STUDENT Gabriel Nicolau
GRADUATED William Lyon Mackenzie, 2002
BEST SUBJECT History
WORST SUBJECT Math
CURRENT JOB Musician
AS PUNISHMENT FOR lateness, tardy students at William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate were often required to sing in front of the class.
And so it was that one not-so- punctual day, Gabriel Nicolau found himself standing at the head of his Grade 10 math class, jokingly rapping out his punishment. The thing was, he wasn’t half bad.
Today, Nicolau is a rapper who goes by Gaiaisi (pronounced “Gaia’s Eye”). But he’s not your average hip hop artist: through his music, Nicolau delivers a message about the environment and how we need to protect and sustain it.
“Music and activism are one and the same for me,” he says. “I can express how I feel [by] rapping. You can reach people and make a positive difference.” Nicolau counts Bob Marley, John Lennon, and Rage Against the Machine among his musical influences.
Nicolau’s activism goes beyond the musical, though: he spearheads the Torontonians for Breathable Air Campaign. The group aims to keep the city’s air clean by banning the use of combustion engines in what they deem “non-essential” equipment, such as lawn mowers. The group has created a petition that urges city council to conserve energy, plant fruit and nut trees on public land and provide more funding for public transit. Nicolau also advocates for sustainable food, and his main focus is on what he calls backyard gardening.
His online petition is a perfect way to encourage citizen involvement, he says.
In high school, it was Mr. Watt, his world issues teacher, who introduced him to environmental topics. Nicolau recalls his teacher’s focus and passion and remembers him as full of laughter and fun, even when teaching more staid topics.
Although he has a day job, Nicolau spends full-time hours on his musical projects. He hopes to release his album by the fall of 2009. He also plans to continue campaigning for existing environmental movements and focusing on creating positive change on the local level.
Apart from the activist angle of his music, Nicolau would like to keep growing as a musician. He wants to keep getting better at whatever he does. “Music is fun,” he says. “I can’t really feel good unless I express myself.”