Summer in Ottawa means a lot of things – scorching hot weather with air so humid you can practically chew it, the irrepressible drone of thousands of cicadas looking for action, and the nearly ubiquitous splash pads that seem to have popped up throughout the city like mushrooms. Above all else, summer in Ottawa means festivals. Bluesfest, Ribfest, Jazzfest, Lumiere – every year a few more seem to find a footing.
One neighbourhood that is proving to be an excellent nursery for fledgling festivals is Chinatown. With Chinatown Remixed now officially out of its infancy, a new event is hot on its heels. FestivAsia has arrived in the form of workshops and performances in various indoor and outdoor locations. Every Saturday until Sept 1, the curious can take part in everything from chalk drawing and soap carving to magic tricks, puppetry and storytelling, with live funky beats thrown in for good measure.
One purveyor of beats is local queer musician Glenn Nuotio. Nuotio, who is from Newfoundland, plays music with an eclectic tangle of Finnish and Maritime roots. Trained in classical piano, he describes his sound as “mostly lyric-driven indie folk from a piano.”
His appearances at FestivAsia come during a brief pause in a summer of frenetic travel as he hops from New York to France to British Columbia and Newfoundland gathering inspiration for his first full-length album, which he plans to record in the fall. A self-professed lover of experimentation, Nuotio was drawn to FestivAsia for the freedom it offered. “I really look at piano playing from an improv point of view. There's a certain freedom in having something in mind and then just having a lot of time to fill. As a performer, you're not really in the business to make mistakes. With this kind of thing I can just kind of shag around and screw up brilliantly.”
Case in point, his 2011 stint at Chinatown Remixed, where he improvised songs about spin cycles from his position perched in the window of Tang Coin Laundry. Part of the appeal of FestivAsia is the opportunity to rub shoulders with other creative types. “I'm always more influenced by things other than music – visual arts, dance, etcetera. To be around those types of people is more nurturing for me, rather than just hanging out with a bunch of musicians.”
For his performances, Nuotio hopes to involve and draw inspiration from his audience to create new songs and sounds. “I'm hanging out on a Saturday afternoon in Chinatown, and this is how I feel.”
Of course, no festival in Chinatown would be complete without the effervescent antics of China Doll. “I was born and raised in this neighbourhood,” she confides over strawberry-mint smoothies concocted by her alter ego, Edward Kwan. “I didn't have a pacifier in my mouth. I had an eggroll.”
China Doll will distribute fortunes to the masses during FestivAsia as well as escort wayward shoppers through Kowloon Market, giving them a lesson on Asian ingredients and cookery along the way. “I am getting the itch to move out of my comfort zone,” she says, explaining her penchant for taking the Doll to the streets. “I like to expect the unexpected. I do it by the energy of the crowd, and that determines how I will position myself.”
FestivAsia allows China Doll the opportunity to interact with adults and children alike, and no two interactions are the same. “I can tell in the first 10 seconds who's gonna interact and who's gonna avoid me. It's human behaviour. Whether they engage, explore or walk away, it's fine as long as I elicit some emotions.”
Beyond their penchant for the experimental and their love of public spaces, China Doll and Nuotio say they have found more common ground in their draw to FestivAsia: they’re both looking forward to a lot of cute, shirtless dads.
Saturdays till Sept 1
Glenn Nuotio appears:
Sat, Aug 4 at 2pm
The Daily Grind Café
601 Somerset St W
China Doll appears:
Sat, July 28 at 1pm and Sat, Aug 25 at 1:30pm
Raw Sugar Café
692 Somerset St W
Sat, Sept 1 at 12:30pm
712 Somerset St W