This desi Muslim comic from Toronto cannot be stopped or interrupted

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Ali Hassan

Ali Hassan, a Muslim standup comic/actor/host, believes there are no sacred cows in the pursuit of laughter

Humour, we all know is, subjective.

But when you meet someone that believes there are no sacred cows when it comes to  comedy, it’s not hard to go (insert a deep bow here): “respect bro!”

Ali Hassan: standup comic, actor, host and a family guy, probably leads an uncomplicated life because he doesn’t obsess over offending people or conforming to stereotypes.

I think we make way too much fuss over religion when we should be chuckling over some of its idiosyncrasies.

The Etobicoke resident will be wrapping up his Muslim Interrupted show soon. The elements of the show are built on questions his six-year-old asked him when he got back from school almost on a regular basis.

“My six-year-old’s questions ranged from, ‘Are we Muslims? Do we go to mosque?’ to more complex ones like why do I have Pepperoni in the fridge and how come he doesn’t get to eat that? The idea was to hid behind something cheeky,” Hassan explained. “You joke about what you know and that’s what I do.”

Born to a family of academics, the IT professional (he says he wasn’t a good one) turned, out to be the black sheep (enough with the animal analogy, already).

Pakistani-Canadian Ali was the lead comedy panellist on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. He was also the host CBC’s Laugh Out Loud. His acting credits include roles in CTV’s Cardinal and PBS’ Oddsquad. 

He says when he started doing shows with strong elements of religion; people came up to him afterwards and told him they learned something new.

“When I started doing this (Muslim Interrupted), I realized on pork alone, I have about 20 minutes of material,” Ali offers deadpan.

His one-man act has sold out across many venues.

But then there are always wet blankets.

“I was at the Edinburgh festival some years ago when I noticed a desi father (definitely Muslim) and his teenaged son watch me perform,” Ali recalled. “As I finished talking about my relationship to pork, they both got up and left and I thought, ‘I am challenging pre-conceived notions…if you can’t handle it, good, don’t be here.’”

Ali will be at The Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. Check him out. Tickets can be purchased at www.rosetheatre.ca or by calling 905-874-2800.

 

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Autumn in Toronto: when leaves are flowers and events are all just as mellow

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This file photo by the late Fred Loek, Metroland photographer, captures the surreal beauty of autumn at Erindale Park in Mississauga.

Saturday, Nov. 4

Event: Tribute to Mohammad. Rafi
Details: Mehboob Shaikh will recreate the dulcet tones of one of India’s greatest musicians – Mohammad Rafi. The concert is taking place at Port Credit Secondary School Theatre, 70 Mineola Rd. E. from 5 to 8:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Meri Awaz hi pehchan hai
Details: It’s the audition for Mere sung gaa’s 2nd season, Bollywood karaoke singing. Bring your voice and energy to Rehearsal Factory, 1611 Finfar Crt. in Mississauga at noon.
Contact: Here

Event: Flower City Bhangra
Details: Saath Foundation is presenting Canada’s first-ever live-only Bhangra Competition at Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. Brampton at 11 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 18

Event: Grand finale of Meri Awaaz
Details: The final showing of talent of the Mere Sung Gaa is happening at the Chinguacousy Secondary School, 1370 Williams Pkwy. at 5:30 p.m.
Contact: Here

Thursday, Nov. 23

Event: Passage to Bollywood
Details: A Passage to Bollywood is a vibrant show with foot-tapping music, colourful costumes and a gripping plot. Show happening at the Rose Theatre, 1 Theatre Ln. at 8 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 25

Event: Parampara
Details: Toronto Tabla Ensemble is presenting a concert, Parampara at the Harbourfront Theatre Centre, 235 Queens Quay, Toronto at 7 p.m. The tabla concert will feature Sare Nau, a composition in a 9 1/2 beat rhythmic cycle, Bhumika (birthplace or grounding) and other select pieces from Ritesh Das’ upcoming TTE CD, Bhumika.
Contact: Here

Events: Swayamvar 2017
Details: Desi events is hosting a singles event for South Asians between the ages of 26 to 47 at the Novotel Toronto, 3670 Hurontario St. Mississauga at 1 p.m. There’s a similar Swayamvar happening Dec. 23 as well.
Contact: Here

Stuck in traffic? Sadhguru shares his insights during his visit to Toronto

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Meeting the golf-loving, motorcycle- riding mystic whose advise for life’s dilemmas did not involve hour long rituals or investments into his Isha Foundation, but just a slight shift in perception, was refreshing

Here are some of my favourite nuggets of wisdom from the evening.

