HOT EVENTS MGT MAGAZINE VISITING ARCHIVE MGT PARTNERS MGT TEAM
My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Ahmed Salah Moneka on why everyone should Follow Your Heart

by Drew Rowsome

"When I read the script, I just said, 'Yes,'" says Ahmed Salah Moneka of Evolution Dance Theatre's Follow Your Heart, "because it talks about love without limits, without any walls. It's my ideal, my energy, my vibe. It's what I believe."

And Moneka has put himself on the line for his beliefs before. "I was a really famous actor, lots of theatre and film. I was a television presenter," he says of his career in Baghdad, Iraq where he was born. He was a member of the prestigious Iraqi National Theatre but, "Iraq has a mafia government. They say they are fighting with ISIS but they are the same. My friends and I, we built the revolution with peace and love and we spoke out, Baghdad is for everyone not just one religion. My parents are Islamic but I respect everyone, art is my religion."

One of their protest events was bombed and Moneka found himself on the government's radar. Instead of backing down or going silent, he became involved with a film, The Society, that paints a realistic portrayal of gay life in Iraq. "They killed a lot of homosexuals in 2000," says Moneka, "and we decided to make a film of this community. We workshopped the movie and everyone had a story. Then all of the crew, they were all from outside Iraq, left. All except for me, I was still in Baghdad. And I was so famous. The government was very scared of the movie because we spoke directly about what they are doing to the people."

The Society was a success and Moneka travelled with the director to screenings at Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival. While in Toronto, "They went to my father - he is a well-known teacher, actor and artist - and said that 'If he comes back we will cut his body into small pieces.'" Moneka was forced to apply for asylum in Canada. "I'm proud because I said the truth. My father is proud, he said, 'Keep going Ahmed.' My message is love for everyone. Art is my family, my religion. I'm here, I'm safe, I'm alive and I've been accepted by the government. And there are artists here, if I don't do art I can't live, I can't survive."

Moneka is working to bring his family to Canada, particularly his sister Tara. "She is 12 and a professional singer with very popular international videos. She reflects love, peace and is so amazing, it is a gift. I want to take care of her because she is a woman and doesn't have a lot of freedom." In this way Follow Your Heart, a lavish spectacle that tells the tale of a belly dancer fighting for true love with a subplot of a queer couple struggling to survive, resonates with Moneka. "Art is really good to reflect what you believe, what is important," he says.

As well as rehearsing Follow Your Heart, Moneka is taking ESL classes and gigging with his band Moskitto Bar. He is passionate about the project that fuses, "Accordion from France, Balkan gypsy music from the Ukraine, and middle eastern drumming and dance. I sing and play middle eastern drums," and he enthuses that every performance is a party and that, "Things are good here." He was also invited to audition for a new global orchestra at the Royal Conservatory and is excited about the possibilities that offers.

"Follow Your Heart is my first project here and it reflects how Toronto is so multi-cultural. I'm a percussionist in some scenes and I do some singing," he says of his role among the 45-strong cast. He relishes the chance to continue his work, his art, "Love is the main reason for a great future. That is my message."



Follow Your Heart runs Thurs, Sept 22 to Sun, Sept 25 at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, 10268 Yonge St. evolutiondancetheatre.com

