Friday, December 14, 2007

Column: The Rump Shaker

Posted weekly on Torontoist, [December 2007 to June 2008.]

The Rump Shaker
December 2007 to June 2008

The Rump Shaker was a weekly dance column that highlighted three things that were happening in the city and was followed by listings. I soon realized that listings take a very long time to do when you're interlinking, but there are some really cool posts from this like ones on M.I.A., Jay-Z, Kid Sister and The Chameleon Project. Also, click on those links in there: they typically go to cool videos.

Check out The Rump Shaker on Torontoist here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Graduates: Harris Rosen

Published in Bayview Post. [December 2007]

Local grad gives peace a chance with urban magazine
Early love of music spawns a successful urban magazine

Report Card:
Student: Harris Rosen
Graduated: A.Y. Jackson Secondary School, 1986
Best Subject: History
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Publisher of Peace Magazine

The 15th year anniversary of a magazine is a big deal, especially for an independent publication like urban lifestyle magazine Peace. For its publisher, Harris Rosen, it still feels like every day is his first.

"Where did the time go," he asks rhetorically. "It just doesn't seem like it's been 15 years."

For Rosen, the longevity of Peace is proof positive that you can achieve a good life by simply following your passions. The A.Y. Jackson graduate explains that he wasn't a particularly exceptional student.

"I went to my classes," he says. "The ones I enjoyed, I spent a lot of time on the work and tried to do really well. In the ones I didn't like, I caused problems in class."

Fortunately for potential employers, Rosen decided that he had to be his own boss. Working at Seneca College's school newspaper and inspired by music, Rosen struck out on his own as an independent magazine publisher.

After co-starting up two fledgling publications, Rosen found success with the launch of Peace in 1992.

Although the first issue of Peace featured Kurt Cobain on the cover, Rosen couldn't ignore his passion for a then controversial style of music - hip hop.

"I've been totally in love with hip hop since the mid-'80's when I was at A.Y. Jackson. When I first heard Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys, it was game over," Rosen says.

That love grew, and when he began publishing Peace, he couldn't ignore his love any longer.

"It got to the point where it was taking so much of my time and attention that I slipped hip hop content into Peace," he says.

Soon after its launch, Peace became known as one of Canada's foremost hip hop magazines.

Rosen's interview with Notorious B.I.G. has become in Rosen's words, "quite a legendary interview that's been written about a lot online and in books."

For Rosen, having the ability to meet many legendary artists, often before they become popular, was one of the perks of his job. He reminisces about a listening session with Southern rap entrepreneur and one-time Toronto Raptor Master P.

"I remember being in a room with Master P and listening to [his three-million-selling breakthrough album] Ghetto D months before it came out and just knowing that it was going to be a huge record."

Meeting rappers and having a generally good time has helped Rosen stay dedicated as an independent publisher. Although he acknowledges that, "You've got to be on the grind - every day 24/7 - to survive as an independent publisher," Rosen explains that the unique benefits of shaping a magazine outweigh the hardship.

"When you're young and into that stuff, it's amazing. I've been able to travel around the world with the magazine, and I get to see all of these different cultures," he says. "All of the people you meet in between is the spice and body."

However, much like the rap world that he started off covering, Rosen understands the importance of reinvention. As Peace grew older, Rosen made a fundamental decision to change Peace into a lifestyle magazine.

"People don't buy music any more, and to base a magazine on just one thing is dumb," he explains.

It's just one of the many changes that Rosen has noticed in the fifteen years of publishing Peace. He admits that, "When we first started out, it was more like a family, but now that we're older, it's still fun but it feels more like work."
Still. Rosen is making sure that Peace celebrates its 15th birthday in style. There already has been a special anniversary issue, a TV commercial and numerous events that the magazine has sponsored. When asked if he can picture celebrating a 30th anniversary for the magazine, Rosen answers immediately.

"No, I don't even think of that."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Standing Engagement: Team Ryouko's XSD Program

Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, Nov. 24, 2007]

Just like they do it in the movies!

From Shinobi to Kato to Leonardo and his crew, ninjas have long captured our imagination. They are notoriously shadowy figures, though. Uma Thurman had to travel to a remote Chinese village to learn her skills in Kill Bill. Fortunately, Torontonians only have to travel to Scarborough.

Nestled near Kennedy Road and the 401 is Sunny Tang Martial Arts School. Here, members of the Team Ryouko, a unique extreme entertainment company, put willing participants through their Xtreme Skills Development (XSD) program.