When asked about the stressors of daily life such as demanding bosses and horrific traffic. Jaggi Vasudev (Sadhguru) retorted.

“Did you not spend hours deciding what kind of dream car you would like to buy? Now, when you’re getting a chance to spend more time inside your “dream car’ you’re complaining? Why?”

“You say you’re stressed at work, but if you were fired from that job, will it end your stress?”

Point taken.

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sadhguru-photo2Yoga in the studio

On this recent day, the 60-year-old Yogi was dressed in a white dhoti, long black kurta, a coiled turban and a multi-coloured shawl that effortlessly fell over his shoulders. He talked about yoga as a way of life

“One can be completely intoxicated by life without drugs. You can shift from wine to divine by attuning your self to becoming “one” with everything around you.

Unfortunately, the studio yoga practiced here in the west has turned yoga into a physical routine of twisting one’s body into ridiculous proportions. The physical part of yoga is minuscule. Yoga is an art of transforming your inner self so that it’s in tune with the rest of the universe.”

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God is in the details

Years ago, when Sadhguru was a mere mortal and not the “conscious being,” he’s now, he became intrigued when some folks openly boasted about how God talked to them one-on-one.

So, Jaggi Vasudev hung outside temples, mosques and churches observing people exit places of worship.

Some devotees, he wryly observed, cursed the creator and creation when they noticed their shoes and chappals (which they had diligently removed outside the temple) missing. Others gossiped. Almost no one it appeared was connected to the divine. This led him to conclude:

“People coming out of restaurants have more joyful expressions on their faces than those coming out of the temples,” he said. “I call this dosa vs. divine.”

P.S: A sumptuous, crispy dosa (an Indian crepe made with fermented rice and often stuffed with potatoes) in my opinion definitely can come close to nirvana.

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Sadhguru1That cursed technology

So, in his youth and perhaps later, Jaggi Vasudev had this habit of riding away on his trusty motorcycle for months on end. He rode to Chamundi Hills and jungles around Mysore but once every few days, he would stop by roadside telephone booths (manned by a human) to make dozens of calls to friends and family. He recalled how he would spend hours inside that stuffy booth rotary-dialing his contacts.

Today, he observed, his phone has the ability to connect him to millions people.

“Technology has no characteristic of its own,” Sadhguru said. “If you use it to abuse each other, it’s bad, but if it can help me reach millions of people, is it bad? It’s not technology, but humans that are a problem…”

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Traveling alone

“Someone who’s a seeker will always want to be alone, whereas a believer spouting bullshit needs the support of hundred of others. As long as you understand, ‘you know nothing’ but are open to learning, you’ll be okay.”

Hey there Toronto! Are you ready for 2017 Diwali?

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Apologies! October’s events calendar, like the arrival of organizers of some desi events in the GTA, is a tad bit late. Well, better late…

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Saturday/Sunday, Oct. 13-14

Event: Inner Engineering with Sadhguru
Details: Mystic, poet and spiritual guru Sadhguru will be offering his Inner Engineering completion program as well as life-transforming Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd. Mississauga. For hours, registration details and more, visit the website (given below).
Contact: Here

Event: Diwali in Bollywood Ishtyle
Details: Boundless Dreamz is hosting a Diwali event at the Chandni Convention Centre, from 7:30 p.m. until 1 a.m.
Contact: Here

