An interview with Leticia Trandafir, Music Director at Never Apart.
This week, we virtually interviewed Leticia Trandafir, Music Director at Never Apart. This non-profit organization is a leader in Montreal’s cultural scene. Throughout art exhibitions and music events, the platform’s mandate is to bring social change, equity and spiritual awareness. Leticia talks to us about the role of music in the promotion of positive change in communities. She also explains how a cultural organization like Never Apart creates an environment that allows emergent and established artists to use their voice to bring social change.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your previous and current projects, and what motivates you to be a part of the Never Apart team?
My educational background is in communication and cultural studies. I’ve been working in Montreal’s underground electronic scene for about 5 years as a DJ, music producer and event organizer. I’ve also done some writing and research in those fields. When this position opened up at Never Apart apart two and a half years ago, it seemed like the perfect place for me to express the ideas I had been mulling over about community-building and event curation, since Never Apart has a strong mandate towards social change and equity. I’ve been given a lot of freedom in building an events program at the center as the Music Director, including parties, workshops, talks and more. I also have a growing role as the editor of the online magazine.
As the Music Director of NVA, what would you say is the role of music in promoting equality, social change and awareness, being the central values of the Never Apart organization?
Music, as many forms of art, is an important vector for new ideas, for world-building, for healing and expression. The particularity of electronic dance music is that it involves the body in such a potentially liberating way, and it also creates a shared experience by its very format, which can also be potentially transformative. Given its history, where the creativity of QTBIPOC folks is central to its DNA, it has historically represented a space for the expression and coming together of marginalized identities and liberation—even if at times fleeting—from societal pressures. With the commercialization and massification of electronic music, that looks a bit different, and the work has to be put in to make sure the resources are going to the right places and people. Additionally, representation is so crucial, for people to see themselves represented creates models and mentors. And for that reason it is important for me to be always aware of who I am making space for, and make sure that the variety of voices of this community are amplified (women, LGBTQ2S+, BIPOC artists). It is of course an imperfect and iterative process, and I am learning continually.
To this day, what have you seen evolve by the accomplishment of your mission and vision? What is your next goal to keep progressing in that direction?
I think in the last years the presence and representation of women has become well integrated in the underground electronic music scene in Montreal, more people are making it a systematic requirement and this naturalizes the necessity for gender representation. At least in my work, it’s second nature for me to book a majority of women. More work needs to be done in the representation and structural presence of BIPOC artists and workers in the electronic scene, and this is a strong focus I am trying to integrate alongside it.In another order of ideas, I am really interested in the intersection between environmentalism and social justice, in other words environmental justice. I am beginning to integrate more and more of that into my programming, which is going to be more educational (talks, workshops), as live music events are not possible in their full expression during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, I think many artists are awakening to a deep need for a proximity with nature, maybe even thinking of getting into farming or living in the country, so it’s in the air.
In your opinion, and with your experience, how can cultural organizations strive to create an environment that allows underexposed artists to voice their experiences and perspective freely?
I think the work of a programmer/curator is to dig into the local scenes, to educate themselves, to go out to shows, to listen to artist’s SoundCloud, especially artists who are just starting. And then presenting them with opportunities to show their work at various stages of their careers. I have been given that trust by music programmers, and I very much valued those opportunities, which made me grow enormously. I try to give that back by trusting artists, and presenting them with the same care as established or international artists. It’s also important to pay attention to the environment you are bringing an artist into: is the rest of the staff and the space thought through in a way that creates a welcoming environment so that the artist feels taken care of as much as possible? Representation is the first step, transforming the space, structure and modes of operation of the organization/collective is also crucial, and that work is continuous. I think a big challenge in Montreal is physical accessibility for (dis)abled* folks, a lot of work needs to be done.
We saw that you have some exciting Zoom conferences coming up, and we were wondering if you could give us more details about the content of these.
We just had an amazing one with madison moore, who is an incredible DJ and queer scholar, author of the book Fabulous, about fabulousness as a political act. It was incredibly enriching and the audience was very engaged, so it’s encouraging to know that even with COVID-19, we can have meaningful experiences where we get new ideas and learn in the ‘sort of’ shared space of a Zoom conference. This poses interesting questions. We are definitely going to have more moving forward.
Equinox is well known for being the biggest music event of NVA every year. Usually happening in the fall, we can imagine that it must be difficult to plan any event in the current situation. Still, we would like to know if you had something in mind for the 2020 edition and around what themes it would revolve?
Equinox is certainly going to be very different this year. It will pivot to a strong online component, and also more focused on talks and workshops. As I mentioned, ecology is a strong curatorial line moving forward for me. The theme this year is Cultivate—at the root of the word, we find its meaning in “tilling the land to grow crops.” To cultivate also carries notions of care, labour and tending to. Devoting one’s attention to something in order to see it grow. Cultivate shares kin with another word: culture. Culture is both a crop and way to speak of human creativity—food from the land and food for the soul. Land and art are thus deeply enmeshed through the practice of cultivating; this is what we explore in the 2020 edition of Equinox.