new world beat

This is another reminder Toronto needs to do better to support arts and culture

A church turned into a Kiki Ballroom runway. An empty Horseshoe Tavern with a single spotlight. A renegade rave below a highway overpass. These represent just a few music scenes you'll find in Toronto.

A new documentary series captures these moments while telling the stories of 18 musicians crawling out of the pandemic with their careers and dignities intact.

New World Beat gives artists the space to tell their stories in their own way and treats us to two performances each in every episode. The pilot premiered March 4 with a sold out party at the Revue Cinema.

Folk artist Charlotte Cornfield used to work as a booker at the Holy Oak, and laments the loss of such sacred spaces for collaboration and live performance.

James Baley, dancer and gospel singer, discusses growing up in the church as a young gay man and later finding Ballroom. He sings his confessionary track "Banishment" while voguing between pews.

Mingjia visualizes her songwriting process with wavy lines drawn with coloured markers on a blank sheet of paper. She's seen playing piano in a Buddhist temple-turned-music hall accompanied by a string quartet.

The personalities and performances are powerful, just as much as the topics up for discussion: Toronto's affordability for work-a-day artists; venues being torn down and turned into condos; and maintaining spaces for different genres and musical cultures to thrive.

Lydia Persaud is a singer and the host of New World Beat. Most of all, she's a common connection between the many scenes as a friend of the many fellow Humber College alumni featured.

"I'm so blessed to have facilitated honest conversations about their lives, about their process, about their art, about what the city means to them," Persaud tells the audience at the screening.

"As musicians, we see a lot of weird portrayals of how interviewers conduct conversation and how we have to make it really fast and, 'I want you to say this line just-so.' Even though in production we wanted to get things nice and concise, we wanted to give each artist hours to find the right words to tell their story. As a fellow musician, those moments to tell your story the way you want to are very few and far between."

Michael Tobin is the series' director and editor. He wanted to create a show that serves as a reminder of the importance of art and for the city supporting these artists.

"Making music is no small feat, but it's a calling and devotion and each of the artists on this show approach it in their own unique way," Tobin says. "Truth, joy, integrity, dignity. No matter what they're striving for, these artists have chosen music as their medium and they want to share it. They want us to get in on it."

He and producer Matt Greyson get choked up as they thank their wives for support, both of whom gave birth a day apart to girls with the same name while the show was in production.

Episode one presents Charlotte Cornfield, Mingjia and James Baley. Across six episodes, more featured artists include Chippy Nonstop, DijahSB, Aphrose, Kyla Charter and Joseph Organ.

As Tobin describes, "When they step on a stage, it's an opportunity for all of us to meet on a higher plane. Existing in this realm, no matter how fleeting, is one of life’s great gifts."

The series is currently exclusive to Camões TV but plans to expand to digital streaming platforms this year.

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez

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