Friday/Saturday, Oct. 21-22

Event: 2017 Festival of Lights at BCC
Details: RBC will be bringing its annual Diwali mela at the Bramalea City Centre, 25 Peel Centre Dr., with music, interactive features, dance performances and more.
Contact: Here 

Event: AR Rahman Live
Details: One of Bollywood’s most favourite composers will be at the Powerade Centre, 7575 Kennedy Rd. S. on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. for a live Tamil concert. Rahman will perform a Hindi concert, Friday, Oct. 20 at the same venue.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Oct. 29

Event: Bhangra in the 6ix
Details: Dubbed as “Toronto’s biggest bhangra competition” the Bhangra in the 6ix, a fun-filled contest, is happening at the Living Arts Centre, 4141 Living Arts Dr. Mississauga at 2 p.m. If you can’t make it, the event will be broadcast live by Shaan Punjab Dee.
Contact: Here

 

‘Tis is the season for garba, kolu and Durga maa and Toronto has it all

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Jonita Gandhi seen here with AR Rahman during one of his stops in North America. A documentary film One Heart touches on the tours’ highlight. Rahman will also be performing a concert in Brampton, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Brampton’s Powerade Centre, 7575 Kennedy Rd.

Juggling multiple projects with a wary eye on looming deadlines is never a good idea. I should know. I am swamped.

So, I have decided to work smart. Here’s news, in bite-sized chunks to tide you over until I can get to that in-depth profile.

AR Rahman will be stopping by Brampton, Friday, Oct. 20 at the Powerade Centre, 7575 Kennedy Rd. at 7 p.m. Grab those tickets now.

On a related note: Our own nightingale Jonita Gandhi on whom I have written numerous stories makes an appearance in a just-released documentary on AR Rahman on his North American Intimate Tour (NAIT) series.

The film, One Heart features in-depth interviews with Rahman as well as members from his tour and is playing in Cineplex theatres across GTA.

“Being the lead female singer on the AR Rahman North America Intimate Tour was an unforgettable experience,” said Jonita in a press release. “I’m so grateful that Rahman sir trusted me with the task of delivering so many of his hits live on stage. I learned a lot about myself as a singer and performer during those 18 shows, and I’m so happy that parts of it have been captured and presented so beautifully in One Heart for everyone to enjoy.

It was Gandhi’s cover of a popular Christmas song (the video was shot in downtown Brampton some years ago by her brother)  that caught Rahman’s interest. Soon after, he invited her to be part of his tour.

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Desi Royals Entertainment is hosting Garba 2017 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m.

‘Tis is the season for Garba.

Navratri (festival of nine days), celebrated by Hindus in India, signals to us that it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get ready to juggle rush-hour commute and office deadlines with some serious partying and prayers and rituals.

Here in Toronto, notice there’s an air of anticipation because the working mom and dads, dressed in business casual clothes from 9 to 5, toss them aside as soon as they get home to garb themselves in stunning ghaghra/choli, Kanjeevaram sarees, kurta/pyjamas and head to temples, homes, arenas for participating in pooja followed by dance and revelry.

So, on Saturday, Sept. 16, the Desi Royals Entertainment, is hosting its Garba 2017 at the Hershey Centre, 5500 Rose Cherry Pl. Mississauga at 7 p.m. It’s one of the biggest celebrations happening here in the GTA.

Hemant Chauhan and group will deliver string of Garba/Dandiya tracks to keep you in synch with your dancing partner. Interested? visit www.desiroyals.com.

 

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Dream merchants

Marriages are made in heaven, right? but weddings are more earthly and hell, need to be just perfect.

It’s pretty obvious that Suhaag: The wedding show clearly fills a much-needed service when it comes to your wedding needs. Mandap, clothes, jewelry, gifts, food, fashion and more catering to specific desi tastes. Those opulent sets are so awesome and intricate, you’ll want to get hitched, again.

The annual Suhaag show is happening Sunday, Sept. 17 at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd. from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. There will be fashion shows.

For more visit here.

