When the Society of We Are Canadians Too asked if I would like to help create a new media outlet, it sounded intriguing. At the time, I had no idea how exhilarating this would become. In the past week as we approach the three-month anniversary of Pancouver, I wrote about some truly remarkable artists.
Consider this the equivalent of a Coles Notes study guide for those who don’t have time to read each of the articles.
Violinist Tom Su
Tom is a modern-day marvel. This immigrant from Taiwan is bringing sunshine to the lives of dementia patients with his music. In the process, Tom is helping researchers better understand what’s happening in their brains. Tom also shared the difficulties of finding his first job in Canada after moving to this country with a master’s degree. He’s now a Telus call-centre manager.
As a volunteer at Burnaby Hospital, he estimates that he’s spoken to more than 1,000 lonely patients over the years.
Theatre artist Aki Yaghoubi
She’s a playwright and actor who fled Iran after the government viciously cracked down on the Green Revolution in 2009. Aki has written a new play in English, Parifam. It’s about two strong immigrant women of Persian ancestry hoping to create a museum celebrating Iranian culture in Canada.
Aki has a unique writing process. She did her first draft in English because this language helps her with structure. Then she translated it into Farsi to add depth and emotion. Then she translated it back in English to refine it some more. This process continued for four-and-a-half years.
“I hope the play sees the light of day soon in Vancouver and other parts of the world,” Aki told me. “I think it is time to see stories about courageous Iranian women on the stage.”
Ruby Slippers Theatre presented a stage reading of Parifam this week at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts as part of the Advance Reading Festival.
Painter Rachel Smith ~ai̓xcemǧa
In some respects, Rachel represents the future of Vancouver. A 28-year-old mixed-race Kwakwaka’wakw-Oweekeno artist, she’s studying at UBC to become a teacher. Rachel shared what it was like working alongside her more famous father, artist Steve Smith ~Dla’kwagila. She also revealed how her colour palette has evolved over the years as she’s come to appreciate her mixed-race identity. Her mother is of Greek ancestry.
One of Rachel’s passions is to convey to students the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. She thinks that this will provide them with greater understanding of the background behind many current issues facing society.
Rachel designed one of the Lunar New Year lanterns at Ocean Artworks on Granville Island.
Jazz musician Shruti Ramani
This amazing jazz artist from Mumbai integrates Hindustani classical melodies with western jazz harmonies. Shruti came to Canada as an international student in 2017 and now lives in the West End of Vancouver with her partner.
“There are traditionalists in the Hindustani world and there are traditionalists in the jazz world,” Shruti told me. “Not everybody is happy about the marriage.”
Her local fans, on the other hand, have been blown away by her talent. She fronts a quartet called Raagaverse, which includes pianist Noah Franche-Nolan, bass player Jodi Proznick, and drummer Nicholas Bracewell.
Shruti also talked to me about what it was like being queer growing up in Mumbai, her musical journey into opera, and singing in a jazz group created by Bollywood music superstar A.R. Rahman.
Playwright Yvonne Wallace
Her newest work, ReZonance, addresses the complexity of Indigenous identity and what she calls the “residue” of Canada’s brutal Indian residential school system. She grew up in the Lilwat Nation but as a mixed-race uswalmicw woman, it hasn’t always been a smooth ride for her.
“I self-identify as Indigenous,” Yvonne told me. “That’s how I see the world. That is my experience.”
However, others have viewed her as “white-presenting” because her father is non-Indigenous. The play offers her an opportunity to delve into this in an honest way through a character named Mixy. It’s part of the Advance Theatre Festival, which Wallace is curating.
When I was a young reporter, I subscribed to legendary journalist Jack Webster’s view of the world. He felt that to really know Vancouver, you had to be on top of what was happening in the courts and at Vancouver City Hall.
While there’s still some validity to that, there’s obviously so much more. This is especially so in a city that has become far more diverse since I began working in the media.
I’ll end on this note: if you’re sick of watching and hearing newscasts skewed too heavily toward police-blotter reports—to the detriment of our collective well-being—tell your friends about Pancouver. It might actually cheer them up by offering new perspectives and enhancing their cultural literacy.