–> 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 fifth year, with kind support from Ontario Arts CouncilSomething 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. 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 June 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 average 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:

Cem by Donna•  Cem Zafir has been involved in concert presentation and promotion for a decade in Vancouver and on the BC coast since 2000 with Zula Presents. Following his 2012 arrival in Hamilton, Cem (pronounced “gem”) began presenting Zula events, first with the Something Else! Festival of Creative Music in June 2014, followed by the monthly Something Else! Creative Music Series starting in the fall of 2014.


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.



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