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Kiva Tanya Stimac, Montreal music and culture influencer, kicks off 24th Suoni Per Il Popolo festival

In difficult times, music is medicine, says the anthropology alumna
June 13, 2024
By Felicity T. C. Hamer, BFA 12, MA 15, PhD 23

Kiva Tanya is seated in front of a wall papered with colourful posters. Kiva Tanya Stimac: “There has to be love, there has to be joy in order to sustain us moving forward in this thing we’re doing as human beings.”

When it comes to creativity and innovation, Kiva Tanya Stimac, BA 96, knows no bounds. As an artist, chef, printer, poet, graphic designer and entrepreneur, she co-founded Montreal music venues Casa Del Popolo, La Sala Rossa and La Vitrola, as well as festivals Suoni Per Il Popolo — currently on from June 12 to 23 — and Lux Magna. She is also the sole force behind Popolo Press.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Stimac pivoted and opened an arts shop on the Casa Del Popolo stage, selling her artwork alongside those of other local artists and musicians. More recently, she was invited to design artwork for the David Suzuki Foundation’s Climate Justice Now.

Stimac is all about building links between artists and progressive socio-political movements, and she credits Concordia for encouraging her to always think outside of the box.

“At age 18, I only knew that I wanted to be a poet,” she says, “but what I left with is an ability for critical thought.”

Stimac began her studies in Concordia’s Creative Writing program, but soon transferred to the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She became frustrated with the state of the discipline in the 1990s, and felt it was questioning itself as well.

“What does it mean for Westerners to study other cultures?” she asked herself.

“As a young person, you’re questioning everything. Concordia gave me the space to write those kinds of essays — for critical thought. This was very important to how I developed as an adult, thinking, person.”

For the love of music

Poster designed by Kiva Stimac for the David Suzuki Foundation.

Although Stimac is a creative and cultural force in Montreal, and major supporter of the local music scene, ‘musician’ is one of few roles not listed on her resumé. Yet her music roots run deep. “I just really grew up around it,” she says.

Stimac remembers the major influence her parents had on her eclectic musical education. “Imagine Detroit in the 1960s. They had Motown, MC5. My mother went to see Jimmy Hendrix as a 16-year-old. I came out of the womb listening to John Coltrane.”

During the Vietnam War draft, her parents decided to leave the United States and start their family on a commune in Canada. “We spent all of our summers at hippie music festivals,” Stimac recalls. “Then in high school, I worked as an usher at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto. I heard every symphony that came through.

“Music has had a huge influence on my life,” says Stimac. “[My former partner] was a touring musician, so music and art played a central role in our lives together as well.”

‘There has to be joy’

Since 2002, the Suoni Per Il Popolo festival has been a meeting ground of experimental music, art and activism. Founded on a desire to create more awareness about Montreal’s independent music scene, the festival underscores the relationship between music, sound and cinema, and progressive social and political movements. But the COVID-19 pandemic demanded a complete rethinking of all of Stimac’s endeavours.

“What do we do with live music?” she asks, looking back. “Not just in our little venues and our festival, but in the whole world of live arts presentation?”

The end of her 32-year relationship with her partner led to the decision to no longer oversee the venues, but to focus instead on the festival. The changes brought Stimac back to the drawing board, leaving her wondering: ‘What is the Suoni Per Il Popolo?’

“There’s no innovation without experimentation,” she says. “And if I can’t dance in the revolution I don’t want to be there. There has to be love, there has to be joy in order to sustain us moving forward in this thing we’re doing as human beings.”

This year’s Suoni Per Il Popolo festival boasts everything from a magic competition to a student recital, a communal sound experience and even an event featuring “a whole bunch of 85-year-old, crazy musical experimenters,” Stimac says, pointing to the festival’s appeal across generations.

There is a real push to make the festival as financially accessible as possible — tickets to almost all events are less than $25 and several are free. Stimac adds that many shows are also “NOTAFLOF” (no one turned away for lack of funds).

“After every Suoni, I go into the bathrooms to read the graffiti,” shares Stimac. “There’s always something like: ‘Moor Mother’ or ‘Anthony Braxton changed my life.’

“You never know what you're going to walk into at Suoni — and it could just change your life.”

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