As the weather keeps getting warmer, festival season continues in Toronto with the arrival of the inaugural Bestival Toronto Festival. The Canadian offshoot of the famous British music extravaganza took over Toronto Island for 2 days recently, turning the lush landscape into a veritable wonderland of music, art and whimsy.
We arrived on the island on Saturday just in time to catch international sensation Omar Souleyman. A man of mystery, Souleyman’s distinctive voice came booming out before he even set foot on stage. Once he made his presence known however, the party really started. Souleyman has made a career of out of introducing middle eastern music to mainstream audiences by mixing dance beats with Arabic lyrics sung in traditional middle eastern style. The result is a crowd of Canadian kids dancing happily to the music I as an Egyptian grew up loving. It was an amazing sight to see, and a great way for me to rekindle my love of music festivals.
Robert DeLong was another incredible site to see. A young, unassuming man, face beautifully painted, Delong revealed himself to be a musical wizard of epic proportions. Loops, samples, drums, guitar, and of course his stellar voice were all fused together live to create intricate, gorgeous music. That he was able to create all those sounds live and in the moment was dazzling. Delong seriously raised the bar on performances for the entire festival, so I felt a little bad when Waaves took the stage after him. While the San Diego rockers may have been a showstopper on their own, performing after Delong and before Florence made it extremely hard for the band to stand out to any festival attendees besides their own diehard fans.
Speaking of the vocal greatness that was Florence and the Machine, she was another wonderful musical treat. All healed up from her Coachella injury, Florence Welch was a beacon of passion in a fiery red suit. Her voice was just as gorgeous live as it was recorded, and the crowd was mesmerized as she belted out tunes both old and new. Did you guys know that Florence has the most adorable speaking voice EVER? Seriously, I want her to read me stories every night, it’s that sweet and comforting. Her singing voice however was strong as ever, and I’ll never forget hearing “Ship to Wreck”.
Despite the ferry drama that everyone and their twitter followers were complaining about, we made it home in one piece from day 1, but decided to invest the ten bucks each to ensure we caught Born Ruffians the next day. It was well worth the investment. The Canadian foursome opened their sunny set with “Oh Cecelia”, their sexy, catchy tune that also happens to be one of my favorite songs of life. Watching those clean cut so called ruffians produce some fabulous cancon was a perfect way to start the day.
You would have to be made of stone to not enjoy a performance by Owen Pallett. The classically trained musician creates the most beautiful, ethereal music, whether it be through the strings from his violin, his gorgeous voice or his talent for merging music with technology. Unassuming, humble and ever incredible, I was thrilled at the chance to catch Pallett do what he does best.
Banks was another act I was looking forward to catching. Fierce is the word that comes to mind as the sultry singer sauntered on stage in an extremely covetable black three piece suit. Her voice was stellar, her stage presence powerful, but overall the performance was dampened by her reliance on backing tracks. Sadly, at times it was difficult to tell what was live and what was recorded. And after seeing Robert Delong produce every kind of sound imaginable live, I was somewhat disappointed that Banks and company couldn’t hang on the live music front.
Caribou (aka Dan Snaith and the fantastic musicians he plays with at any given time) had the coolest, most collaborative stage set up, making them just as interesting visually as they were aurally. Gathered in an instrument filled circle, it felt as if the electronic/folk/pop/awesome music they created rippled out from them and into the air, washing over the adoring crowd in waves. Snaith alternated between percussion, synthesizers and generally making cool sounds from the various pieces of tech that surrounded him, while his bandmates added to the musical tapestry with drums, bass, guitar and vocals.
Bestival wrapped up with a living legend, Nas. Seeing a veteran of the grand hip hop days of yore is one of those musical bucket list items that Bestival attendees can now cross off. There’s a reason why Nas has continued to make a name for himself in an increasingly competitive scene, and that’s because he’s fucking awesome. Powerful voice, incredible flow and a cool confidence that can’t be duplicated – Nas is a king and he knows it. And more than anything, he just knows how to play a killer set. He dazzled with new material and pulled classics deep from his back catalogue, and was the perfect way to end the festival.
While this first Canadian edition of Bestival may have had its problems, transportation related or otherwise, I thought it was a great festival. The lineup killed and the creative stages and other elements made every wander between acts its own adventure. Hopefully with this experience and better weather, we can look forward to a better Bestival next year.
*all photos by Nadia Elkharadly