Chris and James Mark, brothers and co-founding Team Ryouko members, created XSD martial arts in 2001. "We developed our program because people came up to us after our shows, asking where they could learn this martial art," explains Chris.

Team Ryouko's style fuses traditional martial arts with capoeira, breakdancing and acrobatics. Individually, members have done stunt work on 300, Shoot 'em Up and Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Collectively, the group has wowed local audiences at Massey Hall and international audiences via YouTube.

While traditional martial arts classes teach fighting and self-defence moves, XSD is all about performing movie stunt-like moves.

The program has four levels, including one on weapons training. Each class lasts an hour and its unique mixture of styles is perfect for a generation that embraces cultural fusion.

"We advertise XSD like a traditional martial arts program," says James. "The difference is that it's not combat, but fitness and performance."

"It's probably one of the most visually exciting martial arts you'll see," says Eric Daniel, an XSD instructor at Sunny Tang. "It's performance-based, so a lot of the moves that we do are flashier and more eye-catching, especially with the mix of acrobatics into it."

The emphasis on creativity and performing makes the class a big hit with students, who are encouraged to create heir own combinations of moves and aren't shy about their enthusiasm.

"I love it," says Sandra Ngo, a student at the school. "The reason I'm here is because any other martial arts class is boring. I'm a hyperactive person and I don't want to spend six months just doing basic drills."

XSD is helping Paul Karda, 49, get back in shape. "I knew that being on a treadmill would be too boring for me," he says. "This allows me to do something interesting while challenging myself."

Performing effortless flips may be enough for most students, but for some, there is another reward that keeps them working hard - a chance to be invited into Team Ryouko.

"Six of my students are now part of the Junior Ryouko team," says Chris Mark. "We train them once a week on stage performance and they have a big part in our live shows."

XSD is offered at Sunny Tang Martial Arts School (Unit B22-25, 2370 Midland Ave.), as well as at schools in Newmarket, Georgetown, Mississauga and Port Union. For details, call 416-321-5913 or vist

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Profile: Elliotte Friedman

Published in North York Post. [August 2007]

Cover story: Elliotte Friedman
This North Yorker gives us the play-by-play on how he went from roving reporter to CBC sportscasting star

Elliotte Friedman has covered almost every sport known to man in his 13-year sports broadcasting career rising from the ranks of lowly volunteer at The Fan 590 to ice-side reporter for Hockey Night in Canada. But its his current gig as the host of The CFL on CBC that's vaulted Friedman to the major leagues.

Friedman's is a story of working his way through the minors. His sports broadcasting odyssey began as a child in his family's Yonge and Sheppard home.

"As a kid, I used to sit in front of the TV and broadcast the games in front of my family," he says. "Much to their chagrin."

While his family may still tease him occasionally about his humble beginnings, Friedman has come a long way, climbing to the upper echelon of Canadian sports broadcasters.

Though the local-boy lived in downtown Toronto for several years, Friedman has come full circle by moving back to North York to a home that he bought in the old neighbourhood.

While he is glad to be back, the move wasn't for reasons of nostalgia.

"I have a lot of family in Thornhill and Richmond Hill. I don't want to move there though," says Friedman. "Instead, he moved to a condo in the Yonge and Sheppard area of North York, splitting the distance between his family and his downtown office.

Freely admitting that he "spends a ridiculous amount of time at the Yorkdale Mall because of their gym," Friedman also praises the patio at Safari Bar and Grill on Avenue Rd.

Although he has some difficulty identifying his favourite stores in the neighbourhood, Friedman explains that he can be found "walking around North York with my iPod on where I stop at any bookstore or used music store."

If he seems like he might be in a bit of a rush, it could be because he has been so busy trying to make his childhood passion become a reality.

Even during his days at York Mills Collegiate Institute, Friedman was calculating. He knew he'd have to make all the right plays to realize his dream career on a very crowded playing field.

When it came time to choose a university to attend, Friedman had already made up his mind - The University of Western Ontario.

Technically an English major, Friedman spent much of his time building up credentials for a career in sports journalism.

"A big reason why I went to Western was their reputation of sending their students out in the biz," he explains.

In his first two years at school, Friedman spent his time writing for The Gazette and working for the school's radio station CHRW 94.7 FM. Once he was offered the sports editor position at the student newspaper, Friedman was forced to decide between print journalism or radio. He chose the former.

Reflecting on his time at Western, Friedman is clearly thankful for the opportunity it gave him. However, he admits that it came at a price. "I neglected my studies at Western, but I learned so much more in the newsroom that I would have in the classroom."

