June 17, 2024

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Toronto Electronic Duo LAL On Peace, Protest And Their New Album

6 min read

For over two decades, Toronto-based musicians Rosina Kazi and Nicholas Murray have brought resistance anthems to the dancefloor. They’ve been plowing away with their artsy, D.I.Y., electronic sound that we know as LAL. Polaris Prize longlisted downtempo soul duo, they’ve built a huge catalogue of music, from raging dance hits to protest anthems and serene soundscapes.

When you think of Canadian electronic music with a punk ethos and experimental bent, that’s LAL. The backbone of their music is in creating community, helping others and providing space for experimentation and conversation, as they run a local arts venue called Unit 2 in Toronto.

Their new album out today “Meteors Could Come Down,” is their seventh release. Filled with poetry, protest and resilience, this quarantine album was inspired by west coast road trips they were on before the pandemic hit. It’s also inspired by Adrienne Maree Brown’s Pleasure Activism, a book about healing and happiness.

This new album tells a story of musicians reaching out to their ever-expanding community, which goes beyond borders, even far fetching galaxies. There are moments of minimal beats, at other times, long-winded screams. Armed with hope for a new world, the duo speak from their studio about making tracks in dark times, healing from toxicity, and why they don’t fit into your typical music norms.

How did this new album all begin?

LAL: We were on tour on the West Coast and had to come back because of the pandemic. We had driven up the coast and played and connected with a bunch of small and radical arts and community spaces. When we got back, our arts and community space, Unit 2, which is also our home, was closed down, so nothing was going on at our house forcing us to reflect and to be super focused. It really gave us a chance to sit with where we were at in terms of life and in relation to the rest of the world. Connecting into small communities really almost gave us a glimpse into our future and driving along the ocean and forests almost prepared us for this album. When we got home, our instinct was to make music, so we did. 

How difficult was it to be artist-activists back in the 1990s when your act hit the music scene? 

 It was very different, not like how it is now. It was small, so we were able to support abolitionist, anti-racist and environmental movements, as well as creating amazing friendships. We were all definitely the ‘radical’ ones, which is interesting because the world is slowly catching up with some of our political and spiritual beliefs. Which is trippy because we never really thought we’d see such a big shift in human consciousness around anti-blackness and dismantling the police, in our lifetime. This is so hopeful. At least more and more folks are aware and fighting for change. 

What was your experience like through the early 2000s?

There was a time when the mainstream ignored us because of our politics. Back then, we did not package very well because you have a brown, fat, queer and non-binary, Muslimish singer with a black sensitive sampler geek, record nerd, who make arty, indie electronic music. Music that is not specific to any one genre with a very sample-based approach. We also rolled with a majority of bipoc musicians and community, so that also kept us out of the mainstream, in Canada. 

What was one of the hardest parts?

Well, we don’t want to be told what to do. In our experience, when you move into what we call the ‘music industry pipeline,’ people want to control you and your work. So often, you can lose sight of why you are doing the work you are doing. There’s so much toxicity in the music scene, that our spirits truly couldn’t handle this environment. We didn’t really know what it was, but our instincts guided us away from this world. 

Where did it take you?

We always focused on community. Instead of business. In Canada, it’s difficult to push past the decades of white, cis, straight male gatekeepers. This is changing but not as fast as it could. Now that the mainstream is talking about some shit we can relate to and actually reflect our experiences, maybe we will be heard one day by a bigger audience. Finding the right business support has also been challenging in this country, and that is definitely part of the reason we’re not known more but that’s ok because we are always learning new ways to do things. 

How have you been on the frontlines of radical change, then and now? 

Really and truly, it has to do with our commitment to community building through our music and arts space Unit 2, which is supported by many folks, including artists Max Holio and Brawk Hessel. In the past, we have always worked in places that were hubs of community and thought, like HMV’s dance department, the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, campus radio stations CKLN and CIUT. We never got caught up with being part of an ‘elite’ system and we actively work against that. We are constantly learning from our elders, our peers and young folks. 

What is the message of your music?

As musicians, we are very much involved with issues that impact our community, like black, Indigenous, migrant rights, environmental and racial justice, queer and trans rights, gender equality and fighting against gendered violence, to name a few.  Our local community of artists, community organizers, and academics are very much involved on the ground in Toronto, like Syrus Marcus Ware, Robin Maynard, Elwood Jimmy, Ang Loft, Sofia Fly and so many more. These friendships and relationships, inform our work, values and ideas. 

How do you see the world transforming in 2021? 

The pandemic taught us is that all that matters is community and our abilities to work collectively and imaginatively. We are witnessing more and more folks having and wanting to create change through community-based approaches, linked to ancient practices and innovation. Rosina is from Bangladesh and these places, like many countries with a history of colonization, have been dealing with chaos and inequity before COVID-19 showed up. There have always been community based movements in places like India and Bangladesh, but the push to be like the west is intense and unfortunately ‘people’ and the environment are disposable in Asia, and class and caste oppression is massive. 

Who does the song ‘Bitter End’ speak to?

We wrote this album just after finding ourselves back in Toronto when our American tour was cancelled midway. The world changed almost overnight and all we could do was make music. We needed to make music. Bitter End is about our journey as friends, lovers and artists. The rest of the album is a love letter to our community, past, present and future. The starkness of the music reflects our mood during this time, one of deep reflection. For those of us already leading or trying to lead alternative lives—those aware of what havoc patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism continuously wreaks—this song asks the question: ‘Can we find happiness in such a messed up world?’ It’s about cooperation, healing, justice and respect.

Buy the LAL album When Meteors Come Down on Bandcamp, out with Coax Records.


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