Bit of house-keeping here: If you want your events included in the monthly events calendar, please send me the details, including where, what, when and who along with a high-rez photograph from previous years. Your listings must reach us a month in advance. Send the submissions to: toronto.desidiaries@gmail.com.

Festival season gets underway in Toronto

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Saturday, Sept. 2

Event: Onam in Mississauga
Details: The Coptic Centre. 1245 Eglinton Ave. W. is the venue for an Onam celebration happening noon onward. There will be an onasadhya, entertainment and more. Even hosted by Mississauga Kerala Association.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Sept. 9

Event: Onam in North York
Details: The Toronto Malayalee Samajam is hosting an Onam celebration at Senator O’ Connor College, 60 Rowena Dr., North York at 4 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Classical concert
Details: Raag-Mala Toronto will be hosting a two-part concert series with Sougata Roy Chowdhury (sarod) and Mitali Bhawmik (vocal) at the McLeod Auditorium, 1 King’s College Circle, Toronto at 7 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Navratri Ramzat
Details: The Gitanjali Group is hosting a Navratri Ramzat at the Vaughan Sporsplex, 8301 Keele St. Concord at 7 p.m.
Contact: Here

Event: Ehasaas
Details: Ehasaas: An evening of soulful music, a concert featuring Gautan Dabir will take place at the Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation, 80 Brydon Dr. Etobicoke, ON M9W 4N6 at 7:15 p.m.
Contact: Here 

Saturday, Sept. 16

Event: Arohi Music Festival
Details: The 5th annual Arohi Music Festival will take place at Chinmaya Mission Hall, 8832 The Gore Rd. Brampton from 4 p.m. onward. The classical Carnatic music concert will feature: Chintan Upadhya (Dhrupad), Sriram Suryanarayan (mridagam). RVS Ganeshamoorthy (nadaswaram), A. Manoharan (thavil) and mor
Contact: Here

Sunday, Sept. 17

Event: Suhaag Wedding Show
Details: Planning a wedding? Then the annual Suhaag show is a must see. A day-long packed agenda at the International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd., (Hall 3) Mississauga, will include fashion shows, lifestyle extravaganza, fashion designers and more.
Contact: Here

 

 

 

The band, baaja and Red Baraat at the Beaches Jazz Festival in Toronto

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Red Baraat: The large, loud and over-the-top Indian wedding procession on the streets of India always lifts my spirits.

The ambience and mood of band of men, all dressed in regimented uniforms, accessorized with glittering brass buttons blasting Bollywood tunes and snarling the traffic says, “here’s life, seize it.”

If you’re nostalgic for the heady feeling of being transfixed on music that’s indescribable, yet so addictive, you’re in luck.

New York-based octet Red Baraat will take on the main stage at the Beaches Jazz Festival, Saturday, July 29 at 9 p.m. Brace yourself for never-heard-anything-like-this sounds that’s a fusion of jazz, hip-hop, rock and bhangra.

It’s obvious the eight-member group not only shares a passion for music but also has a dry sense of humour. Their albums—Shruggy Ji (2013), Bhangra Pirates (2017) and their name—Red Baraat have a touch of whimsical brilliance.

Sunny Jain (dhol/band leader/vocals) helps unravel the musical mysteries behind their brand in this chat.

TDD:  The members of Red Baraat are?
SJ: Rohin Khemani (percussion), Sonny Singh (trumpet/vocals), Chris Eddleton (drumset), Jonathon Haffner (Soprano Sax), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar) and John Altieri (Sousaphone/rap).

TDD: How did you all meet and the story behind the name – Red Baraat?
SJ: I put the band together in 2008, having already been living and playing in NYC for 10 years prior to that.

I had the privilege of meeting and playing with many of the guys in different musical settings during my early years in NYC. When I had the idea for the band, I thought of the best combination of musical personalities and instruments that I thought would work.

The name (Red Baraat) comes from the musical inspiration and vision for the band: baraat and the Indian Brass Band tradition dating back to the 18th century. Red because that is the color of love, energy and revolution.

