Updates! January to May – a.k.a the Massive Mid-Year Master-Post

Wow, what a year. I had lofty ambitions to track my progress on my blog this year as I headed into my second semester of my two-year Documentary Media masters program at Ryerson…and then I realized just how much spare time I had to do so.

None. Zip. Zilcho.

Between the insanity that was second semester – the assignments and essay writing and projects due on a semi-weekly basis – and freelance writing I do outside of here, and things like…well, sleep, and feeding myself, and all such stuff, it was pretty difficult to even consider any kind of regular updates. So I pretty much gave up. Sorry 😛

However, I didn’t want to entirely abandon you, dear reader, so here are some things I have been up to, pretty much since the end of last year to date.

Fall: Biotech Blacksmith

Allan Richardson at work. Photo © Gesilayefa Azorbo

Allan Richardson at work. Photo © Gesilayefa Azorbo

My first short documentary completed at the end of last year is called Biotech Blacksmith, about Allan Richardson – a microbiology professor with a decades-long hobby as a blacksmith who is also a good friend of mine. I watched him take a piece of scrap metal and turn it into a beautiful letter opener, currently hanging ornamentally on my bedroom wall. 

Letter opener © Allan Richardson


Winter pt. 1: Sophie – A Life in Pictures

Sophie airport

Sophie in Montreal, 1979

For my New Media production class this winter, I created a multimedia profile of my mother on the storytelling platform Creatavist, called Sophie: A Life in Pictures. It’s a blend of writing, video interviews, and photo montages set to beautiful music by the artist Ayla Nereo, who I discovered through freemusicarchive.org. Check it out!


Winter pt. 2: Media Writing 2014 Anthology Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 11.34.18 AM

My Media Writing class put together an anthology of all our writings throughout the semester, a beautiful 8″ x 8″ book that is available for purchase online at Magcloud.com. The writing covers three themes: Identity, Time, and Place. These translate into three sections featuring Personal Statements, Critical Reviews, and Extended Essays covering a vast range of topics and life experiences.

For my part, I did an artistic statement talking about my fascination with other people’s stories; a review of an amazing theatrical performance piece called Because I Love You/A Quiet Desperation in Toronto by Kenyan-Canadian playwright Mumbi Tindyebwa; and an extended essay talking about the increasingly common experience of being a Third Culture Kid.

It’s pretty awesome. You should definitely check out the full free preview here.


Spring: Canadian Music Week 2014, Hot Docs Film Festival 2014

Hollerado performing at the SiriusXM Indie Awards, at the end of Canadian Music Week 2014

Hollerado performing at the SiriusXM Indie Awards, at the end of Canadian Music Week 2014. © Gesilayefa Azorbo

So I mentioned that I do freelance writing outside of the work I do for school, and the main two outlets have been Cadence Canada, a.k.a. cadencemag.com, an online entertainment magazine with a focus on Canadian content, and more recently Wylie Writes, a movie review website run by Addison Wylie.

For the former, I had the pleasure of covering Canadian Music Week shows from May 6-10 with a media pass which was fantastic, and for the latter I did a couple of reviews of some really incredible documentaries that played during Hot Docs 2014, from April 24 – May 4.

Here are my pieces for them:

For Cadence Canada: Canadian Music Week:

Day 1 (Review of MP.G – My Pet Genius and The Rathburns at the Bovine Sex Club)

The Rathburns at the Bovine Sex Club

The Rathburns at the Bovine Sex Club © Gesilayefa Azorbo

Day 2 (Review of The Box Tiger, Kennedy Cult, and Brody Dalle at the Horseshoe Tavern)

Brody Dalle at the Horseshoe Tavern © Gesilayefa Azorbo

Brody Dalle at the Horseshoe Tavern © Gesilayefa Azorbo

Day 3 (CMW Music Summit interview with keynote speaker Anthony Montenegro of Microsoft Mobile Oy, formerly Nokia)

Anthony “Monte” Montenegro, Head of Entertainment (Americas) Microsoft Mobile Oy (formerly Nokia)

SiriusXM Indie Awards (Review of musical performances and awards show live streamed from the Kool Haus)

Mounties accepting their award. ©Gesilayefa Azorbo

Mounties accepting their award.               © Gesilayefa Azorbo

For Wylie Writes:

Hot Docs 2014: Divide in Concord, directed by Kris Kaczor   The Last Season, by director Sara Dosa.


Summer: Portraits and Poetry, Islands and Holograms, Lunchtime Concerts and Fashion Launches

(Okay, I know it’s technically not “summer” for another 13 days, but the sun has been out more than it’s been in hiding, and I’ve conveniently misplaced my jacket so it feels like summer to me!)


Lately I’ve been doing a fair amount of photography in my (increasingly sparse) spare time. A couple of weeks ago I shot portraits of my good friend Elizabeth Stevens of Elizabeth Victoria, who is a bespoke indie designer, a milliner who makes amazing fascinators, and a personal stylist. She was recently featured on the entrepreneurial website kike-lola.com (where some of my shots made an appearance 😀 ) and she is just an all around awesome person. Be sure to take a look at her site elizabethvictoria.ca – wedding season is upon us, after all, and that’s one reason out of many to indulge in stylish fascinators! She also keeps it real on Instagram as @sassyfascinator

Elizabeth Stevens © Gesilayefa Azorbo

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Lishai Peel is a phenomenal woman. She is a writer, an educator, and a performance poet – the latter being the context in which I first met her. Lishai is quite possibly the most powerful spoken word poet I’ve ever listened to, and trust me, I have heard quite a lot! Her words have a way of penetrating your spine and wrapping themselves around your nerve endings. Chills doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of listening to her perform.


