Because it’s 2015: The People of Ottawa Music

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The end of the year is the perfect time to sit back and reflect. A time to think about some of our own successes or failures, people we’ve met, the best music we’ve heard or movies we’ve seen. For the last several years, Showbox has published our own local-centric “Best Of” lists, allowing us to hand-pick our favourite albums, videos, and shows of the year.

One important thing to remember is we are surrounded by such a vibrant community of people that strengthen and support Ottawa music. A community isn’t this abstract entity that exists in isolation: it is people. People from all backgrounds, with all different experiences. People that are all connected by common interests.

Oftentimes the most dedicated individuals in a community work behind the scenes and do so without any expectation of reward or acknowledgement. In this year-end list, we’re trying something a little different. We’re looking at some people in the Ottawa music community that do incredible things but may not always get the recognition they deserve. We’re doing this because without them Ottawa music would not be what it is today – not even close. We reached out to some of their peers to briefly discuss why they should be recognized, because it wouldn’t make much sense to have this particular article written by one person. A community-focused post should be written by the community.

It should be noted that this is by no means an exhaustive list of people. We would invite and encourage our readers to add to this list by sharing their thoughts on people who they think are deserving of recognition for their work in Ottawa music – either by commenting on this post or through social media.


Rachel Weldon

Promoter/co-host of Debaser on CHUO 89.1 FM

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Rachel is one of the most supportive people in my life and the reason myself and so many other young folks are finally getting involved and feeling safer at shows. Anyone who has been to one of her Fryquency or Debaser shows know that she is one of the best local promoters in Ottawa. One of the most important things she does is act as a resource for projects of other community members, and helps young artists succeed in an otherwise ageist music setting. I feel really lucky to call her my friend, and am so proud of how devoted she is to learning and growing and continuing to get new faces into our community. Also her new band, Shoe Blog, is absolutely mind-blowing.

– Elsa Mirzaei, musician/writer

Lesley Marshall

Media conglomerate

Lesley Marshall

Lesley is a hurricane of a human, with 3x more energy than most mortals. She has her hands deep into all that’s going on in local music and video, among other things, and is a tireless advocate for newer artists, helping to mentor and support those looking to get involved. She is also an outspoken champion of Ottawa, and has helped to put our city’s cultural output on the map wherever she goes. Influencer? Indeed! 

– Jon Bartlett, Director at Kelp Records/MEGAPHONO

Elsa Mirzaei

Musician, promoter, activist

Elsa Mirzaei

There is so much good that can and should be said about Elsa Mirzaei as a human ~ woman of colour ~ musician ~ promoter ~ community organizer ~ friend.

I, personally, hardly knew up from down in this life when I first saw her name (it was in an Ottawa Showbox Facebook thread from earlier this year about local music where she boldly held her own very valid opinion on the systemic gatekeeping and exclusionary tactics that have been used against her {us}, shouting over a murky sea of defensive bros… I immediately marvelled at this public showing of strength on my own private Facebook page, crediting her as “inspiring” and wishing I had been/could be the very same), nor when I first came into contact with her…

The humble beginnings of Babely Shades was a meeting of a few minds (literally, me and maybe three) in a rec room above Cafe Nostalgica. I arrived beyond anxious, feeling at my wits end, aged, and knowing absolutely no one in attendance. Elsa, as organizer of this group (that now boasts so many visible, active members), a stranger to me, quickly made me feel more comfortable than I had in several years. Since then, I have had the pleasure to witness and/or take part in many of her important, creative endeavours (the *amazing* band Everett, I have witnessed… Babely Shades ~ panel + zine, I have luckily taken part in…).

I can really only speak for myself but I suspect that I am not alone in crediting a large chunk of my confidence, courage, energy and education to one Miss Elsa Mirzaei.

– Layla Brown, writer, blogger, activist

Elaina Martin

Founder/Producer, WESTFEST

elaina martin

Ottawa-Gatineau is so lucky to be home base for Elaina Martin, Executive Producer of arts festival WESTFEST. Elaina brings memorable Canadian talents to her stages from village-local festivals to national-level events. Her energy and enthusiasm for Canadian musicianship is infectious; her pride for our country’s talent is immense. From traditional, Aboriginal and folk music over to alt-rock, indie, DJs, rap, punk and youth tunes, no music genre goes unnoticed when Elaina is at the helm programming her show.