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Members of New York based group Red Baraat will perform at the Beaches Jazz Festival, Saturday, July 29 at 9 p.m. Photo by Shervin Lainez.

TDD. How did the idea to fuse Bhangra with jazz, Latin and other styles happen?
SJ:  As a South Asian-American, I grew up with a variety of music from my cultural heritage: Jain Bhajans, Bollywood songs of the 70’s and 80’s, Punjabi music, Ghazals and Hindustani classical. Born and raised in America (Rochester, NY), I was also listening to what was on the radio and what my siblings handed down to me: classic rock, progressive rock, 80’s music, Brit Pop, hip-hop.

When I started studying drums and specifically, jazz music, my drum teacher (Rich Thompson) always told me to be open to learning and playing all styles of music. He cultivated the idea of a large musical vocabulary for the sake of versatility when improvising. So all of these experiences are reflected in my approach to composing and performing music.

Music and art is about expression and I’m always searching for the expression “OF” and “IN” the moment.

Thought and technique must disappear in the moment. The idea of genre and traditions must disappear in the moment. The only truth of the moment is the sound that comes out THAT MOMENT. Red Baraat’s sound is based on this idea and with that, each musician in the band brings their own musical personality into the full sound of the band. Each of them is a studied and deeply soulful musician, in their own unique way.

TDD: What’s the crowd’s reaction to your unique musical style?
SJ: Typical response is, “Holy shit, I’ve never heard anything like that before. Your music has [insert 5 genres of music] in it.” So yeah, I think people like our sound and our show. We’ve been touring solid for 8 years, with hardly any breaks.

TDD: How do you describe the sounds in Shruggy ji and to what do you attribute from the album becoming the portal to your success?
SJ: Shruggy Ji was our 2nd album that debuted at #1 on Billboard World Music charts in 2012. While we were very fortunate to have had that bump, we don’t necessarily attribute that album to our portal of success. We focus on the joy and passion we have for playing in this band. The songs. The fans. The cities we travel and the experiences we have. We’re very lucky and grateful for our old and new fans that support us. 

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Sunny Jain (dhol/band leader/vocals) and member of Red Baraat, a New York-based band. Red Baraat will perform at the Beaches Jazz Festival, Saturday, July 29 at 9 p.m. Photo courtesy Red Baraat.

TDD: Bhangra Pirates…what is the story/who is responsible for these quirky names? SJ: The music and energy of bhangra just seems to go hand-in-hand with the spirit of a pirate: rebellious, adventurous, wild natured. There’s also something to be said about Pirate Codes; the camaraderie, the support system among the crew. In fact, history teaches us that pirates were pioneers in democracy. Perhaps most importantly though, the Pirate Codes were revolutionary in their method of taking power away from any one man, and placing it in the hands of the majority. We kind of need some Bhangra Pirates in the States right now.

TDD: And is it a deliberate attempt to have these names. Who’s Shruggy ji? And the rationale behind the “Pirates?”
SJ: Shruggy Ji is a personality or character that we believe lives in all of us. As dusk approaches, we see our shadows lurking and slowly growing as night time falls on us. That’s the time our inner “Shruggy Ji” comes out. “Shrug your shoulders, and twist your wrists. Move your body and shake those ships.” We take time and thought into everything we do…the music we make, the song titles and the album titles. I think every artist does.

TDD: Any incident that you can reference that brings back a chuckle or a laugh or was kind of sobering?
SJ: I think we always laugh when people come to see Red Baraat and they are expecting us to be in colonial marching band outfits and play traditional baraat music. I love the Indian Brass Band tradition and have great respect for the musicians, but the colonial outfit represents just that, colonialism; something that directly affected my parents and family during partition. I’d never pay tribute to any colonizer.

The Beaches Jazz Festival StreetFest runs July 27 to 29. Red Baraat will perform at Woodbine Park, Saturday, July 29 at 9 p.m.

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New York based Red Baraat. Photo by Richard Gastwirt.