© Gesilayefa Azorbo

On her website, her bio speaks volumes about her talent as “an award winning poet with roots in diasporic storytelling. She facilitates spoken word programs with youth in schools throughout Toronto and is the co-founder of Ink Veins: young women’s writing group. She has represented Toronto in national and international poetry slams and was on the winning team for the 2012 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.” The best part is this line: “She writes with a commitment to joy and integrity.” My shero, right there. Last year she released a poetry/graphic novel hybrid entitled Why Birds and Wolves Don’t Trade Stonesillustrated by the incredibly talented David Brame.

birds and wolves

It’s available on Amazon, so you should probably head on over there and pull a Fry. fry

More recently on May 16, she released her debut album of spoken word poetry melded together with beautiful music by musician, producer and educator Waleed Abdulhamid. It’s called From Here On … and it is glorious.

I was at the album launch which took place at the Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park, and which featured live performances of the work on the album, as well as incredible work from other invited artists including Catherine Hernandez, Erik Flowchild, the phenomenal dancer Esie Mensah, and many others, held together by the MC for the night, David Delisca.

The photos below are a testament to the sheer intensity, insight, fearlessness and joy that took over. It was pretty darn awesome.

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Islands and Holograms

So, at Ryerson, every year, the Documentary Media MFA program hosts a multimedia festival called the DOC NOW Festival, which features the films, new media and photography and gallery installations created by the graduating class of the program. This year it officially launched on May 28 and runs till June 28, and includes some pretty spectacular work. (You can view more details including screening locations and times at docnow.ca)

The official description is: “The DOC NOW Festival celebrates the work of established and emerging documentary practitioners from Ryerson University’s Master of Fine Arts program in Documentary Media. With 23 works in film, new media, photography and installation, this year’s edition of DOC NOW examines a wide range of subjects–from the nostalgic places and memories of exiled Iranians living in Canada, to a daughter’s exploration of the silence surrounding her father’s death due to AIDS, to an intimate portrait of an artist dealing with vision loss. It transports audiences to locations near and far, from Tahrir Square in Egypt to Lake Ontario, our own proverbial backyard. This collection of work engages discussion surrounding the current state of the documentary form, contributing to Canada’s longstanding history and leading role in the genre.


Now, I had the chance to check out (and photograph) the launches for two of the site-specific installations for DOC NOW. One was a new media installation by my friend and soon to be Doc Media MFA grad Francesca Dasso called Beautiful Waters, which deals with our collective relationship with bodies of water, particularly the separation of culture and nature, with a specific focus on Lake Ontario.

Her piece was a participatory installation featuring projected images and electronic music mingled with ambient sound from the lake itself, and the launch took place on Toronto Island, at Artscape Gibraltar Point on the evening of May 14. There really is something to be said about being surrounded by water, in the dark, listening to the sound of the waves.

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There is also a brilliant video here about the experience (which features me! :D)


The next installation was a holography project called Trapped Light exhibited at the architecture studio/gallery LUFF art + dialogue, by photographer, videographer and holographer Natalie Logan. Aside from being a masters student (and all of the above mentioned!), she is also an assistant researcher at OCAD-U in interactive holography. Her documentary media exhibition,Trapped Light  features 10 DCG denisyuk holograms which she created at the Light Foundry in Santa Fe with the artist, August Muth.

It was a fascinating installation made more interesting by her explanations of the intricate process that goes into creating the holograms, as well as the very precise lighting conditions required to draw out their truest beauty. The exhibition runs from May 29 to June 11, when it concludes with a talk between her and her father, the physicist Robert K. Logan, about the poetry of light. An event which, of course, I have pencilled into my calendar. (I mean it’s a virtual calendar butyouknowwhatimean.)

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Lunchtime Concerts

I have written here before about the talented Tanzanian-Canadian singer-songwriter Alysha Brilla. Her debut album In My Head, released last year, is an amazing record full of infectious tracks and humorous truth and a distinctly unique pop sensibility. And since the time I wrote that, she’s been nominated for a JUNO award (she didn’t win unfortunately but when you’re in the same category as Celine Dion…well, that’s a prize in itself!), she’s been on tour and back, and rumour has it she has been taking in the long-awaited sunshine and doing some songwriting for another album in the not too distant future… (*jumps up and down in anticipation*).

In the meantime, fans and fortunate strangers had the chance to see her perform for free on Monday, May 26 when she kicked off the Lunchtime Live! 2014 series of mid afternoon concerts at Yonge-Dundas Square…and I was on hand to shoot video to document it, as well as a couple of photographs of the action.

IMG_7260 IMG_7261

And last, but not least…

Fashion Launches

So I met Kyle Kofsky of Product Magazine about a week and a half ago, on a Tuesday morning when we were both at a press conference introducing Canada Philippines Fashion Week, 2014 edition. He invited me to a clothing launch the following Friday, May 30, for a brand called Body Part Clothing, which I accepted. The brand’s description is: “a progressive clothing brand made up of conscious well made wearable art – Ready to Wear and 100% Made in Toronto.” I didn’t know what to expect when I got there, but at the end of the night I left having had way too much fun, and having made some brand new friends. Here are some of the highlights from early on, before it got crazy (For some reason I’m getting an error message when I try to post more photos from the album, but you can see the full set here!)

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And that has been my year so far! Lots going on, and lots more ahead, but I’m loving every minute of it. Since I like to live vicariously through other people’s awesome lives too, what’s going on with y’all? Let’s start a comments-convo 😀