We Are One

My good friend, artist and collaborator Sjimon Gompers invited me to write an essay for Impose Magazine. Thank you for the headline feature.

Week In Pop Feature

While much of our coverage focuses on the superstars of today & tomorrow—this week’s cover story takes you behind the scenes to explore the praxis & passions from one of the industry’s top influencer. Lending further truth to the fact that behind your favorite artist is a very powerful & proud woman is Lueda Alia of Smoke & Mirrors consulting, Inc. who penned an exclusive editorial reflecting on the histories of the world & scenes that are both personal & at the same time universal.

Having worked extensively with groups & artists such as Doomtree, Gambles, Sun Glitters & countless more—the Albania by London, Ontario visionary provides approaches that extend outside the conventions of PR/A&R/consulting/brand development/marketing respectively through humanist & spiritual methods. Working in worlds that are not principally concerned with the tired constructs of campaign outlines, press placements & bottom line figure fixations—Lueda’s industry operations revolve around a genuine care for everyone from the artist, their imprint, the journalist & all the people along the way who are often forgotten about. Alia has been actively creating a whole revolutionary approach to international artistry reinforcement where the concept of care for the arts, care for the artists & everyone involved contrasts with the dizzying soul-crushing nature of the behemoth that are the media machines of which the world is inundated with. Not one to ever settle or accept the entertainment industry’s own well-documented shrugged history of necessary evils & obsolete gatekeepers; Lueda preaches an inspiring gospel of self-care & global enrichment obtained through intuitive & psychic expressions of unlimited encouragement. Lueda Alia leads both inquirers & artists alike to the threshold of tomorrow by doing things her way with visions of a limitless & prosperous tomorrow—as illustrated extensively in the following generous feature for thought.

We Are One

Why Now?

Change begins with ourselves. This is mine. We are currently living in a beautiful moment in time, for we are giving birth to a new paradigm. Together.

Fame and money are not real. But we are. It is important for people like me to not be erased from history, as our names often are.

And if we are to continue existing, then we must prioritize each other, and our collaborations, over competition; the latter is but an illusion and construct of a dying system. As the motto of one of my biggest loves, Doomtree, states: ‘No kings!’ We are it—the ones we have been waiting for.

My life is proof of the power of people and the magic of love—the foundation of art itself, the living. For us, there are no limits. And together, we are unstoppable.

‘We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing in this minute.’ — Buenaventura Durruti


Doomtree — No Kings

What do I do?

I was only 14 years old when I came to Canada with my mother in 2001, after having lived through terrible experiences in a country that had been falling apart. I had dealt with immense trauma the 4 years before moving. When I arrived, I was often afraid to go outside. Music was all I had for many years, and I was able to connect with like-minded people on music based Internet forums that had just begun to spring up. I think it is safe to say that I would not be alive today had it not been for music and my online friends. For that reason, I have always felt immense gratitude toward artists and had the desire to give back and invest in them the way I felt they had invested in my life through their art.

That brings me to what I do today.

In a nutshell, I like to nurture and grow artists, humans. I have worked different roles in the music industry for over 10 years from this tiny city in Ontario, Canada; but the internet allowed me to overcome physical borders, and most of my work has been focused in the US and Europe. I am and have been a writer, editor, publicist, manager, agent—list goes on!—but I believe mentor and consultant are more fitting descriptions of what I have to offer. I have also recently embraced the term artist for myself as art comes in many different forms and I like to think of what I do as art. Simultaneously, I have worked in research and mental health for almost as long, which has helped give me a wider perspective on human nature. Most of my time is spent reading books on psychology, spirituality, philosophy, history and writing in the company of my cats.

Currently, I work with artists from all walks of life through my own creative agency, Smoke & Mirrors Consulting, Inc., which allows me to be hands on with any given project and put all the moving pieces together to create a big picture type of campaign. There are no titles, the aim is to simply create meaningful art that will hopefully resonate with and inspire its audience. I started Smoke & Mirrors because I had become disillusioned with the music industry and I wanted to do more with artists. More of what I have always loved: to nurture and help artists grow with a holistic approach and no limitations—much like old school record labels. I did not know how anything would manifest, but I knew I wanted to combine my worlds: psychology and art. The death of Elliott Smith shook me to my core when I was a young teenager, and I felt helpless knowing there was nothing I could have done to help this person whose music had meant so much to me when I needed it most. Musicians like him inspired this trajectory—wanting to play my part to help artists, for their art has saved my life and kept me sane throughout the years.

