–> a ZULA story


First Zula Event: John Zorn's Masada
First Zula Event: John Zorn’s Masada 7.22.00 at JCC

Frustrated by yet another Seattle but no Vancouver appearance by another one of his favourite bands, John Zorn’s Masada in July 2000, then mailman, music lover Cem [gem] Zafir decided to stop complaining and take matters in his own hands.

School Days
School Days 6.4.2001 ANZA Club

He knew that the local music presenters were already doing a great job of bringing as many great acts to the city as they could, yet judging from Vancouver music lovers’ insatiable appetite and demand for more music with integrity on a regular basis, it appeared there was still a need for more.

Ellery Eskelin with Andrea Parkins & Jim Black 1.11.2003 Richard's on Richard's
Ellery Eskelin with Andrea Parkins & Jim Black 1.11.2003 Richard’s on Richard’s

Penniless, with no previous concert production experience, yet armed with a love for the music, an idealistic streak and stubbornness that would make a goat blush, Cem attacked the project with gusto, operating under the ZULA  moniker. With much needed selfless help from Vancouver’s creative music / grassroots arts community, hard-working volunteers, ever supportive friends and committed music fans, the first show was a great success.

David Lindley plus Steve Dawson -- 7.29.05 -- Rime
David Lindley plus Steve Dawson — 7.29.05 — Rime

ZULA presented one-off, “must-happen” (in one man’s opinion) concerts, as well as music series and tours in Vancouver and south coastal BC between 2000 and 2009, including a nearly two year long residency at Rime, a Turkish restaurant and performance space on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, where Zula booked diverse, eclectic music of high caliber, a broad spectrum of music (from bluegrass to electronica, dub to new music, the avant-garde to various folk musics), dance (modern to flamenco to), spoken word, poetry, etc., with a particular desire to include under-represented local artists in the mix.

Rashied Ali & Sonny Fortune -- 6.5.05 -- Rime
Rashied Ali & Sonny Fortune — 6.5.05 — Rime

After a three year stint each on Gabriola Island and in Montreal, Cem (and mate in Montreal, artist, teacher Donna Akrey) moved to Hamilton, Ontario in 2012 to enjoy and contribute to the local culture and the affordability of a charming city with heart and character.

In January 2014, through his friendships with fellow area presenters, Zafir noticed some excellent tours coming up by some of his favourite musicians and accomplished artists, which he felt should culminate in some Hamilton stop-overs, at least… the urge to present Boneshaker (Williams / Kessler / Nilssen-Love), Golden State (Eisenstadt / Schoenbeck / Dresser / Moore) and Sun Rooms (Adasiewicz / Reed / Håker -Flaten) in Hamilton, quickly morphed into “it’s a damn festival!”, followed by the desire to add some of Southern Ontario’s great, unsung artists, who deserve to be heard much more widely. Thus, the festival was born.

The first SOMETHING ELSE! Festival of Creative Music took place from Monday, June 16th through Saturday, June 21st, 2014 at Hamilton Artists Inc., an artist-run centre located at 155 James St. N. in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.  The festival focused on presenting creative music, music that falls in the vast space between jazz and new music… contemporary jazz or various versions of the music initially championed by Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and other mavericks some 50 years ago, which some still call the avant-garde, free-jazz and the like, plus several experimental artists on the festival bill. The term creative music, albeit a tired (yet handy) industry cliché, seems to be the best term to describe most aptly their collective output. To further illustrate the apparent need for this music to be presented in Hamilton, please note, that none of the visiting performers were booked elsewhere in Southern Ontario.  All visiting musicians from Chicago, Oslo, Amsterdam, Brooklyn, San Diego and Austin played the Suoni del Popolo Festival in Montreal and two of the bands performed in the Ottawa Jazz Festival.


On the heels of our lavish festival in June, year-round concerts naturally followed by visiting performers, who were acquainted or reacquainted with Hamilton audiences in a variety of settings, with an emphasis on committed improvisers from around the world in intimate settings.  The 2014-15 Something Else! Creative Music Series consisted of 9 concerts at 3 venues over 8 months, October through May.  Artword Artbar, The Pearl Company and Zula House all proved appropriate and delightful settings for the music.