Inclusive and helpful, she is as committed to her audience feeling valued and entertained as she is determined to make each and every one of her entertainers feel appreciated. Backstage at WESTFEST shows, musicians like Carleton Place’s Brock Zeman or the eclectic The PepTides have told me how much they love being invited to play for Elaina. Beaming from the front row or singing along from her post overseeing operations, it’s as if every song the band performs is Elaina’s favourite. Miss Martin’s genuine love of music and for the artists whose perseverance she “gets” and supports the hell out of, makes her one of our city’s most influential makers on the music scene!

Elaina Martin was also director for one major show for the Indigenous Host First Nation, Mississauga’s of the New Credit, with Buffy Sainte-Marie and others, for the Global Indigenous athletes and their VIPs, at Fort York as part of the Pan Am Games.

– Sylvie Hill, Writer/Poet/Educator

Stéfanie Power

Managing Director, Arboretum Festival

Stefanie Power

Selfless, resolute, and unparalleled in her foresight, Stéfanie Power has been one of the most humble heroes in Ottawa’s music community in 2015. Her bedroom could double as a library of music biography; her mind, an encyclopedia of popular culture. As Raw Sugar Cafe’s first booker, her diligence helped establish the Chinatown institution as the go-to small room for Canada’s emerging touring acts over her three year tenure. From 2006 to 2014, she housed and fed countless touring musicians, and co-hosted dozens of underground shows at the now-defunct Florence Gardens DIY house-venue.

But it’s truly as the managing director of Arboretum Festival, that Stéfanie’s passion and tenacity have shone. Over four short years, her direction has guided Arboretum from a one-day party, into a nationally-recognized cultural event, turning thousands of eyes upon our burgeoning city’s output every year. In 2015, she oversaw the festival’s third site move in four years. She managed not only enormous logistical challenges, but worked tirelessly with her team to ensure the festival addressed vital issues surrounding our region’s unceded status, and the lack of female representation in festival line-ups.

– Rolf Klausener, artist/Creative Director – Arboretum Festival

Caylie Runciman

Musician

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Caylie Runciman is an unstoppable creative force in the local music community. Under the moniker Boyhood, she is a talented songwriter, multi-instrumentalist. recording engineer, musicians’ musician, and diamond in the rough. Few from far and wide are in the know about her infectious recordings, but those who are can’t stop listening (Bry Webb once named her debut EP as one of his favourite records from the last 20 years). She’s toured with Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, and once filled in on guitar for Moss Lime with almost no rehearsal. Locally, she shines brightly among her peers, and collaborates frequently and adeptly with some of the region’s best artists. No one escapes her charm.

– Rachel Weldon, promoter/co-host of Debaser on CHUO 89.1 FM

Jessa Runciman

Music Columnist, CBC Ottawa

Jessa Runciman

Jessa is one of those people that always has her finger to the pulse of the city, feeling its heart pump. As the Music Columnist for CBC, Jessa has helped create a bridge between the music community and the Ottawa public. Her in-depth knowledge of the artists in town and firm grip on new and rising acts allows her to create a weekly list of CBC’s top live music picks, one that many CBC listeners and readers depend on. Without an arts an culture newsprint published regularly in Ottawa, many artists partly depend on larger outlets such as CBC to get their music out into the world. Jessa is always mindful of which artists are releasing new music or playing a big show, whether an established act or a brand new on the scene. Her thoughtful words are an integral part of  Ottawa’s cultural discourse.

