Today’s Sounds: Stefan Christoff

An instrumental protest record by local activist Stefan Christoff, supported by a team of top local Mile End musicians, plus a track by Toro Y Moi feat. Hodgy Beats and a juicy video by Brooklyn’s Empress Of


Stefan Christoff, Duets for Abdelrazik (Howl Collective)

The title immediately advises that the politics cannot be separated from the music in this release. In 2006, Sudanese-Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik was designated an al-Qaeda-supporting terrorist by the U.S. He was eventually cleared by both CSIS and the RCMP, but not before he was deported, imprisoned and, he claims, tortured in Sudan. Since his return to Canada in 2009, he has launched a series of constitutional challenges and lawsuits against the Canadian government.

Pianist Stefan Christoff is a well-known Montreal-based community activist, as well as the subject of another CSIS investigation prior to the 2010 G20 meetings in Toronto. There is a long history of activist music, documented and debated in books such as Heble and Fischlin’s Rebel Musics, but how can music, and especially instrumental music, help?

The mere mention of struggles in titles is one way, raising awareness and generating discussion among listeners. The existence of activist art can also provide courage and encouragement to those directly involved, a sign that supporters are spreading the word. Finally, the music itself can stir rebellion or evoke sympathetic feelings, depending on its mood and structure. Duets for Abdelrazik succeeds on all these counts.

There is a consistency to the disc, despite six different duo partners each playing different instruments. Christoff has a flowing, rhapsodic style, laying down cushions of soft, rolling arpeggios, sequences of repeating notes and hanging chords, inviting the others to layer their individual styles alongside. Matana Roberts’s sax wrings out doleful, jazz-inflected melodies of great beauty, while Norman Nawrocki and Rebecca Foon play longer, mournful tones, droning in on classical textures. Sam Shalabi, on the other hand, seems to be filling in the small nooks within the chords, his rapid-fire, sure-fingered oud riffs interlocking with the piano, rather than backing or soloing. Radwan Ghazi Moumneh’s track, played on buzuqi, has an Arabic psychedelic feel. Finally, Peter Burton’s subtle bass runs and sensitive arco lines allow a little more spotlight to shine on Cristoff’s gentle melodicism.

I’m not sure of Abdelrazik’s musical tastes, but these sounds will sooth most souls in need of comfort in our trying times — no small feat in itself.


Toro Y Moi, “So Many Details” feat. Hodgy Beats

In which future-funk artist Chaz Bundick (aka Toro Y Moi) remixes his own forthcoming single (out on Nov. 23 for the Black Friday edition of Record Store Day in the U.S.) and brings in Odd Future’s Hodgy Beats for a verse. The original track will appear on his next record, Anything in Return, out Jan. 22 on Carpark.



Empress Of, “Champagne”

Brooklyn’s Lorely Rodriguez is Empress Of, and her neo-shoegazer debut single is out as a seven-inch single on No Recordings. The video for said single, directed by Samuel Morris Hamad, plays with a close-up of a girl eating watermelon. Is it hot, or is it gross? You decide.

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