Lift up! exhibit celebrates Toronto’s black club culture

To make themselves uncomfortable in some of Toronto’s hottest nightspots, young black creatives and backers developed a burgeoning underground party scene that DJs Lovebonez and Fresh Moses are helping to celebrate in an online exhibition launched this month.

Lift up! Exploring Toronto’s Black Youth Club Culture traces the evolution of the scene in which the two young DJs became involved as artists several years ago, just as an increase in gun violence gave some downtown venues a pretense of extending their discrimination against black patrons and creators , often while benefiting from black culture.

“For the most part, it’s essentially people who have to create their own spaces because they don’t feel welcome in the established spaces that exist,” said Lovebonez, Riham Hagona’s stage name.

Lovebonez says black creatives excluded from mainstream venues have responded by creating their own events. Photo provided by Myseum

She says these alternative spaces have been around for decades, noting that many archival photos of Caribana events show them on boats.

“I thought it was so symbolic,” he said. “How do I interpret? It’s essentially that young black men had to be in a boat in the middle of the water so they wouldn’t be watched in terms of what they wore, how they danced.”

In more recent times, such surveillance has meant bars and clubs instituting policies banning tight-fitting caps, sneakers and Timberland boots, and restricting or banning dancehall, rap and hip-hop music altogether, the couple said. National Observer of Canada in a recent video interview.

“It’s like saying you don’t want black people there if that’s what you’re trying to say,” Lovebonez said.

Parties held outside of the city’s hottest nightspots tend to attract customers dressed to dance. Photo provided by Myseum

The project includes the couple presenting instructional video tutorials to help aspiring DJs get started, as well as a phone book which helps visitors connect to hear stories from different people on the scene.

Fresh Moses (Yosra Musa) said that the online format of the exhibit was not ideal as they had also wanted to “create that space where people can come and get a dose of what they would get at some parties that are happening in Toronto” .

Fresh Moses said it was important to support black DJs and the collectives that organize these events “because the reality is that with most of these parties, people are not making money, they are doing it for the culture.”

But it also means that the project, which was almost ready when COVID-19 arrived, has a permanent home And you can invite more participants in the scene to get involved over time by submitting your own photos of parties from the past.

A DJ plays tunes at a collective party in Kuruza. Photo provided by Myseum

The duo said that many of the hottest parties in Toronto’s underground scene these days are run by queer people. That includes the Bi or Bye party series, created by Gisselle Rodríguez, a Black-Latinx DJ known as Litney Worldwide, who contributed an audio message to the exhibit on motivation to create a safe space in which to express yourself freely.

Kuruza, another party series featured in the exhibit, sought to create a safe space for everyone and had people there to specifically ensure it.

With pandemic restrictions easing this summer, the couple said most of the outdoor events have started to make a comeback, but they are smaller by design as they don’t want to draw the attention of authorities.

“On Instagram, every event is more or less a direct message to management, no one is posting their address,” Lovebonez said. “It is still very important that everyone is welcome, but we must make sure that you are well.”

The pandemic has been difficult for those creators who even before it might have struggled to secure a spot in an established venue, so the couple set up a GoFundMe in collaboration with community radio station ISO radio ( and the media. house Serious Betty that helped compensate artists for the mixes they played at the station.

Fresh Moses said it was important to support black DJs and the collectives that organize these events “because the reality is that with most of these parties, people are not making money, they are doing it for the culture.”

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada National Observer

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