I tend to see in artists—and people in general—what they do not yet see in themselves, and I try to bring that out when we collaborate together. I push them to stretch the limits of the way they express themselves, for they are humans first and foremost. I do not believe in titles or ideologies, our consciousness is far too rich and fluid for either. Usually when artists show me a new project, my first question is, ‘Where did this come from and what else is there?’ Because I feel there is much we keep hidden out of fear from the reactions of those around us. But without allowing the internal to exist externally, we are always bound to be prisoners of our own doing. I see art as an innate part of ourselves that is itching to live outside of our bodies, especially when we are reluctant to embrace it in our daily lives. This is a duality experienced by us all, which artists bring to light.

There are forces which exist to convince us to suppress our humanity to better serve the needs of the machine, and it is incredibly vital that we reconnect with it. Psychologist Carl Jung often speaks of the importance of embracing what lies beneath and integrating that in our journey—I feel the reasons behind this are self-explanatory, for how can we be whole if we are only operating at half capacity? And if we cannot be our true selves, then who will? We are all artists in our own way when we find the courage to embrace and live out our authenticity. ‘Please keep creating!’ is what I tell everyone. I cannot emphasize the importance of expressing ourselves enough. Being an artist is not a job title—it is simply BE-ing, in truth.

‘You are inside my head’ is something I often hear from people I work and interact with. Especially when I help create narratives in a language other people will understand—for the truths that live in the depths of their soul—completely transforming the way any campaign looks. I do not believe in doing things the way they have always been done. I like to create and innovate, and that is not going to happen if we blindly follow the status quo about what to do or how to proceed. We must look within, which is where an infinite well of creativity and answers lies.

The disconnect that exists within our individual selves is now reflected in the society at large, for the state of the world is a simple reflection of the collective. Everywhere I look, I see people lost within themselves, locked to their devices and unable to connect with each other. The only way to move forward and out of this mess is to embrace all aspects of ourselves that make us whole, and that includes our shadow—the parts of ourselves we have deemed to be unlovable and have thus buried in our unconscious. This suppression of self tends to always lead to issues that plague our lives. How could we ever hope to know and love anyone else if we are unable to do that with the person closest to us—ourselves?

When we are able to look at ourselves with complete honesty and compassion, we gain the freedom to act consciously and make decisions that benefit not just us, but humanity as a whole. Our world is in dire need of healthy individuals who are able to keep fighting and lead this new paradigm. I see this in my own mother who, undeterred by burdens, always greets every challenge with a sense of grit and determination unique to healthy, persevering human beings. Despite what we are witnessing on a daily basis, I have an incredible amount of hope. Nothing can ever break the human spirit, especially if we build with love to protect our humanity and the planet. I know what we are capable of.

My soul is rooted in a place of love and understanding, and I feel that in itself allows artists to collaborate with me more freely. I always make it clear to them: this is not a job, this is my life and I am here to create, not sell. Where people see an opportunity to make profit, I see the possibility to help humans reach their full potential and make a difference in the world.

And through art, that becomes reality.

Art speaks the loudest because it is the most raw expression of humanity.

Art, living in truth, is the most beautiful act of rebellion.

And I am thankful I get to live this dream—one that came to life through the love of my beautiful mother who has believed in me since day one, my family in Europe who have always stood by me, my incredible girl-friends in Australia who have helped me build every project, industry friends and other creatives who never miss an opportunity to help by offering their talents, and a community of art lovers who always support me every step of the way. Without them, none of this would have been possible.

We have the tendency to want to be seen as the ‘genius who made it on their own!’ because we feel as though this is proof of strength and capability; but on the contrary, it shows the inability to recognize one simple truth: no man is an island—we all receive help along the way and it is important to recognize the individuals who have played a part in our evolution. It is love and gratitude that show the depths of our character. And it is kindness and compassion toward the living that keep the wheel spinning, despite what the powers that be, and this poisonous system, may want us to believe. The brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers who stood for peace and freedom at Tiananmen Square, the vigilant voices of Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter, the advocates for free and open access like Aaron Swartz, and many others, have all fought for our right to be time and time again. Our collective history is proof there is so much beauty in people coming together, for when they do, the most incredible and unimaginable things happen.

A truly sovereign being does not crave personal validation because they possess vision: we are all interconnected.

We Are One.

Sun Glitters

Image still from Sun Glitters’ visual album It Will Be Forever.