Clearly a hard worker, Friedman graduated with high hopes that his work at Western would help him find a job. However, he was greeted with a harsh reality. "When I graduated in 1993, all of the newspapers had a hiring freeze in place," he says.

After a gruelling year freelancing for various publications, Friedman knew that he wanted to stay in the business but that he also had to change.

In 1994, Friedman returned to his radio roots by volunteering at sports radio station, The Fan 590. He describes his early experience there as "a lot of behind the scenes stuff. I cut tape, I wrote scripts. After awhile I started to get opportunities to do broadcast work."

Showcasing his dedication to sports broadcasting and a tireless work ethic, The Fan eventually hired Friedman on full-time. The aspiring sports writer had completed his shift into sports broadcasting. However, it wasn't as seamless as he hoped.

While doing the play-by-play for the 1994 Canadian Open tennis tournament, Friedman made a faux pas.

"The match was just wrapping up," he explains, "and I said Andre Agassi has just won in 'straight sex.'" When he walked into the production booth after the match the entire crew was laughing.

"But it was an honest mistake and something that every sports broadcaster will have to go through," says Friedman.

"The big question is how are you going to react - do you sulk or do you get over it and say tomorrow is another day."

Friedman got over this early mishap and carved out a reputation as a devoted sports broadcaster versatile enough to cover a wide array of sports. Catching the eye of fledgling sports specialty channel The Score, he was brought on as their man to cover the Toronto Raptors beat in their disasterous 1997 season.

"It was a real eye-opening experience," remembers Friedman.

"I remember being nervous my first day, just as a white Jewish guy going into a locker room full of guys that are coming from a different world. But I quickly found out that if you were always around the team and they can see that you're working hard, the players will treat you with respect."

There were a few bad apples though. "Ninety-five percent of the athletes out there are good guys and five per cent ruin it for everyone," he says.

Thankfully the Raptors turned their fortunes around, led by superstar Vince Carter, and the country began paying attention to the often-ignored team. The increased interest in the franchise and its players meant Friedman found himself in the national spotlight as well. It was no surprise then that in 2002 CBC contacted the rising star with an offer that he couldn't refuse.

"When Hockey Night in Canada calls to say that they're interested, what do you say - no?" he asks rhetorically. "It's a huge honour and something that I could never expect to get."

Although Hockey Night in Canada viewers may have been asking who was this new ice-side reporter, Friedman is clearly proud that he has paid his dues. "Indy, NBA, CISU, MLB, NHL, OHL - you name it, I did itg," he says.

His experiences shone on the brightest stage in Canadian sports and landed him his own pre-game show segment titled, The Headliner, where Friedman examines a range of on and off-ice issues affecting the game.

CBC brass were quick to notice his poise and insight, and last year they offered him the hosting gig for CFL on CBC.

It was finally his platform, his show and yet another dream come true. Every Saturday night during the season Friedman takes the mic with co-hosts and former CFL greats Sean Millington and Greg Freers to get fans ready for the game ahead.

Friedman will also play hometown host this year as the 95th Grey Cup game comes to the Roger Centre on November 25th.

It will be a highlight for sure but Friedman admits, the stories that touched him most involved more than just simply who won and who lost ... most of the time.

"I remember Game 3 of the 2001 World Series when George W. Bush - back when everyone liked him - walked out onto the mound at Yankee Stadium to throw the first pitch. The crowd was going wild and it was just such a big moment with the game happening in New York so soon after 9/11. You just got goose bumps."

"But then again, my first night on Hockey Night in Canada was just crazy. I remember getting chills when they played the theme song and it was probably the most nervous I have ever been in my career," he says.

"What can I say? I wake up every day and say how lucky I am to do this."

Link to story at Post City Magazines here.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Graduates: Bob Zamani

Published in Bayview Post. [July 2007]

The art of the deal
Grad chooses property over painting

Report Card:
Student: Bob Zamani
Graduated: Earl Haig Secondary School, 2000
Best Subject: Math
Worst Subject: Science
Current Job: Real Estate Developer

Earl Haig Secondary School is primarily known for producing students well versed in the arts, but real estate developer Bob Zamani definitely did not excel in that part of the school's curriculum.

"The only artistic talent I had in school was wood shop," Zamani says.

At 26, Zamani is already the owner of two thriving real estate companies, Zamani Homes and Canquest Financial. So in a way, Zamani is working with wood, even if it's lumber.

While many of his fellow schoolmates were busy with art, Zamani was busy nurturing his interest in finance.

"I was active in school," Zamani explains. "I started the Raising the Roof program at Earl Haig, and I was the secretary of finance for the annual fashion show that the school put on."

