Special thanks to all our contributors (alphabetical order): Anton Mak (courtesy of Aesthetic Magazine), Freddielyn Estanislao, Gennelle Cruz, Gerard, Isaiah John, Jamaal Azeez, Jonathan Hazlewood, Richard Ashman, Sarah Hassanein, Sharine Taylor, Sydney Dwyer, Tejas Panchal, Thomas Sawaya and Ziyaad Haniff. We’ve included hyperlinks to more of their work for your convenience. Click to enlarge photos. On desktop, hover over photos for the photographer’s name. On mobile, tap to find more information.
For Sean Leon, July 26 was a celebration of many things: his album, I Think You’ve Gone Mad, released earlier this year as the first entry in his Black Sheep Nirvana trilogy; his film, Life When You’re the Movie, an impressive hybrid that’s part home movie, part music video, part art film; and the cumulative success of his creative family at large, including Adria Kain, Daniel Caesar, and Native Other, the latter of whom delivered an exciting opening performance that perfectly set the mood for Sean’s frenetic antics later in the night. Given the aura surrounding the show, we asked fans – in their own words and with their own photos – to reflect on their relationship to Sean’s body of work and share some of the moments that made the night so special.
Photos by (from left to right, top to bottom): Ziyaad Haniff, Gennelle Cruz, Jonathan Hazlewood, Tejas Panchal, Tejas Panchal, Gennelle Cruz, Ziyaad Haniff, Tejas Panchal, Ziyaad Haniff, Ziyaad Haniff
Ziyaad Haniff (@teamziyaad)
Sean Leon continues to defy my expectations. With his performance not taking place until after his film screening and a set from Native Other, I thought that the star of the show would stay hidden until his big moment. That wasn’t the case. Like a host welcoming us in to his home, he greeted us, thanked us for showing up on time, and ran us through the night’s events. If you haven’t met Sean in person, this moment may have caught you off guard. This is one of Sean’s traits I find most admirable – he understands how he must act at any given point in time. But like his performance style, Sean moves fast, ready to switch gears at a moment’s notice.
His set ebbed-and-flowed like the tide. He wasn’t afraid to calmly draw you in before washing over you with aggressively-delivered bars and calculated flows. Not to mention his friends were quick to unload water bottles on fans. The IXXI were just as crucial to the show. They shared the stage with Sean; cheering, documenting, and turning up. This culminated in a stage graced by both Sean Leon and Daniel Caesar, the third time I’ve been blessed enough to see this. It’s a visual reminder of what patience, hard work, and a supportive circle looks like. If you’ve ever seen Sean and Daniel hug it out, you know they have nothing but the utmost respect for one another. It’s a sentiment shared by everyone in the room.
Photos by (from top to bottom, left to right): Sarah Hassanein, Ziyaad Haniff, Anton Mak/Aesthetic Magazine, Jonathan Hazlewood
Anton Mak (@iamantonmak)
As a music photographer, I am granted the opportunity to attend many concerts, and to experience a variety of atmospheres. Some are mellow and relaxed, while others can be more energetic and lively. Sean Leon’s show at the Mod Club in his hometown of Toronto definitely fit the latter. Leon started the night with a short film he directed, highlighting daily life and childhood memories.
His set was filled with yellow smiley face balloons, a unique decoration and decision for someone who creates music of his genre. Midway through his set, he brought out fellow Toronto act Daniel Caesar, who is an R&B stud.
After the show wrapped up, my big takeaway was how much love he had for the city and vice versa. The crowd that showed up rapped along to his songs and matched the energy Leon brought. Going in I was unsure how he would be received, as this was his first headlining show. But Leon created more than just music; he created a theatrical performance. It captivated not just the crowd in attendance, but the city of Toronto. The city is on notice.
Photos by (from left to right, top to bottom): Tejas Panchal, Ziyaad Haniff, Jonathan Hazlewood, Gennelle Cruz
Sydney Dwyer (@sydneycd)
My favourite part about any of his shows is the atmosphere. I love not only how dedicated his fans are to him, but how dedicated he is to them. He waves at everyone and smiles at familiar faces. He truly appreciates everyone who is there to see him, and that’s cool. It’s an intimate environment, and that makes watching him perform so experiential. Even if you weren’t familiar with his music, you could walk into a show and be like, “damn, this is dope.” The first time I saw him perform was in 2014, and it’s incredible to see how far he has come as an artist and as a person. Watching him is kind of like escaping reality, I guess. Stepping out of your own world and into his. He has always been miles ahead of everyone else. Every time I see him on stage it just becomes more prominent.
Photos by (from top to bottom, left to right): Freddielyn Estanislao, Gennelle Cruz, Thomas Sawaya, Anton Mak/Aesthetic Magazine, Anton Mak/Aesthetic Magazine, Jonathan Hazlewood, Gennelle Cruz, Tejas Panchal
Jonathan Hazlewood (@hazlewoodjj)
My experience at the Sean Leon concert: WILD is the only way to describe it!! As a person who only listened to his music a few times before going to his show, his performance made me want to listen to his entire catalogue in more depth. Sean’s performance had everything, from mosh pits to stage dives and even softer moments that made you relate to his music. As a kid from Ajax, knowing that Sean comes from the same area as me made me relate to the music he created, and made me realize that people who grew up in the same town as you can do some wavy things. If you haven’t experienced a Sean Leon concert you are MISSING OUT.
Photos by (from left to right, top to bottom): Anton Mak/Aesthetic Magazine, Tejas Panchal, Ziyaad Haniff
Richard Ashman (@glasscarcass)
When I feel high on energy, all I see is red. Maui Slim had me seeing red all night. I looked around me and saw a room of people seeing the same colour. It was a madness! Men and women raging like no tomorrow. It got to a point where red starting fading to black. Imagine whipping a Ferrari on the 401, 100 over the speed limit, and running out of the gas. You’re gonna stay speeding with momentum until you reach the inevitable stop. I never stopped. Daniel Caesar was the refill I needed. You saved my life! It felt like Sean almost ended it. Told his baby mama we “gon’ feel this wave” and mans almost drowned. Needless to say, this near-death experience was the highlight of my summer. Thank you IXXI!
Photos by (from top to bottom, left to right): Freddielyn Estanislao, Tejas Panchal, Gerard, Jonathan Hazlewood, Ziyaad Haniff, Gennelle Cruz, Gennelle Cruz, Jonathan Hazlewood, Isaiah John
Gennelle Cruz (@cruz.shipp)
I have a couple favourite moments from Sean’s concert. The first is him presenting his short film, as it represents strength in independence. With no funding from the Canadian government, to make such a masterpiece proves there really isn’t anything Sean can’t do. The second would be the moment Sean and Daniel Caesar finished up ‘Matthew in the Middle’ with Daniel saying “Up out the basement,” because if you look at it, this is the culmination of all their experiences and lessons coming full circle. This inspires me to better myself as a person and as an artist. Lastly, among the other favourite moments I would love to talk about, I think I’ll end this with me talking to Sean after the show. I chose this because he’s one of my creative inspirations, and being able to talk to him only makes me want to work twice as hard to get my work out there. This show is definitely one of the best I’ve seen. I wish people would stop sleeping on him.
Photos by (from left to right, top to bottom): Gennelle Cruz, Gennelle Cruz, Ziyaad Haniff
Sharine Taylor (@shharine)
I’ve known Sean for about five years, and he has created (and will continue to create) incredibly innovative things. However, I truly felt that this last show was the first time I took a step back and saw the essence of Black Sheep Nirvana. Everything with Sean is purposeful; nothing is by accident and his attention to detail is something to be admired. If there is anything that he’s taught me, whether directly or indirectly, it’s just how much goes into making one thing, whether it’s a song, a project, or a performance. The visual aesthetics of the last show were a full production. The projections, stage set up, set list, and even something as seemingly mundane as having the balloons around, was such a great usage of space. July 26th served as a reminder of how and why I became a Sean Leon fan.
Photos by (from top to bottom, left to right): Ziyaad Haniff, Richard Ashman, Tejas Panchal, Anton Mak/Aesthetic Magazine, Tejas Panchal, Sarah Hassanein, Sarah Hassanein, Ziyaad Haniff, Gennelle Cruz, Anton Mak/Aesthetic Magazine
Jamaal Azeez (@bemore.careful)
No co-sign. No record label. No support from funding bodies. If your life was indeed a movie, this moment in time could be the climactic turning point in which you, the protagonist, decide enough’s enough, that you’re tired of suffering for your art and are now seeking new direction in spite of it, because maybe love isn’t a means to an end and maybe this crazy dream of living passionately through your passion was only ever a dream, an imaginary elsewhere to visit when tired and alone. Be it a consequence of time, resources, or talent, I think we’re all a little scared that we won’t “make it” – I know I am.
That’s why the music of Sean Leon means so much to me. Here’s an artist who’s been pigeonholed, passed over, and pushed to the fringe; and who’s responded to labels like “alienating” and “crazy” not by sacrificing the things that make him different, but by doubling down on them, pursuing his vision in its purest form even if it means burning bridges and risking the roof over his head. If Sean Leon’s life is a movie, make no mistake: this is not the climax. This is just the beginning. And if his show was any indication of what comes next, it’ll be restless and it’ll be riveting, but most importantly, it’ll be shared.
Photos by (from left to right, top to bottom): Sarah Hassanein, Ziyaad Haniff, Jonathan Hazlewood, Sydney Dwyer, Jonathan Hazlewood, Ziyaad Haniff, Ziyaad Haniff, Jonathan Hazlewood, Ziyaad Haniff, Gennelle Cruz
Thanks again to everyone that helped make this piece possible!
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