– Matías Muñoz, Ottawa Showbox

Nadia Kharyati

Owner/Operator, Raw Sugar Café

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Nestled quietly at the gateway of Chinatown, you’ll find one of the city’s most enduring and welcoming small venues of the last decade, Raw Sugar Café (RIP). From its eclectic programming, and expressive décor, it’s the manifestation of the will and passion of its ubiquitous owner/operator, Nadia Kharyati. Entering its eighth year of operation, Nadia continues to position Raw Sugar as an intimate testing ground for countless local and national emerging acts, as well as providing a dedicated space for culture and community to flourish. In a live industry where the distractions of a continually networked world push venue owners to diversify income with streaming entertainment, bottomless wifi, and piped-in media, Nadia’s raw space offers the focused calm of country quiet, in the heart of our downtown: a space where music culture can commune with its sister arts with rapt attention.

– Rolf Klausener, musician/Creative Director at Arboretum Festival

Layla Brown

Writer, blogger, activist

Layla Brown

When it comes to the Ottawa music scene, designer, writer and editor Layla Brown is now and has always been a patron and friend. Working by day (and night) as a front-end web developer and the sole person behind the pop and poop culture website Standard Criteria (which comments on and highlights local shows and music, among other things), Brown came into the spotlight this summer after sharing her day-to-day experience in the punk scene and what it’s really like for a WoC to attend shows and go to parties in Ottawa — a move prompted by violent online comments surrounding House of Targ’s presentation of the racist and inappropriately-named band Black Pussy.

Layla took to the internet and the stage alongside other PoC, WoC and other buds, helping teach the community through a series of posts, panels, readings, radio interviews, articles and a zine called “Harsh Tokes” (see here). She graciously educated the punk scene about her lived experience despite preferring to hang out at home with her lovely cat Miu Miu.

Layla has always been a contributing member of the Ottawa music scene (and other art communities) by volunteering and working for groups including Bruised Tongue, Kelp, MEGAPHONO, punkottawa, Small Talk and more. By sharing her experience of racism/sexism/ableism at shows and venues — and even just walking down the street — the scene is starting to learn about and unpack its privilege, which it has laid blind to for years, teaching #blacklivesmatter and #kornrules all at the same time.
– Lesley Marshall, media conglomerate

Elly Laberge

Writer/blogger

Elly Laberge

Elly is one of those people that works her magic behind the scenes. Over the years, her blog Eventful Capital has grown to becoming a well-known resource for local artists to get heard. She provides excellent live music picks and provides poignant, well-informed descriptions about artists so that readers can easily choose what to do based on their own preferences. On top of her day job, she always finds time to get her blog updated with the latest information. She’s got energy, she’s a die-hard Ottawa supporter, and can always be seen around town supporting local music. Eventful Capital, along with other media outlets such as Showbox and Apartment 613, is part of an important ground-level media infrastructure that supports the arts in Ottawa.

– Matías Muñoz, Ottawa Showbox

Erin Flynn

Station Manager, CHUO 89.1 FM/Chair, House of PainT 

Erin Flynn

Few people could embody the dual zodiac symbols of charismatic Aries, and the fiery leadership of the Chinese Dragon, as Erin Flynn does. An educator and broadcaster, Erin is best known as the uncompromising station manager of CHUO 89.1 FM at the University of Ottawa. Over the course of almost 20 years, Erin has positioned the former underdog campus station, as the community broadcaster of choice, and an amplifier for our city’s diverse cultures. Her music-industry sagacity is built on years of die-hard, active participation in numerous organizations and not-for-profits, from the steering committee of Ladyfest Ottawa in 2005, to her work as president of the National Campus and Community Radio Association until 2009. Relentlessly devoted to Ottawa music, she also lends her boundless energy to the boards of House of PainT Urban Arts Festival, and Apartment 613.

– Rolf Klausener, musician/Creative Director at Arboretum Festival

Claudia Balladelli

Programmer, Mercury Lounge/Ottawa International Music Conference

Claudia Balladelli

When asked to write about Claudia Balladelli and how she has influenced the Ottawa music industry, my first thought is to when I met Claudia in 2005. She was returning from Brazil as a pregnant woman coming back to work at the Mercury Lounge and to raise her son in Canada.

The struggle for a young, freezing cold single Brazilian mama working full-time in Canada would have been too much for many, but she created a beautiful and natural manifestation between her vibrant Brazilian cultural and the patience, warmth and sensibility of a mother. The virtuous gifts bled in to her work and her passion of music.