After graduating from high school, Zamani decided to strike out on his own while in his second year of university and started up a mortgage company, Canquest Financial.

Reflecting back, Zamani even sounds surprised by his success. "Sometimes, when I look back at the challenges, it's scary. I can't believe I achieved it," he says.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Zamani has had real estate in his blood.

His father started a real estate developing company while the family was still living in Iran. When they emigrated to Canada, Zamani's father brought the family business with him.

Zamani is quick to credit his father for his success:

"My father is my biggest mentor. He is the reason why I am here today," he says. "He is my best friend, and he is still involved in the business."

While Zamani has taken over for his father as the vice-president of Zamani Homes and helps finance the company's real estate projects with Canquest Financial, the opportunity to take the keys to the family business was not just handed to him.

"I had to prove myself to my dad at first," Zamani explains. "So I had to attract other clients to Canquest Financial at first."

While Canquest Financial lends money to Zamani Homes today, 80 per cent of Canquest's business is devoted to other real estate developers.

An admitted workaholic who feels that his vacation is his work, Zamani can take pride in the fact that he has reached such heights in the real estate game.

Currently, Zamani Homes is constructing eight custom homes in the Yorkmills and Bridal Path Area. These luxury homes range from 4,000 square feet in size to 12,000 square feet.

"The Bayview area is a beautiful part of the city," Zamani states. "It's close to downtown but you also get to enjoy suburban settings. The project has been outstanding."

Friday, June 1, 2007

Graduates: Claire Cameron

Published in North Toronto Post. [June 2007]

The rolling stone
Ersatz rocker turns travelling author

Report Card
Student: Claire Cameron
Graduated: Northern Secondary School, 1991
Best Subject: English
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Author

Claire Cameron's debut novel, The Line Painter, has received a great deal of praise, but that hasn't stopped the neophyte author from promoting her book in some unlikely places.

You can find her visiting Husky truck stops to sign and sell her books to truckers who stop there. Although unorthodox, Cameron has found it to be surpisingly successful.

"Truckers spend a lot of time driving alone, and they like to sit around and chat," explains Cameron. It doesn't hurt that the author and truck drivers share a nomadic spirit that is captured in The Line Painter.

Cameron has come a long way from her high school days at Northern Secondary School.

There she c ould be found doing silly things like appearing in embarrassing skits. "I was dressed in gold disco pants in front of the school," she says.

Although Cameron showed confidence in her skills in high school, she found that she wanted to leave the city to explore the world. It was during a cross-Canada trip that the seeds of her debut novel were planted.

"I bought a van after high school, and I was driving across Canada. During my trip, I was stuck behind a line painter, and I was just watching him go," Cameron explains. "The image just stuck in my head."

After graduating from Queen's University, Cameron has scratched her travelling itch.

"I tree planted in Hearst where I met a lot of people that the characters are loosely based on," she says. From there, Cameron worked for a publishing company in San Francisco that would send her to London, England. It was in London that her life quickly accelerated.

She started writing songs, hoping to fulfill her rock star dreams. Sadly, it didn't take long for her to realize she wasn't all that good. So she put down the mic and picked up her pen.

"I only planned to live in London for two years," she says. "But I ended up staying for seven. When I started writing The Line Painter, I was writing about a place that I really missed. I was feeling homesick at the time and that definitely affected the book."

Back in her hometown, Cameron finds that she's more appreciative of Toronto than when she left.

"Growing up, I took living here for granted," she says. "After travelling, I appreciate how multicultural Toronto is and how much there is to do."

Cameron recently launched her book at the Gladstone Hotel. Surprisingly, it was the culmination of two dreams. "There was another author [Sean Dixon] having an event downstairs," she says. "He was playing the banjo, and I snuck down to join. We sang "Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks, and it was the first time I sang into the mic."

Of course, Cameron hasn't quite ditched her plans to start working on a second novel to live the rock star life. She says diplomatically, "Being a good writer is knowing what you're not good at. It's about editing yourself."

Link to copy of article is here.

Graduates: Mark Cohon

Published in The Village Post. [June 2007]

Set to tackle CFL
Gridiron gadfly now top football boss

Report Card
Student: Mark Cohon
Graduated: Upper Canada College, 1985
Best Subjects: Economics and History
Worst Subject: Calculus
Current Job: CFL Commissioner

When graduating from university, conventional wisdom dictates that you get a lucrative job. Mark Cohon, current commissioner of the CFL and chair of the Ontario Science Centre, is not a man of convention. Instead, he organized a charity that took 30 Canadian and Soviet students to the pristine peaks of the Arctic and Siberia.