The 2015 Festival took place over 4 nights (June 19-22) at one of the best listening rooms in Hamilton, Artword Artbar.  Zula Presents would like to thank Artword Artbar curators Ronald Weihs & Judith Sandiford for their ceaseless efforts to let beauty into our lives on a regular basis…

Following the festival, Zula Presents shifted its shape, but not its mission.   ZULA MUSIC & ARTS COLLECTIVE HAMILTON continued presenting world-renowned visiting artists, revered local musicians, newer traditions in jazz, improvised music and experimental sounds.  Bassist, author, Superman David Lee and artist, teacher, comedienne Donna Akrey are on board, along with myself, to help make the new ZULA MACH a blistering success in the coming years.

Our festival posters and flyers 2014-2018:


Series flyers:



Both our Fall 2015 & Spring 2016 Series concerts rocked! New collaborations with exciting venues and established organizations such as Art Gallery of Hamilton (& AGH Design Annex), Workers Arts & Heritage Centre, This Ain’t Hollywood!



Now in its seventh year, with kind support from Canada Council & the City of Hamilton, Something Else! Festival has grown to include more visiting artists of high repute, along with many more national, regional and local players. Now that we have become somewhat of a destination festival, we can expect audiences crossing provincial and international borders to come to Hamilton! We have now started to focus more on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary presentations, with our Watch It Burn! Series. We hope to be able to continue with the idea of connecting various scenes and disciplines, including artists, audiences, students, faculty, etc., so that we can all expand our horizons and support one another.

Thank you for supporting vital, adventurous, creative live music and art in our community!

Cem Zafir
Artistic Director
ZULA (Music & Arts Collective Hamilton) Presents
cem [at] zulapresents [dot] org


Founded in May 2000 in Vancouver by Cem Zafir, Zula Presents has produced many concerts of avant garde, creative, improvised music, free jazz, and musique actuelle, providing invaluable venues both for touring artists and local creative musicians.

To encourage and promote creative music and art in the Hamilton area, a group of arts professionals have joined Zula Presents to create ZULA MUSIC & ARTS COLLECTIVE HAMILTON. Since 2014, the organization has presented and promoted a year-round series as well as an annual music and arts festival in Hamilton in June.

The series includes up to 10 concerts over 10 months (August through to May). The festival runs over 3-5 days presenting 10-30 groups/acts.

Through the series and the festival, Hamilton audiences have accessed diverse, challenging and innovative music and art, which was previously presented very rarely, if at all, in their community. As Zula develops, we envision that its programming –– particularly the June Something Else! Festival –– will become a destination event along the lines of similar festivals in smaller communities, such as the Guelph Jazz Festival and Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (FIMAV).

As it develops, Zula will continue to:

•  Build an audience for creative music, improvisation, experimental music, free jazz and other newer traditions in the growing downtown Hamilton arts community

•  Create a local infrastructure to connect Hamilton audiences, musicians and other artists from various disciplines with the national and global creative music communities through the presentation of both world-renowned and emerging Canadian and international artists

•  Bring a wider spectrum of music and art to the Hamilton music and arts scene

•  Help to foster outreach initiatives to connect music and art schools and their students with working artists, performances and venues locally and regionally

•  Help to educate and inform music and art students and the general public about a range of non-popular and unconventional music and art by making workshops and performances available, as well as providing public information about the artists and their art

The principals behind Zula are:

Donna by Donna•  Donna Akrey is a Hamilton-based visual artist and teacher, who creates public and participatory art works such as the recent “Universal Remote” at the Niagara Artists Centre. She uses an interdisciplinary approach to articulate ideas to create large installations and sculptural objects, single channel video, video installation, performance and book works.  Currently living in Hamilton -recently relocated from Montreal- and teaching at Brock in the visual art department. Donna received a BFA from Concordia University and an MFA from NSCAD. Donna is our Vice President.

• Chris Alic has been doodling and dabbling in the arts since she could hold a pencil. She works mainly in clay, photography, and mixed media, and has a deep love of all things rusted and abandoned, and can occasionally be spotted picking up squashed tins cans from the middle of the street. She has participated in guerilla art installations in Vancouver and Missouri and is currently living and creating in the Niagara region.

