'New World Beat' Sings the Praises of Some of Toronto's Most Exciting Musicians

Created by Michael Tobin

Starring Lydia Persaud, The Weather Station, James Baley, Charlotte Cornfield, Chippy Nonstop, DijahSB, Kevin Wong, Alex Samaras, Erez Zobary, Emily Steinwall, Kyla Charter, the OBGMs

Photo: Jared Raab

BY Nathan ChizenPublished Mar 27, 2024


Lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks has existed since television immemorial. Some music heads argue that it's the charm of staples like Top of the Pops and awards show performances. But docuseries New World Beat highlights the fact that its artists are performing live: "no lip-syncing, no overdubs. I'm talking live, people," O'Pears member and host Lydia Persaud narrates in each episode's introduction.

With roughly six performances housed in each episode, New World Beat spotlights 17 of Toronto's local staples and rising stars. When not performing, bands like indie folk powerhouse the Weather Station and Polaris Music Prize nominee DijahSB pull up, while emerging talents Mingjia and Sebastian Javier share their creative processes. For New World Beat, the creativity of the artists featured is its driving force, with their live performances steering the series. While there may be a wrong note occasionally, it quickly recovers thanks to showrunner Michael Tobin's eclectic guidance.

Across six roughly 45-minute episodes, Persaud sits with a beautiful collection of artists, conversing, chatting, collaborating and even cooking with them. As inquisitive as her music is soulful, Persaud is wholly present with the artists she shares the screen with. They range from musical theatre composer Kevin Wong to Densil McFarlane of punk rock outfit the OBGMs.

Each artist is in their element, literally, as they speak with Persaud in spaces important to them, which often double as their performance space for the series as well. These live performances are the crux of New World Beat, with Tobin and a super group of cinematographers harmonizing to capture each artist's unique essence.

Alex Samaras performs in a black and white boxed frame that mirrors videos of his mentor. James Baley commands the screen as he stares into the lens, strutting down the aisles of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. Chippy Nonstop is shot from above and below in her apartment, the polish that covers the rest of the series replaced by a handheld camera that more resembles her inviting, DIY spirit.

Their performances are memorable and varied, balancing between traditional performance coverage and music video-like approaches. Masterful audio engineering rivals its upstanding direction, with tracks sounding as clear as they would in a studio. New World Beat, unlike many of its contemporaries, feels new. Like featured artists Emily Steinwall and Tara Kannangara, the series almost moves to the beat of jazz.

Tobin riffs on the tropes of the music docuseries, improvising new ways to engage with artists. A misunderstanding with the Weather Station's Tamara Lindeman leads to a documentary-within-a-documentary about the Leslie Street Spit; Persaud hosts a loop pedal 'masterclass' with Kyla Charter; Erez Zobary makes a traditional Jewish-Yemenite brunch. The series rejects the typical structure that music television inspires, flowing between performances and interviews when verses and clips are at their most poignant.

New World Beat understands that music is more than an ephemeral collection of sounds. It's the result of countless contextual clues. The scene, many artists recognize, is just as important as the music they create, if not more so. While getting into these matters, some hiccups arise as New World Beat sings. An artist may briefly appear out of focus, or the series may jarringly cut to another artist.

While there may be some occasional technical issues, its bold approach to capturing the essence of each artist hits a high note. New World Beat is best played loud, and, like so many solid debuts, a follow-up cannot come soon enough.


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