It is this type of bravado that has come to typify Cohon. Mark is the son of McDonald's of Canada founder George Cohon.

As a student at UCC, Cohon described himself as a well-rounded student who was active in the community.

"I was the captain of the football team and was on the board of stewards. I was also a B average student," he jokes.

Although he enjoyed his time at UCC, he prefers to take his lessons from the school of life. Right after graduation, Cohon partnered with Dr. Joe McGinness. The two would form the Toronto-based charity Youth Challenge International, which led the expedition to the frozen Arctic.

"I learned so much more from that experience about leadership, business, media relations than I would have if I had taken a job straight out of college," Cohon reflects.

This experience came in handy when in 1994, he ran into NBA commissioner David Stern while waiting for a plane in Tokyo's Narita Airport. This chance meeting led to Cohon joining the NBA as head of international marketing and head of the NBA's business development branch.

Cohon has also had successful stints leading companies like Petopia and Audience View but always seems to yearn for the next challenge.

Today, he is busier than ever. Cohon now holds the keys to two of Canada's most prestigious institutions: the Ontario Science Centre and the CFL.

"The Ontario Science Centre is the most visited cultural attraction in Canada, and we have raised about $47 million dollars," Cohon explains. "So far, we've transformed about 30 percent of the place, and we want to create an institution that teaches innovation and creates innovators."

While Cohon is clearly enthused about the endless possibilities that come with being the chair of the Ontario Science Centre, he is also excited about becoming the new commissioner of the CFL.

"I feel fortunate to be a part of the CFL because I love sports and I love the game," Cohon says. He is especially excited about this year's championship Grey Cup, which lands in Cohon's hometown on November 25, 2007.

While still a young man and a recent honouree of Coldwell Partners' Top 40 Under 40, Cohon offers this advice: "Have fun in what you do and always stay principled."

Graduates: Suba Sankaran

Published in North York Post. [June 2007]

A fusion reaction
Sounds of the world unite

Report Card:
Student: Suba Sankaran
Graduated: Earl Haig Secondary School, 1993
Best Subjects: Music, Dance, Drama
Worst Subject: Math
Current Job: Vocalist for autorickshaw

It takes some people nearly a lifetime to find their calling. Suba Sankaran found hers at the age of four.

While at the Nava Ratri Festival in Connecticut, she got her first taste of life as a performer. She sang God Save the Queen in Sanskrit lyrics.

"That was my first time thinking that I can see myself doing this," she says.

Today, as the vocalist for the acclaimed Toronto-based world music ensemble autorickshaw, Sankaran has been making a name for herself throughout the city recording tunes that fuse Indian music with modern sounds for radio, theatre and film.

Sankaran grew up in a musical family. Her family is Trichy Sankaran, a man who is widely considered to be among the top players of the Indian percussion instrument the mrdangam.

Once at Earl Haig, Sankaran found like-minded musicians who were into similar kinds of experimentation.

"I had a rock band. It was a Queen cover band. We were named Racial Harmony, and we did the whole battle of the bands thing," she says. "I remember that we worked hard to do the whole orchestra thing for Bohemian Rhapsody."

After leavin Earl Haig,she's branched out with as many musical projects as possible. Though her main focus, autorickshaw, is what she's best known for in the city.

Now on their third album, autorickshaw has a comfortable repertoire: which is either "steeped in Indian music and taken to a modern place or rooted in more contemporary music, like jazz or pop or funk," Sankaran says.

In addition to autorickshaw, you can find Sankaran on stage with a number of different projects.

She works with her father's band, Trichy's Trio, which has a more traditional South Indian classical repertoire. As well as a group called Nathaniel Dett Chorale.

"It's an Afro-centric gospel chamber choir based out of Toronto led by Brainerd Blyden-Taylor," she says. "We sang for Nelson Mandella, Bishop Desmond Tutu and for Peter Gabriel."

Sankaran is full of fun stories but admits that the life of a self-sufficient musician can be difficult. "As an artist, you want to be creating," she says. "But I spend more of my time doing e-mails and corresponding with people, working out rehearsal schedules and things like that as opposed to just sitting down and playing."

Of course, considering all of the happy and unique experiences she has had as a musician, she is still optimistic.

"Never give up. You never know which person or what contact is going to lead you to the next person," she says. "Keep trying and keep asking questions. Don't be shy because there's no harm in asking somebody who may know the answer or may lead you to a person who knows the true answer."