canada. Individually and in a variety of ensembles, they have performed at prestigious Canadian venues such as Old Mill Toronto, The Rex Hotel, Upstairs Jazz, House of Jazz, Koerner Hall, Canadian Stage, Meridian Arts Centre, and Banff Centre for the Arts. The two up-and-coming jazz musicians started playing duo together after having met at the University of Toronto where they both studied music and jazz performance. After their debut duo performance at the Tranzac Club, they decided to record an album that was representative of their current musical identities. In November 2020, the duo released their debut record entitled “Here, Now” and have received rave reviews and international radio play. The duo are passionate about creating original music and unique jazz arrangements. Jenna Marie and Jay enjoy playing and writing in a variety of genres including jazz, folk, r&b and pop.

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice?

Right before quarantine officially started, I (Jenna Marie) went to Montreal to visit my family. I soon realized that it would be safest to stay at my family home for what I thought would be a couple of weeks. I ended up staying with my parents for four whole months, which meant that Jay and I couldn’t make music together. We kept up with each other socially and often discussed what kind of music we’d like to make together in the future. To be honest, it was challenging to stay motivated during that time. Playing with Jay is one of my favourite creative outlets and we usually spend the entire summers playing and performing together, it was hard to accept that this summer would look dramatically different than how we had planned it.

We tried to rehearse together via online video services like ‘Zoom’, but found that the slight lag made it impossible for us to play together. Upon returning to Toronto, Jay and I quickly re-united and decided to be in each other’s “Bubbles”. I can’t even begin to describe the surge of joy that I felt when we finally reunited and made music- it was magical!

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

Following us on social media and engaging with our posts is a great way to support us. We update our pages regularly and love to chat with our listeners. We’re trying to stay active online during these times and always post about our up-and-coming events, live-streams or even what we’re practicing! Purchasing our album directly through websites like Bandcamp is a great way to support us during these challenging times (https://jennamariepinardjayyoo.bandcamp.com/releases). You may also want to consider following us on Spotify (Jenna Marie Pinard and Jay Yoo) and add us to your Spotify playlist! We really appreciate your support and hope to meet you/chat with you soon.

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

We’re really excited to be a part of a very special initiative by East End Arts called “East York Days: Behind the Music”, an annual celebration of community featuring local musicians, normally hosted at The East York Civic Centre. This year the event will be going virtual, with livestreams premiering on September 16th, 23rd and 30th. Jay and I will be performing one of our original tunes and chatting with CBC’s Big City Small World host Errol Nazareth! Our livestream will go live on September 23rd, we hope you can tune in!

A fun fact about you for our readers:

Cooking has really grown to be a big part of my (Jay’s) daily life especially in the last few months, and it’s become this meditative activity that makes me calm and let’s me be creative when I need to take a break from music. I have been having so much fun not only learning and attempting to make dishes from different parts of the world, such as Thailand, Morocco, Japan, Korea, Italy and so on, but also from improvising with the left over ingredients, changing spices, making weird shapes among other things. Also, Jenna and I have been sharing a mutual love for Vietnamese Pork Chops for a while now, and ever since acquiring a recipe for it, I believe we both have been making some yummy pork chops at our homes.

5. Artist Spotlight: Joanne Morra

(Joanne Morra will perform in our upcoming series, East York Days: Behind the Music, on Wednesday September 30th, 7-8pm)

Name: Joanne Morra

Discipline: Singer-songwriter

Artist Website: www.joannemorra.com

Artist on Social:

Facebook
Instagram
Twitter

Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your art:

I was born in Toronto to a Québecois mother and an Italian father, and I was raised and educated in French. My beginnings as an artist were in the visual arts. I studied painting and photography at York and worked briefly as a freelance artist once I graduated. At 25 I came to the realization that I had an undeniable and utterly terrifying desire to become a singer. I was so self-conscious and anxious at the start, with crippling stage fright, that I enrolled in performance classes before I could even start singing. I honed my vocal skills by singing to a Sarah Vaughan karaoke CD and an Alanis Morrissette cassette which I played in my old VW Fox so as not to disturb the neighbours. My voice naturally gravitated to the jazz genre, even though I had never listened to it before. The lyrics and vocal stylings were so rich and playful to me, and to this day I find jazz much easier to sing than folk or rock.

My first official gig was at a private party in the Orange Room at the old Guvernment night club, from there I landed a residency at Gate 403 on Roncesvalles, then later joined a funk band called “The Ambassadors” to develop my belting chops and loosen me up as a performer. In 2016 I met the guitarist Eric St-Laurent, he convinced me to start writing my own songs and to reach out to the francophone and francophile audience. In 2017 I produced and released my first album “Alouette” which Eric co-produced with me. Since then, I unapologetically sing whatever I want, in French and English, originals and covers. My work is eclectic and my performances are “a cabaret of vampish folk, blues chansons and country jazz”, with a big spoonful of banter. I sing in bars, restaurants, lounges, at festivals, theatres, weddings, and at corporate or private events. It’s a hoot, j’adore!

How have social distancing and the events of 2020 affected your art practice?

Oh man, this is such a sensitive topic for me and I believe many other artists. The events of 2020 have affected me deeply. Creatively it hasn’t been a good thing, but emotionally I think it’s been a real gift. For the first time in my life I have had no choice but to stop, to slow down and to be quiet. I went away to an ashram in the Bahamas for March Break and upon returning I went into quarantine by myself. Things got very simple, I loved it and thought “Wow, this will be an amazing time for me to be creative, to dive into that zone that I always say I don’t have enough time for, to fully immerse myself in my imagination, having no sense of time or obligations”. It was a thrilling prospect and yet, it didn’t happen. I fiddled with the guitar, drew a bit, recorded one tune on Instagram video (End of the World) and sang for a telethon (Walk Like a Refugee). But because I am strictly a vocalist I rely on having an accompanist, and my musicians had their own struggles and priorities through the lock-down, so the thought of singing acapella online didn’t appeal to me at all. All gigs were cancelled (Relish, Painted Lady, Alchemy etc.) except thankfully this one (East York Days)! I’m slowly easing myself back into the idea of performing again.

How can audiences support the work you’re doing right now?

Audiences can continue to support and follow me through social media for gig and release notifications (mostly Instagram), all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal) and by subscribing to my Youtube channel. Once the Covid restrictions are lifted, I hope to reestablish a residency somewhere in Toronto and I promise to have a “renaissance” party to celebrate my first gig back. I’m counting on seeing you all there!

What are some upcoming art events or initiatives you’re excited about?

At this point, honestly, I just want to start booking shows again and get back on stage. I also want to go out to listen to live music and dance. In the meantime I’m slowly working on my second album, I have the concept and have written a few tunes, I need to apply for funding in order to make it a more elaborate project than my first album. I am excited to meet with my musicians again, to jam, to prep for a show. I also just registered for the Indigenous Canada course with the University of Alberta, which should be very interesting, though I’m not a fan of homework.

A fun fact about you for our readers:

I love driving! I’ve driven forklifts, trucks, all types of cars, many bicycles, I ride a motorcycle and have recently discovered dirt biking. My dream job would be to test ride motorcycles around the world, singing in bars and cafes along the way.

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