Some of my work:

My friend and artist Daniel Ahearn invited me to be a part of projects such as Hot Girls Wanted, the Netflix documentary produced by Rashida Jones, and the film The Ever After, directed by Mark Webber, for which he and Moby wrote the score. I collaborated with Gambles (Matthew Daniel Siskin) on the complete production of his project Vicious Times, where I pushed both his and my own boundaries to create something brutally honest. If I had to pick a project that helped transform my life, that would be it—he gave me the freedom to be myself and I was able to find my own voice throughout that journey. In 2015, I helped run and rebrand Emancipator’s label Loci Records and we reached the iTunes top charts and Reddit’s front page together. Last year, I was the creative producer for Sun Glitters’ film It Will Be Forever and its digital production—another project where I pushed both the artist and myself to create in a way we never had before. He would also become one of the first artists to fully and publicly acknowledge my role and contributions (thank you, Victor Ferriera). I brought to digital life my friend Liana Kegley’s Cosmic Vagina world for her mind-bending album Subterranean Penetration. Liana is an incredible artist and visionary who wants to use music as a form of healing (she also does amazing things at Totokaelo in Seattle). And I currently work with many artists in various roles, including award-winning musician Arnór Dan and multi-instrumentalist Stèv, one of Italy’s most innovative artists.

Vicious Times

From Vicious Times, courtesy of Gambles.

In conversation with Love

I feel lost, all I see is darkness. Destruction. Lives ruined. An environment dying. The world I once knew is lost. People, lost in all the wrong things. And in themselves. Superficially, as they clutch onto their masks ever so tightly.

‘What is the point?’ I ask myself. ‘Why do I continue to put myself through this?’ The dreams I had to change the world seem to have evaporated—like the dying oceans and the melting ice-caps of the arctic—disappearing from my view.

‘How naïve,’ I tell myself, ‘to think I could really make a positive dent in this mess.’

My head continues to tell me that I’m powerless, that I should settle for what is and to give up hope because there is none to be found. My vision focuses on the pills by my side. ‘There is no life!’ . It all feels over, I’m only keeping myself on life support. ‘And for what?’ I ask myself continuously. I begin to slip more, and the world only grows darker. I have given up—on everything, on myself. I’m fading.

But as I lay down, two of my cats jump on the bed. ‘How incredible’ I think, ‘to live in the moment and not worry about what tomorrow may bring.’ As I watched these two tiny beings jump around on my bed, I feel something I had almost forgotten: Love. Tears begin to roll down on my face as I observe their affection. It’s unquestioned, unconditional.

Nothing is wrong. Everything is right. I am alive. What I feel inside, lives. The crushing pain exists but so does this light inside of me that refuses to go out. All it takes is a reminder to help me remember, that it is still here. She wants to radiate. The rest does not matter. Come what may.

Suddenly, I hear a voice. ‘You’re a little particle of me, keeping everything in balance’ the Universe spoke. ‘Why would you be here if there was no reason for you to exist?’

I am stumped. This is the voice of my heart. But this other thing in my head—the despair—tries to intervene, it tells me my existence is futile, nothing good will come out of this. ‘Now, now’ the Universe speaks again, ‘Don’t you see? You matter. Through you, I have a vessel to express the infinite love that exists in the cosmos. Through you, I expand in the physical. Through you, I evolve.’

‘I need more love in my life,’ I say. ‘I can’t do this on my own. I can’t love any more than I already do’ I cry out.

I hear a laugh.

‘But how can I give you that which you already are? Be love! And ask yourself, what would Love do?’

‘What would love do?’ I repeat the question to myself. ‘What could love do?’

‘Follow me’ the voice says, ‘and I’ll show you.’


I think of my cats. Their sheer presence radiated love. It infected me.

‘Love’ I whispered to myself, ‘It just needs to exist. To be 

present. And Love will do what it is meant to.’

I feel the light within grow bigger by the minute.

I feel love in the air I breathe.

I feel hope, for something I cannot see or touch but is very much real, alive inside of me.

I stand up, I grab the pills and drain them in the toilet.

I sip water.

The Sun rays begin to peek through my window. Sunshine.

‘There is still life here,’ I realize, ‘Love is life.’

The West, The Other, The Rat Race

‘There is no justice in following unjust laws..’

Grey skies, the air is thick and heavy.

Explosions are heard, near and far. Blackouts, power outages.

Food shortageshunger.

No clean water, panic.

No stars to be seen.

When there are no basic necessities, there is no life. You love home, but there is no life at home.  It’s being torn to shreds, every day. Just like you.

And you begin to dream, to escape the reality in which you now find yourself under.

It all happened so quickly.

Civil war, revolution, unrest of any kind was not in the cards. It was only yesterday that life made sense – the skies were blue, clear. Children were playing outside, the sun shining.


As you dream, you are told there is a better life–somewhere out there. It must be true, because you’ve seen it in Hollywood movies. There are freedoms, equality–somewhere out there. Where human life is appreciated to the fullest. Where every child truly has a chance at a beautiful life, to shine.

If you work for it, it’s all yours–heaven on earth, The American Dream.

And so many do. Under dire conditions, often in war.

