Atlantic talent floods into Ottawa

By Connie Smart

Asif Illyas plans to show Ottawa what the East Coast can do.

As lead singer in the Halifax pop trio Mir, Illyas will join his bandmates on April 25 in a musical super show for Atlantic Scene, the National Arts Centre’s newest arts and culture festival.

“What’s great about this festival is that they (the NAC) have really dug deep to find out what’s going on in East Coast music,” says Illyas.

“The fact that they chose to include the Mir Supershow says that they recognize there’s a lot of diversity going on here.”

Atlantic Scene will run April 22 to May 4. It is the first in a series of biennial regional festivals that will take place in the capital to showcase the best in Canadian arts and culture from coast to coast.

Featuring 400 artists and 85 events, the event will highlight Atlantic theatre, music, dance, visual arts, literature and other aspects of East Coast culture.

Illyas says his band has been performing the Mir Supershow in Halifax since 1999 as an annual event that both celebrates and raises money to help Canada’s visible minorities.

He says the show sees up to 25 genre-spanning musicians perform alongside the band on stage.
In Ottawa, the diversity of musicians set to join Mir at the NAC’s Southam Hall include singers Bruce Guthro and Mary Jane Lamond and P.E.I.’s fiddle-playing rock star, Richard Wood.

Atlantic Scene executive director/producer Kari Cullen says artistic diversity makes East Coast culture stand out and is one of the reasons why the NAC decided to showcase this region first in its festival series.

“There is such a range of talent there that even we were blown away by it and we wanted to share that talent with other Canadians” says Cullen, who is originally from New Brunswick.

She adds the goal of the Atlantic Scene is to draw national attention to Atlantic Canada, to give established and emerging artists the opportunity to perform at the NAC and to showcase East Coast culture in a way that will encourage people to visit the region themselves.

In addition to the NAC, 15 Ottawa venues will be hosting festival events, including the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Running from April 8 to 27, the theatre’s latest play, Whale Riding Weather, is the first published play by Nova Scotia’s Bryden MacDonald.

Canadian actor Jack Wetherall (Queer as Folk) plays Lyle, the central character in this love story about three gay men. He says he immediately fell in love with the play because its powerful language captures the isolation that exists between regions in Canada. He says he was surprised and impressed to learn the play had come out of the East Coast.

“If this writer comes from that part of the country, God knows we should be looking at it closer because there’s some amazing talent there,” says Wetherall.

Like the GCTC, Barrymore’s Music Hall is another Centretown venue that will be showcasing East Coast talent, with a line-up set to include Ashley MacIsaac and Damhnait Doyle.

Barrymore’s entertainment director, J.P. MacDonald, is originally from Nova Scotia and has lived in Ontario for about 34 years.

He says the East Coast is unique because the people there offer such strong support for their artists.

“They take a lot of pride in the artists they produce, which is something we don’t see as much of here in Ontario,” says MacDonald.

“Whether it’s Celtic, rock or pop they go to a great extent to celebrate it.”

MacDonald adds he hopes that highlighting East Coast musicians at Barrymore’s will give emerging artists the exposure they need to come back and play other Ottawa venues in the future.

For Illyas and his band, the festival offers a chance to share the excitement of the East Coast music scene with a new audience.

He says it also allows East Coast artists to spread their sense of pride into other regions of Canada.

“There’s a real sense of community here no matter what type of music you have, and I think when we bring that music to Ottawa, that sense of community will go along with it.”“One thing that’s really unique here is that spirit for music, and I think people coming to Atlantic Scene will feel that.”