15

RELATED ARTICLES / ARCHIVE:
- Fortune and Men's Eyes: sex and violence at 50 - Dec '17
- Review: The Boy Who Brought Down a Bathhouse - Nov '17
- Plumbum returns in A Christmas Carol!- Nov '17
- Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters haunts the AGO- Nov '17
- trace: How Jeff Ho's mother created a diva - Nov '17
- Group Hex Vol 2 launches with the terrifying Hallow-Queen - Oct '17
- Legends of Horror reveals the beauty in Halloween horror - Oct '17
- Assassins: Ryan Kelly joins a killer cast - Oct '17
- Screemers has an anniversary party and it is a happy horror - Oct '17
- Kawa Ada returns to the starlit world of Salt-Water Moon - Oct '17
- Toronto After Dark Film Festival: horror, sci-fi, camp and buckets of gore - Oct '17
- The CAMINOS Festival presents Augusto Bitter's CHICHO - Oct '17
- Darker Harder Chocolate: longer, juicier and sexier - Aug '17
- Erased - Jul '17
- Pearle Harbour's Chautauqua pitches a tent at SummerWorks - Jul '17
- Review:Flooded - Jul '17
- Toronto Fringe 2017 - Jun '17
- Stewart Legere at Buddies - Jun '17
- Forte: 20 years of song - May '17
- No Elephant Show - May '17
- The Youth/Elders Project - May '17
- Lavander Railroad - May '17
- The Case of the Golden Purse - May '17
- It's All Tru - Apr '17
- Hot Docs decides to Take A Walk On The Wildside - Apr '17
- Shakesbeers Showdown - Apr '17
- Jeff Ho, Prince Hamlet, Pearle Harbour... - Apr '17
- Buddies and Katinka Kature do some Spring Queening - Apr '17
- Kinky Jesus Competition - Apr '17
- Holy Cow(s)! - Mar '17
- Sousatzka - Feb '17
- C'est Moi - Jan '17
- Suitcases - Nov '16
- The Clergy Project - Oct '16
- Uncovered: Queen & Bowie - Oct '16
- Slut: Keith Cole hosts a three-way - Oct '16
- Halloween Haunt 2016 - Oct '16
- ImagineNATIVE - Oct '16
- Songs and Screams 2 - Oct '16
- Tomson Highway reveals the secrets of The (Post) Mistress - Oct '16
- Donnarama joins the HallowQueens to amp up the horror and fun of Screemers - Oct '16
- Monster Rock Orchestra - Oct '16
- Two Kittens & A Kid - Sep '16
- Follow Your Heart - Sep '16
- The Mowglis - Sep '16
- Transformation: G Elliott Simpson's photography - Aug '16
- Bryan Cheatham helps Chippendales... - Aug '16
- Emmanuel Cyr - Jul '16
- Songs Of Screams - Jul '16
- Bright Lights - Fringe - Jun '16
- The Taming of the Shrew - Jun '16
- Fringe Festival 2016 - Jun '16
- Bianca Del Rio calls Madonna a cun* - Jun '16
- Inside Out - May '16
- Kiss Rocks Vegas rocks - May '16
- Rocking Horse Winner - May '16
- How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town - May '16
- Closet - May '16
- Scarberia - Apr '16
- The Terrible Parents - Apr '16
- August: Osage County - Apr '16
- Kinky Jesus competition - Mar '16
- No Strings (Attached) - Mar '16
- A line in sand - Mar '16
- A Zine About Family - Feb '16
- Footsteps Accross Canada - Feb '16
- Threesome - Feb '16
- Brandon Crone - Feb '16
- Evel Dead - Feb '16
- Salt-Water Moon - Feb '16
- 2016 Rhubarb Festival - Feb '16
- Stephen Jackman-Torkoff: making art and Progress - Jan '16
- Something Strange - Jan '16
- Into The Woods - Jan '16
- Toruk - Thomas Evan - Jan '16
- Heart of Steel - Jan '16
- Toruk - Dec '15
- Facing Home - Nov '15
- Kawa Ada - Nov '15
- Late Company - Nov '15
- Taylor Dayne - Nov '15
- Ties That Bind - Oct '15
- Camios Fetival - Oct '15
- Graham Scott Fleming - Oct '15
- Screemers '15 - Oct '15
- More Dark Hard Chocolate - Oct '15
- The Rise and Fall of Civilization - Oct '15
- Oasis Love - Sep '15
- TRANSformation Project - Sep '15
- Stonewall - Sep '15
- Cabbagetown Tour of Homes - Sep '15
- In Case Of Nothing - Sep '15
- Jacob Niedzwiecki - Aug '15
- Brooke Lynn Hytes - Aug '15
- Michael Caldwell - Jul '15
- Evalyn Parry - Jul '15
- Kris + Dee - Jul '15
- The Dora Awards - Jun '15
- First Time Last Time - Jun '15
- Jeremy Jordan - Jun '15
- Coming Out Queer - May '15
- Ballad of the Burning Star - May '15
- Christian Denice - May '15
- Adamaolozza - Apr '15
- locus - Apr '15
- Keith Cole - Apr '15
- Cavalia - Odysseo - Apr '15
- Njo Kong Kie - Mar '15
- Mandy Goodhandy is Tranny! - Mar '15
- Time Stands Still - Mar '15
- Bare - Mar '15
- My Dinner with Casey Donovan - Mar '15
- Mysteriously Yours... - Feb '15
- Piccolo Diavolo - Feb '15
- Progress Festival -Feb '15
- Girlesque Expo - Jan '15
- Into The woods - Jan '15
- Rhubarb Festival 2015 - Jan '15
- CircleJerk - Nov '14
- Cinderella - Nov '14
- The Art of Building a Bunker - Oct '14
- Halloween Haunt 2014 - Oct '14
- Constant Bernard - Sep '14
- Kurious - Sep '14
- John Waters 101 - Jul '14
- Summerworks Festival - Jul '14
- Viva Cabaret & Komunka - Jun '14
- Happiness With Side Of... - Jun '14
- Writing In The Sand - May '14
- Queer Bathroom Stories - May '14
- Getting intimate with Kris + Dee - Apr '14
- Auction at Waddington's - Apr '14
- Review: Francis Bacon - Apr '14
- Francis Bacon - Mar '14
- Around - Mar '14
- MGT & Thom Allison - Mar '14
- the Boylympics - Feb '14
- Rhubarb gets the gold - Feb '14
- 360 Screening - Feb '14
- Edith Head - Jan '14
- A Crackpuppy Christmas - Dec '13
- The pride and passion of Brian Bantugan - Dec '13
- The neon lights are bright on Broadsway - Dec '13
- From Russia with divas - Dec '13
- Genres collide in creepy Gothic glory - Nov '13
- People are Horrible Wherever You Go - Nov '13
- Bent beauty supreme - Nov '13
- Christmas off-to-school shopping - Oct '13
- Diving into The Deep Ending - Oct '13
- What Lurks Within - Oct '13
- Art Of Scare - Oct '13
- A message from the Action Man - Sep '13
- Gay Sherlock & Blood, guts and jazz hands - Sep '13
- Summerworks Festival - Aug '13
- A light and frothy disaster flick - Jul '13
- The Naked Truth About High Shool - Jun '13
- Lest we forget: Raid of the Rainbow Lounge - Jun '13
- Cats & A Clown Invasion - May '13
- Roller coaster therapy works - May '13