Families work for years and generations to provide the opportunity for someone, anyone in their family, to live to the fullest.

For their offspring to be able to enjoy the riches of life. To carry on.

To be able to breathe, fully and without fear.

And they invest it all. Their lives.

For this world, the one you and I reside in so freely, The American Dream.

A world built on half truths and division–for everyone, but especially the ‘other.’

When the ‘other’ arrives and is recognized as being part of the system, the ‘other’ is tagged with number 9 on their Social Insurance Number. In so many words, it means ‘alien.’ Employers, school districts–all institutional systems–are well aware of the number. They don’t allow the ‘other’ into their schools. They don’t hire the ‘other.’ Why would they open the doors for and invest in the temporary? So many permanent citizens waiting for an opportunity.

The ‘other’ is told to establish themselves. They’re told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Like everyone else.

But from scratch. With obstacles every step of the way, and fear–of their uncertain future in the new world and threats of deportation. Because if they can’t buy their way in, they must prove themselves worthy to be on this land.

To live.

And without history. Because they must begin anew. (We don’t like real history here, it’s boring.)

In the name of ‘multi-culturalism.’ In the name of creating a ‘mosaic’ or ‘melting pot.’ (By creating cookie cutter, pre-defined norms and character traits for everyone to choose from and live by?)

But everywhere, they’re an ‘other.’ No effort can disguise skin colour, culture, the heart and mind. And now status within the system. They are officially an other.

No one wants them.

Their achievements, accomplishments, existence–everything is irrelevant in the new world. Their entire lives and history erased. Because it didn’t happen in this world. And by design, it ceases to matter.

(But we ended up with intellectual cab drivers, and all is well.)

They are told they might not be hired because they sound different. There is no language barrier. They just sound different. They don’t have an accent one is accustomed to. Their culture and way of living are bizarre. There is no mainstream representation of their kind and being, or even their cuisine (if it was any good, it would be well known in an age of globalism). They don’t make sense, they are truly foreign–alien foreign. That could pose a problem.

And it does. Every step of the way.

They are told to give up every fibre of their being which sets them apart, what actually makes them different–what makes them, them. Their differences and way of thinking are held against them the same way everyone else’s are–to divide and conquer, in the name of unity.

They are welcome, as long as they conform to the one and true way of life.  It’s how we got to enjoy the riches of life: The American Dream.

Slowly, the ‘other’ begins to understand it’s not personal–these rules exist, they eat the young, because the ‘dream’ must be kept alive. It sounds reasonable for a nation and culture to want to preserve itself.

What about theirs?

And at what cost to yours?


The natural distribution is neither just nor unjust; nor is it unjust that persons are born into society at some particular position. These are simply natural facts. What is just and unjust is the way that institutions deal with these facts.

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice

And then you realize.

The only reason they’re here is because of your world and your way of life. Your justice, your dream. They’re just trying to live save theirs-the one the West sold them, for decades. Where no one is safe anywhere, and nothing is what it seems to be.

And how could it be?

When one is not allowed to embrace their real identity, we end up with a world full of Instagram filters instead of real photographs. Hollowness. In the name of perfection–a personality or a nation–we sacrifice real beauty and growth.

Like the beautiful planet we live on.

We destroy all things that make sense about ourselves and the world.

Welcome to the West.

The rat race.

We are now on the same sinking boatfor sale.



Humans: Art is the Living

There will be no announcement.

When it happens to you, there is no time to ask ‘What?’ or ‘How?’

You run.

Because you didn’t consider this to be a reality other than a ‘distant dystopian future one day maybe’—you didn’t prepare, you will only react.  But it will be too late. Like most humanity throughout history, you stay put until it’s too late, ‘because it could never happen here, not like that.’

Rest assured, you are not alone in feeling this way. It’s the way of the human psyche.

Germans, rest of Europe, Asia and the world—all of humanity in the past thousand years would agree. Stick your fingers in your ears, or play your favourite tune, log into virtual reality and repeat: ‘It will never happen here.’

But it happened there, everywhere. And it will here.

For as long as we continue to be reactionary.

For as long as we keep expecting ‘things to work themselves out.’

For as long as we continue to be cowards who wait on others for salvation instead of doing our own part—daily.

For as long as we keep actively ignoring the independent voices (the ‘crazies’) as we always have.

There is no magical God or superhero waiting to fix this mess.

We are all leaning on an invisible moral pillar.

It’s just you and me.

Can we stare fate in the face and stop playing house? Because we won’t have a roof over our heads before we know it.

This requires great sacrifices, like most things worth doing.

It might require you to unplug from the very system you’re feeding—the one that’s slowly chipping away at you, your relationships (all kinds), your family, your neighbourhood, your city, state, your nation—your life.