For 10 years, I have witnessed Claudia selflessly and tirelessly give herself to the mandate of strengthening the roots of the Ottawa music industry. Exposing the Ottawa community to the world of international artists which she often produced in intimate spaces. Her mission has never been about personal or financial gain, but has always been her labour of love. The achievement of such high-level productions on next-to-no-budget relies on the development and nurturing of countless partnerships. International festivals, national art institutions, embassies, other booking agents and, in 2014, the development of the Ottawa International Music Conference (OIMC) are all part her intimate music community network developed by Claudia’s patience, commitment, tenderness and communication. Claudia understands that creating culture is not about pride and requires the ongoing need to collaborate in order to make these events stronger and in some cases happen at all.

As a friend and co-worker I am so fortunate that I have been touched by her love and passion for music and community. She inspires me daily. Ottawa is a more vibrant and community driven place for having felt the reach of her cultural and musical passion.

– Sara Ainslie, Mercury Lounge

Marilena Gaudio

Variety and Community Programming Coordinator, National Arts CentreMarilena Gaudio

Marilena Gaudio is one of the unsung movers and shakers in Ottawa’s live music scene. She started with an arts degree majoring in arts administration which lead her to an internship at the Lincoln Center for the performing arts in New York City. She’s earned her stripes on the front lines of the Ottawa live music scene with five years as the manager of The PepTides, promoter of the 2014 sold-out Amelia Curran album release and programmer at Mercury Lounge. But she has also worked for large scale organizations and governing arts bodies like CAPACOA and most recently for the National Arts Centre in her current roll as Variety and Community Programming Coordinator.

Beyond working at multiple levels of the music industry she has always been a passionate supporter of the arts in general. And as her coworker I can honestly say that she is one of the most giving and influential mentors I have ever had. She’s truly someone who’s moving and shaking to the tunes of the Ottawa scene while helping to ensure its growth and survival.

– Olexandra Pruchnicky, writer/musician (The PepTides)

Erin Benjamin

Executive Director, Music Canada Live

Erin Benjamin

Some people’s work lies underground in deep roots, selflessly feeding their community as passers-by sniff the flowers above, unaware of the vitality that lies just out of sight. Erin Benjamin is an infamous and beloved champion of Canadian live music. As the executive director of the newly-minted organization, Music Canada Live, she’s quickly cemented her role as a musical air traffic controller. Her work connects our country’s presenters, festivals and promoters, helping them share information and resources, advising governments, and doing all she can to keep live music alive and well in our country.

Despite the national scope of her work, she’s hugely passionate about her home of 13 years. In 2015, she quickly started making her presence felt among the city’s music leaders. As we enter 2016, she’ll be fervently applying over 25 years of music industry experience to increase the quality and quantity of live music in our country, and ultimately helping our local scene flourish.

– Rolf Klausener, musician/Creative Director at Arboretum Festival

5 Comments

  • So many bad-assed gals that are part of this list! The most wonderful thing is how many of them have been at this for more than a decade! The passionate work behind music & culture is often thankless, but these women don’t do it for accolades. They do it for LOVE!

  • You missed a point — these wonderful promoters, activists (and friends) go widely unacknowledged despite their male counterparts regularly reaping the success and accolades that they deserve. Though giving them credit is an awfully good start, as a community we need to support our (largely female) backbone in a meaningful way that doesn’t just come because its 2015 but because without these lovely people, none of this would even exist.

  • Put Atherton on this list!! You guys are spoiled up there in Ottawa to have him out doing his thing all the time. C’mon man!!

  • Only women, really? Try to make your personal politics a little less obvious. I’m sure you could have come up with one man who deserved to be on this list too. By making it all women, it devalues all the hard work that these women do.

    p.s. I agree with Jon, Atherton definitely deserves to be on this list….the guy never stops!

  • lovely!

    i support this. love how it’s all ladies and you never once made a statement about it. beautiful subtle moves. and the solid content to back it up.

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