In the ’90s, years before the first iPod, I used to listen to the radio addictively in Montreal. My two favorite stations were ‘Mix 96’, which played mostly pop music and ‘Chom 97.7 Fm’, which played rock. On Sunday nights, I would get frustrated because Daniel Feist, a radio D.J., would have a several hour program called ‘Rhythms International’ playing World Beat music on Mix 96. I disliked the sound of ‘World Beat’. He was robbing me of hours of the pop and rock music I craved as a young teenager.
In the 2000’s, I was studying music at Concordia University. I was fascinated by music history, and wanted to soak it all in. I took Western Music History (1,000 years of Western Music), Jazz history, Music in Montreal, Rock and Roll and it’s Roots, and a one year course on the great jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus. Since I was addicted to music history, I had also ended up picking “World Beat”.
The “World Beat” class took place at the brilliant “Oscar Peterson Hall”, as it was known then, at the Loyola Campus of Concordia University. The professor was Daniel Feist. He had ruined my Sunday nights as a teenager and now I had voluntarily taken his one year course. Irony anyone?
Of course, I was the fool all along. It took years, but he opened me to that music of the world around the West. He didn’t quite achieve it on the radio with me, but it happened big time when he took the stage himself and told me and my classmates what we all needed to hear. Daniel Feist was right to work to expose that music in the ’90s. We were being spoon fed, as we are now, mainstream music from the biggest in the industry. Daniel Feist worked to show us a different way. In the 1980’s, as Daniel Feist once said in class, he got tired of hearing Madonna, Michael Jackson and Aerosmith on the radio.
He taught me and my classmates about Fela Kuti. We learnt about Miriam Makeba, Nusrat Ali Fateh Khan, The Buena Vista Social Club, Youssou N’Dour, Lady Black Mombazo, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, and many many many others, from all around the world. The very people he played on the radio for years became my new musical influences as a young adult and colors my world today.
Once a month, Professor Feist would arrange for a live performance from different artists, for after all, the class took place in a great concert Hall. We even watched a great Bob Marley documentary at the Oscar Peterson Hall.
During exams, a portion would be devoted to identifying clips of songs. As he played the lively songs, he would sometimes do little traditional African-style dances. Thankfully the questions were in multiple choice, as some of the names were hard to spell.
I moved on and faced the world with a music degree. Daniel Feist moved to South Africa, travelled extensively and continued to study all the music and culture, as well as Zulu stick fighting apparently. He worked with various radio stations abroad. When he returned to Montreal, in 2004, he learnt he had cancer. He had chronicled his fight against the disease. He died in 2005. There was a memorial service held for him at the Oscar Peterson Hall.
He changed the lives of countless people, among them, unsuspecting teenagers addicted to listening to the radio in the ’90s and young music students soaking in the history of music. I’m grateful to him for changing my life. And for you ,the reader, if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and listen to the crazy funky 12-minute jam called ‘Zombie’, by Fela Kuti. He was the Nigerian James Brown, once got married to 27 women on stage, as Professor Daniel Feist once taught me in a funky class.