Our vanity, lust for fame and wealth, the cult of self, ‘top dog’ mentality and the relentless competitiveness (to no avail)—it is no less destructive to us and our societies than the jihadists that scare us shitless.

Who needs terrorists when we can self-destruct with such speed, so gloriously?

Mirrors can be scary, even when you feel fine. But you always have to look, because you want to make sure you look fine.

So take a look.

It’s the ‘survival of the fittest’ here—a term that has been bastardized and utilized by the very people it applies to the least: the apes of society, the self absorbed, the cowards with no character, the leeches, the liars, ‘the cutthroat businessmen’ who don’t know the first thing about business or the world. They all lack depth, emotional intelligence and the core essence of humanity: love and compassion.

But together, with them, we have created a vacuum. Because in greed, gluttony and lust we decided to dance along. We are not just enabling. We are creating alongside them a psychologically, financially, and environmentally unsustainable world.

For a paycheck.

For a false sense of (temporary) ‘good life,’ safety and security.

So we can fulfill our own version of  the ‘American Dream’ anywhere we are despite how deadly it turned out to be for all.

Sadism dominates the culture. It runs like an electric current through reality television and trash-talk programs, is at the core of pornography, and fuels the compliant, corporate collective. Corporatism is about crushing the capacity for moral choice and diminishing the individual to force him or her into an ostensibly harmonious collective. This hypermasculinity has its logical fruition in Abu Ghraib, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our lack of compassion for our homeless, our poor, the mentally ill, the unemployed, and the sick. … We accept the system handed to us and seek to find a comfortable place within it. We retreat into the narrow, confined ghettos created for us and shut our eyes to the deadly superstructure of the corporate state.

Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Trump did not start this fire.

It was already burning, in the open. But we dismissed it, and we let it burn—from the safety of our own glass houses.

Now it’s too late.

Trump is answering people’s calls and cries. He’s speaking to the desperate and vulnerable like many have throughout history.

Like Hitler did.

It could be Trump. It could be anyone. Names don’t matter.

None of this happened overnight. If you didn’t see this coming, that’s the real tragedy: that history repeats itself. And why?

Because ‘we all know about how men like Hitler rise to power and it can’t happen here.’

But do we?

Do we really know that much about our societies, the world, nature, and more importantly, ourselves? Do we take the time to learn how it all intersects, affects and influences our daily behaviours, thoughts, and us?

Be honest with yourself.

We’ve barely just begun to scratch the surface.

I know because we create this beast—the death of humanity—time and time again. The same one we, humans, keep meeting throughout history. It doesn’t exist without us.

We created it, with our own two hands.

I know you see it.

Because nothing exists in a bubble.

And you’re not that dumb.

We made our own bed.

And that’s why the most retrograde forces of American capitalism are so enthusiastic about the Christian Right, because if Jesus is going to protect you, you don’t need health insurance, you don’t need a labor union, you don’t need a living wage. So it’s been a deeply destructive force, generated out of the South where a lot of economic despair resides, but it’s certainly pervasive now throughout the entire country. And you know traditional journalism is to give voice to those who, without your presence, would not have a voice; that’s why we have journalism. It’s not even a religious tenet, necessarily. Journalism is not about amplifying the voice of the powerful or celebrities. Then you’re a courtier, you’re not a journalist.

Misery’s Reply: A Conversation with Chris Hedges on Religion, Poverty, and Crime

I type this as I see ‘end of the year lists’ and ‘award shows’ all over the internet. None offer anything new or inspiring. We all acknowledge this, but we keep up the pretence and we engage full time (really, we love art though). And like anything in life, we will come up with a half baked excuse as to why—to justify it to ourselves, because it keeps us from facing the real music.

We have created an echo chamber which only serves the needs and objectives of the rich. All while we let real art, humans, which create the only culture worth having, wither away and die.

We all have our reasons, right? We can’t unplug because [insert slew of reasons here]. I say this with no resentment. I say it with sadness because I know it to be everyone’s truth. But when do we stop rationalizing this nonsense?

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 9.58.48 AM

George Ritzer,  The McDonaldization of Society

At this point in time, we are trapped. But we don’t have to make it worse.

Can we try to make this pleasant? While we still can? Can we hear one last beautiful song in case our Titanic sinks?

If you have an audience, it’s on you to play that beautiful song for the people—to make them feel alive. And if you don’t like the responsibility, then you don’t deserve the audience or the power that comes with it.

If you want to do your part, begin today.

Begin by looking at other humans with love and compassion. We are all struggling and lonely in the digital age.

Begin by picking up a piece of art that you would normally not pay attention to, for it is the only way the world will keep spinning with any humanity in it.

Begin by appreciating the creations of others without making it about you. There is beauty all around, everywhere.

Begin by celebrating the achievements of the regular Joe, and of each other. Our ‘mundane’ lives are what’s worth celebrating—yours and mine.

Begin by giving a platform to those who need you most—not your fetishized heroes. Be the voice of the unheard.

Whatever you do—

Stop feeding the beast. It won’t spare you.

Love is justice.

I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for me.

Credit: Nate Dushku


My country, Albania, erupted after the ‘pyramid schemes’ that left its citizens crippled.

I was 10 years old.

I could not attend school, any longer. I could not safely step outside, any longer. I could not see my friends, any longer.

I could not be, any longer.

I once saw a man get shot to death in front of me. I ran home knowing anyone could storm into the house at anytime, kill every single soul, and lay claim to the ‘space.’

Shootings outside the front door, loud explosives going off and people dying everywhere. Terror was the norm. Sleepless nights and delirious days were now the way of life.


The war in Kosovo was in full effect. Millions of Albanian Kosovars flooded Albania, the Balkans, and eventually, the rest of the world.

We were poor, in Albania. We had no money and barely any materialistic goods; the country had been robbed.

But when Kosovars came, we opened our homes.

We opened our hearts.

We shared what little pie we had because food always tastes better in the company of the living and laughter.


Albania was occupied by the Axis powers. Fear was in the air.

It didn’t deter them from protecting their Jews.

It didn’t deter them from taking in and protecting ‘other’ Jews, who were escaping discrimination and/or death everywhere else. Muslims in Albania risked their lives to protect Jews.

They opened their hearts.

‘This concept of Besa (faith) in a little country (like Albania) has something to tell the world. That’s why it’s so important.’ [….] ‘We often remember courageous acts by individuals, but in this case it is an entire community, an entire group of people who acted according to their beliefs that prevented them from allowing another set of people being annihilated,’ she says. ‘And it was so rare at a time when the rest of the world was silent, including Canada.’

Brenda SudermanPhoto exhibit shines light on Muslims saving Jews

Albania had ~200 Jews within its borders before WWII. By the end of the war, it had ~2000.

The rest is history.


The present and our future.

We are all citizens of the world. We are all living beings on this planet. With every right to breathe its air and drink its water. It isn’t anybody’s to claim or take away.

Open your hearts.


Love when it makes no sense to.

Love is the only way to be alive.

Happy Thanksgiving, Eh

My 14th year in Canada, and my 13th Thanksgiving. Half of my life has been spent in this country I now call home. It has helped shape me, given me opportunities, and it has also shown me how fragile the fabric of any society can be, despite its greatness. I would make this a call for action, but many people have already expressed my feelings far more eloquently than I.

I’d much rather give thanks.

Thank you patriarchy for fooling (some) men into believing they are better than women by default, as it only made me work harder and smarter.

Thank you capitalism for making it clear how corrupt and dysfunctional the system is, as you have saved me a lot of time and money.

Above all, thank you to my friends for showing me that what truly matters are the people, my attitude and spirit — without, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Islam, Censorship and the Real Threat to Our Freedom of Speech



Within hours of the tragic and deadly attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, millions of sympathetic individuals worldwide had offered their condolences to the families of the deceased and denounced radical Islamists for their continued attacks on the most precious of all Western liberties: freedom of speech. The tragedy sparked a massive outcry throughout the Western world, and drove thousands of cartoonists, writers, and news organizations to publish a wide array of satirical comics (many depicting the Muslim prophet, Muhammad) in a show of solidarity with their French colleagues.

Today, it was announced that the first edition of Charlie Hebdo to be published since the attacks will depict another image of the prophet Muhammad on its cover.

I have spent the past few days reading about the aftermath in France, Europe and the rest of the world, and the consequences that innocent Muslims here in Canada and elsewhere are dealing with, by being judged, discriminated against and grouped with extremists because of association alone. As the story kept unfolding, I began to feel more and more disturbed by the discrimination I came across on every medium that discussed the attack. In recent times, it has become a commonly-accepted idea that our freedom of speech is under attack by radical Islam. Heartbreaking events, such as the attack in Paris, serve as a platform upon which the public can rally against a common enemy. And while I wholeheartedly support the sentiment of wanting to protect our liberties, I can’t, in good conscience, ignore the regular instances in our everyday lives in which our ability to speak freely is challenged.

The fact is, for the overwhelming majority of us, radical Islam actually represents the smallest of all current threats to our freedom of speech.

Recently, an article published on the New York Times revealed the following terrifying findings:

Some 75 percent of respondents in countries classified as “free,” 84 percent in “partly free” countries, and 80 percent in countries that were “not free” said that they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about government surveillance in their countries.

Smaller numbers said they avoided or considered avoiding writing or speaking on certain subjects, with 34 percent in countries classified as free, 44 percent in partly free countries and 61 percent in not free countries reporting self-censorship. Respondents in similar percentages reported curtailing social media activity, or said they were considering it, because of surveillance.

Jennifer SchuesslerWriters Say They Feel Censored By Surveillance

But it’s not just the government, either. It’s regular people like you and I who stifle free speech. We have structured systems, industries, and social institutions in such a way as to make it difficult, if not impossible, to exercise free speech and challenge the status quo.

When was the last time you spoke freely about a controversial issue in the workplace without feeling nervous, or fearing repercussion?

Civil liberties don’t disappear overnight, with a single attack. They are slowly, pervasively, and systematically eroded away over time. The massive public outcry in the wake of the Paris attack has been encouraging, but where are the marches denouncing the government’s ever-tightening grip on our vocal chords?

Are we less scared of Islamic militants than our own governments?

Stephanie Charbonnier (better known as Charb, the chief editor of Charlie Hebdo) said in an interview two years ago, “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” This statement has resonated with me more than I could ever have imagined, and has forced me to re-evaluate my own beliefs and values. I grew up in an isolated country [Albania] suffering at the hands of a terrible dictatorship that had plagued its people for more than four decades. While my memories of my childhood are foggy, few things have remained as clear in my mind as the sense of helplessness and fear Albanians felt every day, and how that all changed when they stood up united and fought for their freedom in the early ’90s. From that moment on, things were never the same. As one of my favourite artists and activists said:

Once you’ve tasted freedom, it stays in your heart and no one can take it. Then, you can be more powerful than a whole country.

Ai Weiwei, Never Sorry

Political opinions aside, I applaud anyone who has been brave enough to speak out after the attack — I find their courage inspiring. However, it is important not to delude ourselves into thinking that all we have to do to protect freedom is to stand up united when it is threatened by “outsiders.” It is vital that we take a stand in our day-to-day lives, and put the idea of freedom of speech into action. After all, a freedom that solely exists within our minds is not a real freedom.

Poverty, Discrimination, and Social Injustice: This Is About More Than Racism


Kena Betancur / Getty

“With great power comes great responsibility…”

I came to North America when I was 14 years old, but I had been dreaming of America, “the land of freedom and equality,” ever since I was a child. To a country like mine, America represented the way life should be, where everyone was treated equally, fairly, and had the same opportunities to excel in life. It’s because of my love affair with the United States since I was a child (to this day, most of my professional and many of my personal ties lie there), that I feel the need to speak out regarding the current issue of racism and inequality  that has deeply affected many people.

I have been asking myself, “Is this going to make a difference? Will sharing my voice really change anything?” There’s an inherent helplessness and powerlessness that I, and many others, face regarding what is happening. But change cannot happen if I continuously expect others to take the lead or to speak out for me. It matters that I speak out — it matters that everyone speaks out.

The death of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager in Florida who was shot to death for “looking suspicious” in a white neighborhood, once again brought to the surface the issue of racism in the United States, and, ultimately, provided a platform for the disenfranchised African-American community to speak out about institutionalized racism. This case has had a ripple effect since, with race becoming the elephant in the room that the United States as a country seems powerless to address. His death has been followed by the deaths of two other, unarmed, black people in 2014: teenager Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. Their deaths, similar to Martin’s, have deepened the wide racial divide stemming from the United States’ history of slavery and discrimination.

It is no coincidence that these events have sparked such a visceral reaction when one considers the poor economic state of the country at large, which typically pushes oppressed groups to find a scapegoat for their difficult living conditions. This behavior can be observed in many countries around the world: Greece, with the downturn of its economy and subsequent rise of radical right-wing political party Golden Dawn, is the most obvious example in the Western world, but it is hardly an isolated case. Similarly, it is no coincidence that radical Islamic groups emerged in the Middle East following Western military intervention that devastated the region, or that Hitler’s Nazis were able to turn Germany’s population against Jews during an economic depression.

A population is most susceptible to extremism when it feels that its survival is threatened through poverty and systemic failures. In 2012, 35% of black people were living in poverty, compared to 13% of white people. African-American culture is not inherently poor, problematic or inferior — rather, it is the economic system itself that has failed the black community.  It is of utmost importance to recognize this simple fact, because the system is slowly failing us, tooGiven the United States’ role on a global scale, it is crucial  for the country as a whole to address the deep and divisive issues within its borders, as it cannot lead other nations if it can’t even lead its own.

The America that I knew as a child is not the America that I know today, but not all hope is lost. The people protesting in Chicago, Ferguson, New York City and other cities, give me hope and the courage to speak out.  The system in place has been broken from the very beginning and it might take entire generations to fully address, but there is no better time to start than now.

Unless we, the citizens of the world, can rebuild the very foundation of our societies, we might never have the luxury of living in a world where social injustice, racism and poverty cease to exist.

Penises, Butts, and Gossip: Why Modern Journalism Sucks

My social media feeds are full of rants (and often snarky comments) from frustrated people in the entertainment industry. What worked so well for many years suddenly doesn’t seem to work anymore. Distribution of music has never been easier (Soundcloud, BandCamp, Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, etc.) and there are more publications, magazines, and blogs than ever before. Why, then, is it so difficult to secure artists and brands the exposure they deserve?

Well. The past two weeks, publications have been busy publishing articles on Kim Kardashian’s butt and Lorde’s “feud” with Diplo regarding his “tiny penis”:

The Guardian
Taylor swift ‘booty’ diss by Diplo inspires Lorde’s wrath

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Diplo Disses Taylor Swift’s Butt, Lorde Follows Up With the Perfect Comeback

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The Huffington Post Entertainment
Lorde Totally Owns Diplo After He Disses Taylor Swift on Twitter

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Rolling Stone
The Everything Index: Kim Kardashian’s Pavlovian Posterior Experiment

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Fact Magazine
Diplo Prompts Gross Taylor Swift Kickstarter; Gets Shamed By Lorde For His ‘Tiny Penis’

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CNN Entertainment
Make fun of Taylor Swift? Not on Lorde’s watch

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Lorde Perfectly Disses Diplo After He Insults Taylor Swift

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Lord explains her Diplo ‘tiny penis’ comment

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NY Daily News
Lorde defends Taylor Swift, disses Diplo’s “tiny penis” on Twitter

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Fox News Entertainment
Katy Perry’s boyfriend Diplo disses Taylor Swift’s butt; Lorde disses Diplo’s manhood

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Asses of Fire: Why Kim Kardashian’s Magazine Shoot Failed to ‘Break the Internet’

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Lorde Clarifies Comment About Kim Kardashian’s Butt

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Lorde says Kim Kardashian cover of Paper magazine is ‘pure heaven’

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Getting to the Bottom of Kim Kardashian’s Alien Appeal

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Time Magazine
Kim Kardashian’s Butt Is an Empty Promise

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I could go on for hours with similar examples, but you get the point. Instead of using these platforms, which reach millions of people, to promote and reward deserving individuals for their skills and talents, the relentless pursuit of advertising revenue has pushed us to cover gossip about butts and penises.

We get it —

Kim Kardashian has a huge ass, and Lorde made fun of Diplo in a hilarious way. And that’s a great way to get people to click on your website! Great, now writers and journalists are using wasting their skills writing about ludicrous and irrelevant stories, and all is well.

It’s easy to poke fun at these publications for struggling to adapt to technology and the internet. In order to remain relevant and make money, they have opted to become TMZ-esque because it’s easy and it works. But I can’t see this being a long-term solution, because all of these publications are becoming mirror images of each other and nothing more.

One of these days, we will start to care about journalistic integrity once more. We will begin to write stories that deserve to be shared with the rest of the world, and we’ll reward people who have earned the exposure through hard work and creativity and not through their fame. But that day is not today. And thus, everyone (artists and publicists included) needs to adapt the way they work in order to succeed.

The Bystander Effect (Or Why We’re All Responsible)

Within the past two weeks, Kesha has sued producer Dr. Luke for sexual assault and battery, and now 8+ women are coming forward to discuss their horrific encounters with Jian Ghomeshi. While I feel for the victims and wish for them to get the justice they deserve, I feel far more anger and disappointment toward all of us — the bystanders.

The fact that we allow these things to happen and simply turn a blind eye, often continuing our interactions with these predators as if nothing has happened, is utterly depressing and disgusting. The worst part? It is to be expected, and none of it is shocking. Statistics show that we have all been there in a way or another — we have friends or loved ones who have gone through similar situations, or we have tried to sweep incidents under the rug, often because “it is not our business to get involved or comment on the situation,” making victims feel marginalized, lonely and hopeless when they should feel anything but.

We need to stop gravitating toward the myth that assault accusations are often perpetrated by scorned women against nice guys who do not deserve it, or that certain things are just “guy things and no harm was meant cause boys are just going to be boys.” We need to take into account the fact that assault and harassment happens regularly, and that will never change until these predators, who are often friends of yours and mine, are the ones who feel the shame, guilt and isolation.

Please stand up for your fellow colleague, friend, acquaintance or what-have-you, not only because they are someone’s sister, daughter or mother, but because they are a human being.