Babely Shades carves out space for Black punks and indie artists

“All of us have felt this very common experience of being black kids at punk or rock shows and feeling very isolated and feeling like we don’t belong but also feeling a passionate love for DIY culture.”


Toronto’s music scene has taken a hit as many small venues closed down. To top that, Canada’s music industry longtime struggle with diversity has not made it easier on indie collectives who refuse to let that interfere with their resistance and community building.

If anything, it’s even more reason to nurture spaces which prioritize marginalized communities. That’s why Babely Shades, a creative-activist collective based in Ottawa, Montreal, and Toronto hosted a Make A Zine workshop on May 25 at 187 Augusta Avenue. The workshop was led by Heidi Cho, an artist based in Toronto who focuses on narrative based art.

“Even though these spaces are closed we are not going anywhere,” says Nala Ismacil of Babely Shades Toronto. “We still need a space to engage with each other, otherwise that energy is going to be lost.”

The collective of three talent bookers/promoters including Nala Ismacil, Hana Jama and Melissa Vincent. Graphic designer Amira Em published Black Punk, a zine themed on Black artists and fans within the punk scene back in January.

“All of us have felt this very common experience of being Black kids at punk or rock shows and feeling very isolated and feeling like we don’t belong but also feeling a passionate love for DIY culture,” she says.

It was this need to discuss feeling othered in spaces they otherwise enjoyed that prompted the crew of young Black artists to form Babely Shades Toronto last summer.

They bonded and began making plans to organize events that were more than the small venue concert. They decided that they would start with a screening of Afropunk directed by James Spooner. The screening gathered friends, fans, and allies.

Next, they’d create their first zine. Inspired by Osa Atoe, a punk artist and zine maker who created zine-series titled Shotgun Seamstress, Ismacil and her friends created Black Punk.

“We felt a lot of Black sisterhood creating the zine,” says Ismacil. It was that sense of creative building that inspired them to pass the torch and organize a workshop with Heidi Cho, who Ismacil says “happened organically.”

“I had always been a fan of her work,” Ismacil says of Cho, who uses various media including silkscreening, mosaic, animation and writing to create art that is often influenced by themes of sexuality, race, family, and mental health. “It is important to regenerate and stay in touch with your community, and not necessarily by going to events or film screenings but zine making or having a crafting night for example are just as important.”

There’s more to expect from the interdisciplinary collective.

On July 14, Babely Shades will be hosting major Jersey Club talent UNIIQU3 of New Jersey, in collaboration with Fource Entertainment and Stacey Sexton at The Baby G in Toronto. Toronto artists, Chippy Nonstop, Coco Supreme, and Stacey Sexton will open.

website@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *