Afrofunk meets Iranian & Azerbaijani folk: Zuze rocks Catalina’s

Entering Catalina’s on Saturday November 5 was like walking into uncharted territory. Many attendees hadn’t heard of Zuze before, and had arrived simply out of curiosity and the intriguing manner in which the show was promoted. The Facebook page described Zuze as “popular & folk melodies of Iran and Azerbaijan set to afrobeat rhythms.”

A certain mystery surrounded Zuze, as they had a scant online presence, and not until after speaking to the musicians themselves was Arthur able to track down their tracks on Bandcamp. Sometimes, you just have to take a risk and see what happens. Zuze was absolutely worth this leap of faith.

Catalina’s is one of those venues that totally engulfs the visitor with its unique eclectic aesthetic. Since Catalina’s recent expansion with the addition of a vintage shop on Water Street, the space that previously held vintage clothing has now been set up as a stage for live bands. This new addition to Catalina’s is a shift that seems only natural, as if the stage had always been there. Catalina’s gives the impression of an entire suburban Toronto arts scene coexisting in one space.

Stills of people dancing, making love, and speaking were projected onto the curtain behind the stage. These shots seemed derived from romantic films wrought with passion and pain.

Zuze is comprised of members Raha Javanfar on violin, Gabe Kong on guitar, Tom Moffett on trumpet, Andrew Moljgun on the baritone saxophone and flute, Bruce Mackinnon on the alto saxophone and piano, Arif Mirbaghi on bass, and percussionists Zach Sutton and Justin Ruppel.


As Zuze took the stage Mirbaghi pronounced, “I hope you enjoy otherness. I hope you enjoy liminality.” The set was interwoven with philosophical anecdotes and an absurd energy that evoked immense nurturing and love for the audience and music itself.

Zuze delivered tunes that prohibited the body from staying still. The band’s sound is a blend of Iranian, Azerbaijani and Turkic tunes rooted in Middle Eastern sounds cleverly fused with afrofunk reggae beats.

The violin, played by Raha Javanfar, wailed smooth and sharp notes full of harmony. Each song spoke of family gatherings, late nights, early mornings, and created visions of faraway places. It was as if the sounds were variables that had lost sight of each other in their travels, only to find each other once again.

The percussionists kept time and order among the flirtier elements of Zuze, creating continuity with their powerful and explorative rhythm.

Two saxophonists simply kept bursting into flames, simmering into gentle embers, only to spontaneously combust again; the camaraderie and energy that the ’phones created on stage as they spoke to each other was an inherently beautiful and wild thing. The guitar laid down intricate rhythms of a world turning too fast and the bass kicked up the sand while the piano played its hydraulic beauty.

Each song bled into the other. While some were minimalist and creeped into the psyche gently to hypnotize the body into a sway, others grabbed listeners by the hips and moved them powerfully. Mirbaghi encouraged the audience to dance lightheartedly and proclaimed, “The song is here and then it’s gone. This moment will never come again. This is it.”

Zuze was a ball of triumphant energy. Even in their mellowest moments, the
music was a transgressive and transcendent journey that permeated all basic emotion. Zuze doesn’t make one feel happy, sad, angry or complacent, rather, their music inspires an encompassing emotion of overwhelming universality.

Zuze was conceived after Mirbaghi and Mackinnon traded various band ideas at the Cameron House in Toronto.

Mirbaghi told Arthur, “Bruce and I were talking about projects that sit on the backburner, projects that you never feel confident that you’re ever gonna get off the ground. One of the ideas we traded was for a group to play Iranian music on the Persian New Year (Nowruz), which happens on the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring. Nobody had hounded me about this idea until Bruce came along. We started going through a book of old Persian folk tunes, and Bruce, with his wonderful ears and incredible talent, was able to put together some really amazing arrangements.”


Zuze’s show inspired the Peterborough community come together and experience the worldly music in the shared space of Catalina’s. Even Minister of Democratic Reform and Liberal MP for Peterborough-Kawartha Maryam Monsef came to check out the show.

The coming together of community members was something that Mirbaghi seemed attuned to when he stated, “Peterborough is very ‘mom and pop’. There is a sense of community here that others are envious of. You go to coffee shop and spend money on a coffee, and that money goes to the enterprise of someone you know, respect, and appreciate. Peterborough has a very vibrant arts and music community; a vibrant community from all backgrounds that includes cultures, creeds, sexual orientations and musical persuasions and otherwise.”

Mirbaghi elaborated on what the downtown core of Peterborough represents, and how the community must protect it.

“We should defend these notions, we should defend this sense of community, defend the fact that there are no big box stores in the downtown area (I know you have your big box areas, but that’s not what we’re talking about). We’re talking about where we are right now; an intersection that we are sitting at, speaking into a recording device. This is community. We’re talking about the fact that Zuze, a band that not many in the audience had heard before, arrived here solely based on their curiosity. That puts a great onus of responsibility on us to do a good job, but, beyond that, and much more importantly, is this exposition of a fertile creative ground and of a curious community that wants to go out and support things that are weird and wonderful.”

Music can either reject politics or deeply entrench itself within politics. Art as a whole is a malleable world in which politics has played a huge role in the very inception and interpretation of art. What did Zuze represent politically, if at all? Arthur was curious about this Azerbaijani-Iranian-Afrofunk group and what they stood for. Mirbaghi shed some light:

“I think that coming from those regions creates a natural political dialogue or inclination. I do hope what Zuze represents, and what music represents on the whole is the ability to de-politicize situations. Regardless of the nonsense that exists out there in the world, I think there is an ability for music to bring people together, to think about things in terms that are more ancient. I think what we’re talking about is when we crawled out of the bog, not when we started putting up borders. I hope that Zuze is able to go beyond what the political sphere has to offer us. I hope that when people experience the Zuze show live, they walk away with a sense that they participated in a community. People in Peterborough seem to have that persuasion, and so, to be able to slide into your DMs is extraordinary.”

Zuze has been kicking around since February. A fairly new band, they have already recorded a full length album titled ZAAR, and have been playing shows regularly. They are attempting to play “outside the pale of the normal bar scene,” says Mirbaghi, “that brings us to Peterborough, and to Catalina’s, and the unique atmosphere therein. I was told that it’s beautiful, and I can verify that in fact, it is.”

Check out Zuze’s album at