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Toronto's enjoying a bit of an open mic renaissance
HUMMINGBIRD OPEN MIC with UNBUTTONED at Daniels Spectrum (585 Dundas East), Tuesday (August 16), 6 pm, all ages (and every third Tuesday of the month). Free. unbuttonedmusic.com.
Open mics have been getting interesting. At the monthly PRACTICE and Hummingbird, emerging songwriters get a chance to jam with a house band – Unbuttoned in the second case – and try out their own material. Hummingbird is unique for its focus on youth. Mostly teens and early-20-somethings perform, though once a four-year-old graced the stage.
Taking place on the third Tuesday of each month at Daniels Spectrum‘s Artscape Lounge since April 2015, Hummingbird was inspired by New York City’s Village Underground open mic series, a place organizer Kamilah Apong says Unbuttoned, the four-piece band for whom she plays synth and sings, hits whenever they’re in the city.
Want to perform? Sign up via Facebook, and Unbuttoned will learn your song of choice (cover or original) and also improv by request.
What prompted the series?
Pursuing the performing arts is hard, especially if you face systemic barriers, one being age. Most performance venues require patrons to be 19-plus. Where does that leave all those under 19 to hone their skills and show their stuff? It reeks of the “children are to be seen, not heard” sentiment, and if anything, I think we should be listening to young people a whole lot more. Providing spaces to young people is also super-important for confidence-building, something we should all get while we’re young. The world can be tough. I want to help people puff up their chests to get ready for it.
What makes Hummingbird stand out from other open mics?
What makes Hummingbird so unique is the community that comes out. Our hosts always start off with words of encouragement and reminders to be kind to one another, since performing is such a vulnerable act. The content also tends to be pretty political – the youth are definitely awake and speaking up. They’re rad. Hummingbird is also free, for better community access, and we like to partner with other local startups for cross-market collaboration.
Was the Regent Park location important to you?
Regent Park is an amazing community. Many of the young people are long-time residents, and we also have older performers who have been living in Regent for decades. They share so much insight on their community and experiences. I’ve worked in the community for years, and it’s an honour and privilege. The young people are so vibrant and radiant. I wanted to support them in having their stories heard, and support strong, youth-led narratives.
Tell me about the original songs the youth have been bringing in. What’s on their minds?
Original pieces have covered self-harm, domestic violence, queer and trans antagonism, anti-Black racism, police brutality, Islamophobia, discrimination against Indigenous people on Turtle Island, mental health issues, ableism. Not too long ago we had a 15-year-old give a fierce critique on the high school education system and its industrial complex. I cannot stress enough how outspoken they are. It’s AWESOME. Of course, there are also pieces around love, unrequited love, sex. Anything you can feel, you’ll probably hear about it.
You’ve got a pretty involved street team helping with outreach.
The street team is integral to Hummingbird staying community-based, and for me to not get caught up or big-headed about Round 4’s work. [Apong’s record label, Round 4, presents the event.] We hired two young people from the Regent Park community, Rayan Saeid and Rakee Rahim, to host the night. They also do a lot of behind-the-scenes work – funding proposals, coming to meetings with stakeholders, administration. They definitely keep the event grounded.
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