She doesn't play an instrument, and probably the only place you'll catch her singing is in the shower, but Tabassum Siddiqui knows the local music scene better than most of the musical virtuosos out there.The 25-year-old U of T student is obsessed with T-dot tunesters. When she's not spinning buzz as a member of the rock 'n' roll press (she's the entertainment features editor at the Varsity, U of T's campus rag, and does time as a video interviewer for Umbrellamusic.com), she's hyping fledgling indie acts with her own Rant Mode On production collective.
But the poli-sci geek is as committed to social justice as she is to good tunes. That's why, for the past four years, she's been organizing a sort of annual benefit show at C'est What.
It began as a one-off concert for Kosovo refugees dreamed up by Siddiqui, a group of pals and Emm Gryner, but has since morphed into a meticulously organized singer-songwriter extravaganza (alumni include Sarah Slean and Leslie Feist) that inevitably packs crowds into the minuscule bar at the foot of Church.
Proceeds from this fifth-anniversary version go to the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC), the homelessness outreach and lobby group with street smarts. Siddiqui says supporting a Toronto cause is key.
"Anyone can raise money for the Canadian Cancer Society or any umbrella organization -- and I'm not saying that's not worthy, but it's important to us to connect to and foster a sense of community. So we've always tried to focus on causes that are making a difference locally, groups that address certain gaps in the city. We've done women's shelters, we've done a local clinic that caters to refugees and new immigrants.
"This is a bit out of the ordinary for us since our mandate is to choose a different cause every year and we've given to the TDRC in the past. But the recent eviction of Tent City hit home.
"The funny thing was that when that went down, the people who were there picking up the pieces weren't our elected leaders. The TDRC and its group of volunteers were there dealing with the fallout."
Still, Siddiqui insists it's her desire to promote a strong indie music community that drives the show. While bigger names like Gryner and Danny Michel (who'll likely be previewing new material from his forthcoming album due in 2003) will draw in the crowds, she deliberately fleshes out the bill with smaller up-and-comers who need the exposure.
Call it a benefit with benefits.
One of the lesser-known acts on Sunday's lineup is local guitar-grrrl duo Vyletz (aka Chelle Turingan and Liz Stembridge -- www.vyletz.com). The chirpy 20-somethings hooked up at work almost two years ago and have been perfecting their "acoustic-rock-punk-folk-pop" attack -- they cite both Eminem and Ani DiFranco as influences -- ever since, with a recent gig opening for Tegan & Sara as a highlight.
It's clear Siddiqui had some vested interest in booking the girls (she's their manager), and Turingan and Stembridge claim they made sure they were down with the issues.
"If it was a cause we didn't believe in, like People for Beating Kittens, we wouldn't do it," states Stembridge. "And homelessness is such a huge problem in Toronto, it makes me sick."
Adds Turingan, "TDRC is trying to raise awareness in tons of different ways. When we agreed to play the show, I checked out their Web site.
"One of their hopeful proposals is what they call the "One Percent Solution.' If the government set aside only one per cent of the budget to combat homelessness, they'd have something like two billion dollars.
"It's pretty sick, especially when you think about how they put together money to have this big-ass Christmas tree. I can't claim to be a politician by any means, but I do think government spending is a little wacky. It's a Bowling For Columbine-type thing."firstname.lastname@example.org
VYLETZ with Emm Gryner, Danny Michel and others, performing as part of the TORONTO DISASTER RELIEF COMMITTEE BENEFIT at C'est What (19 Church), Sunday (December 8). 8 pm. $15. 416-867-9499.