There's a long history of activism in Toronto, a city that has, for the most part, provided safe haven to immigrants, refugees, and people escaping other forms of political and social persecution and oppression. LAL, the duo made up of vocalist Rosina Kazi and producer Nicholas Murr, has soundtracked this side of the city for over a decade, long before social justice became cool (again). In addition to supporting various people and movements that tackle racism, homophobia/transphobia, and class inequality, LAL are also active members of the city's electronic music scene and often share their live-work space, Unit 2, as a place to party and jam. LAL's music is a testament to the power of the arts to disrupt the status quo, and their upcoming album Find Safety, out April 29 on Coax Records, is about the need for safe spaces—particularly in the world of dance music. Read their thoughts on activism today, and stream their afterparty-friendly FADER mix below.
Where are you right now? Describe your surroundings.
We are in our main space, Unit 2, listening to the mix. The sun is bright and the air is cold, but the music is warm and comforting. Warm, cold Toronto day. The kind of day where you see all of your friends in Kensington Market.
Tell us a bit about this mix—what do you imagine people doing while listening to it?
We hope it will inspire people to do great things, from the small to the big. It's some of the music that influenced us when making our new record, which is our most dancefloor-friendly record yet. Keeping it dark and polyrhythmic with a heavy Detroit influence.
You've been making music that invokes social justice themes for over a decade now. Why is that important to you?
We don’t make a separation between life and social justice. Our lives as queer and/or black, Indigenous, and people of colour, and/or working class and working poor is a constant mix of war and peace, so our music speaks to these things. It helps us release the tension, anger, and pain in our bodies and spirits and reminds us of love, joy and, resilience. We hope that others will also be able to connect to what we do as musicians and community minded artists, where we can have a conversation through words, sounds, and dancing. We are both committed to creating the world that we want to live in.
Digital activism has made massive ripples around the world. What inspires you about the new wave of anti-racist musicians and artists?
We are most inspired by musicians/artists who are part of the underground or independent culture, a culture that has been co-opted by the corporate mainstream. Despite this, we are happy that there is a dialogue. Regardless of where you stand in the hierarchy of arts culture, people are engaging in lived realities and inspiring people to engage. What inspires us is the ability to have a critical dialogue within the context of art, yet making it accessible to folks through music. We have seen a shift from patriarchal, racist and anti-queer/trans perspectives, to a movement that encompasses and is being led by women, queer/trans and/or BIPOC peoples. What inspires us is that people are taking up space, in ways they want to and can, and though there is fear all around, we are fighting that fear with creativity and our imaginations.
What's the last book you read that had a big impact on you? And why?
En route to and in Bangladesh we read Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the Word and Me. Nic read it on the plane and I read it at my aunt's apartment in Dhaka. Before we left, we were having a lot of discussions on white supremacy and institutional/structural racism and this book came to us at the right moment. It hit home and addressed some of the things we had been talking about as well as giving us some amazing, heartbreaking, joyous, and brutally honest insight from the writer about his black experience in America.
And finally, what's your favorite dish to cook and how do you make it?
We love making biriyani! You need goat, beef, or TVP. Grind onion, garlic, and ginger into a paste and fry with cut onions and green chilies in butter, ghee, or vegetable oil. Throw in the meat or TVP and cook for a while. Add whatever spices you like including cardamom, cinnamon sticks, turmeric, cumin, star anise, bay leaf, chili powder, some salt... basically whatever you like, throw a bunch in. Put it in the slow cooker over night (TVP you might not need to slow cook!) Optional: add yogurt with the mixture to slow cook. Next day, boil basmati rice (or whatever you got) in a lot of water. When it starts to boil take out the rice and drain. This is key, don’t overcook rice!
Fry a bunch of onions till crispy. Layer an oven pot with rice, then meat mixture, then rice, etc., ending with rice. Add the fried onions on top, seal the top, and bake in the oven for like 1 hour. Take out of the oven, mix, and serve. You can add saffron on top if you want as well and chopped coriander.
Cris Derksen Round Dance (Featuring Northern Voice)
Rae Spoon - Try Again at Everything
JusMoni - Axela
Phen Ray - Ωleet
Nautiluss - Panorama Island
Lal - Tiny Mirrors (Basic Soul Unit Remix)
Basic Soul Unit - Restless in Thought
Moonstarr - Transitions
Pantayo - Senselong
Mas Aya - Hoy (Featuring Lido Pimienta)
Attic - 90's Beat
Sophia Loizou - Singularity is Near