• Neil Ballantyne is a Kitchener-based journalist and musician. He is currently city editor at the Waterloo Region Record and is a former photo editor and deputy city editor at the Toronto Star. His involvement with adventurous music began at Musicworks in the 1980s and continues with Admission of Guilt, a Kitchener-Waterloo concert series he co-founded in 2014.


• Gary Barwin is a writer, composer, multimedia artist, and educator and the author of 20 books of poetry and fiction and books for both teens and children. His work has been widely performed, broadcast, anthologized, exhibited, presented, and published nationally and internationally. Gary lives in Hamilton.


• Connor Bennett is a musician, craftsperson, and arts organizer in Hamilton, ON. He plays saxophone in a variety of musical contexts (Tidal Pool, Haolin Munk, Eschaton, Lee/Palmer/Bennett). His craft is in custom mouthpiece making for woodwinds under the name CJBennett Mouthpieces. Connor is also a founding member of the Hamilton Audio Visual Node (HAVN) and has worked there in collaboration with many other artists in the curation and organization of concerts, art shows, events, and series. Connor is our Stage, Sound & Tech Specialist.

• Taien Ng-Chan is an interdisciplinary writer, media artist, and founding member of the Hamilton Perambulatory Unit (HPU), an artist-research collective that has given walks across Canada and internationally. Currently, she teaches in Cinema and Media Arts at York University. Taien is our President.


• Kay Chornook is a Hamilton-born author, chef and upholsterer. She lives part of the year in Monteverde, Costa Rica and works in the summers in Temagami, Ontario. Kay has a home in Hamilton and has been an active participant in city’s growing creative scene since 2000. She has been a social activist, community organizer and volunteer in northern Ontario since the 1980s and has been a coordinator of a renowned music festival in Monteverde since 1994. Kay is our Logistics Co-ordinator.

• Ted Harms is a Waterloo-based musician, presenter, and occasional freelance writer. His ensemble, the VOC Silent Film Harmonic, accompanies silent films with live and improvised music is now in its eleventh year. With Admission of Guilt, he & Neil Ballantyne present concerts of improvised and experimental music by local, national and international artists in Kitchener-Waterloo. He also has an improvising duo with Neil Ballantyne and served on the board of NUMUS from 2006-2010.

• Heather Kanabe is an arts leader with over 15 years of experience working with cultural and corporate partners. Heather is the General Manager of Hamilton Fringe Festival and provides consulting services to non-profit arts organizations. She was the Festival Director of The Word On The Street Toronto, Canada’s largest book and magazine festival, for over four years. She was the Programming and Business Affairs Manager at Women in Film and Television – Toronto (WIFT-T) where she developed an annual program schedule of over 600 hours of creative and business training. A graduate of the University of Toronto Honours BA, Specialist Designation in Arts Management, Major in Art History and an MBA from the HULT International Business School in Dubai. Heather is the Treasurer of our board.

• Sumanth Shankar is a professor at McMaster University with a keen interest in the science of solidification of metals. He has lived in Hamilton for about 15 years. He lived around Boston for about 8 years before Canada and grew up in Chennai, Southern India; but, went to school in Banaras, Northern India. He has been continouously trying to play the drums for about 28 years. He loves anything that is pleasing to his ears. His new acquaintance with Something Else! has persuaded him to take a step forward in actually trying his best to make a meaningful contribution to the community through something that is loads of fun as well!


• Hailing originally from Winnipeg, Neal Thomas has taught critical media studies in Lethbridge, Toronto, Chapel Hill, and as of Fall 2018, in Waterloo and Brantford. His first book, Becoming-Social in a Networked Age, was published in 2018 in the Routledge Studies in New Media and Cyberculture series. He lives in Kitchener. Neal is our Board Secretary.


Cem by Donna• Cem (“gem”) Zafir arrived in Canada from Istanbul in 1983. He completed an Arts degree at Simon Fraser University in 1997. Concurrently, and immediately following his education, he worked as a postal worker for 22 years. Starting in 1992, he volunteered for a decade at Coastal Jazz & Blues. Cem has since 2000 been involved in music & arts organization, presentation and promotion, for a decade in Vancouver and on the BC coast with Zula Presents. Soon after his 2012 arrival in Hamilton (after a 3 year stint in Montreal), he began presenting, first with the Something Else! Festival in June 2014, followed by the series in the fall of the same year. He is the Artistic & Executive Director.


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