Elamin Abdelmahmoud tells Tom Power about his new show, Commotion

Tom Power sits down with former Pop Chat host, author of Son of Elsewhere about his new daily CBC show and podcast, Commotion, where he'll dissect pop-culture, arts and entertainment news with a changing group of insightful guests.

The host of Q talks to Elamin about his lively new arts and entertainment show launching today

An image of Tom Power and Elamin Abdelmahmoud in the Q studio.
Tom Power and Elamin Abdelmahmoud in the Q studio. (ISHMIL WATERMAN )

Why do we talk about Beyoncé the way we talk about Beyoncé? Why is Nelly Furtado singing about being like a bird? For Elamin Abdelmahmoud, the pop culture we consume becomes a part of who we are. And to try and understand this vital part of us, is a way of decoding the world. 

A longtime culture writer for Buzzfeed, author of the bestselling memoir Son of Elsewhere and a co-host on the politics talk show Party Lines with Rosemary Barton, Elamin now brings his boundless curiosity to Commotion, a new daily show launching today on CBC Radio 1 and podcast platforms everywhere.

Coming out every weekday, the show will take over the last half hour of Q with Tom Power at 11:30 a.m. ET. Q will moving to an hour-long format to focus on its signature in-depth artists interviews. 

To celebrate, Tom Power sat down with Elamin to talk about what's coming with Commotion, and to learn more about Elamin's journey to get where he is today.

Elamin Abdelmahmoud joins Tom to talk about the new show launching next week, Commotion. It's a live, daily show about pop culture, arts and entertainment rooted in Canada, and global in scope.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the whole interview as a podcast here.

Tom Power: I'm happy to say, my friend Elamin Abdelmahmoud is back with me this morning to talk about the brand new show that will be landing in this spot on Monday. It's called Commotion. He and his team have been working really hard for the past couple of months to bring it to you. All right, everyone's wondering: why this show and why now?

Elamin: I've been a part of this building for a little while, having pop culture conversations on a show called Pop Chat. That show was once a week. We are now going to do this every single day. 

There's something really exciting to me about the fact that we get to have arts, entertainment, pop culture conversations every day, because these are the spaces where I live generally. These are the conversations I want to have all the time. That's the background that I come from. I'm a culture writer by trade, you know? So like this for me just opens up a whole new avenue. 

I don't know about you but I've never walked into a party and was like, "Hey, do you guys want to talk about inflation today?" That's never been the thing that people say to me when they're walking to a party. But they do want to talk about the shows that they're watching or the songs that they were listening to or like the big sort of Internet-y debate that they just got into — things that end up really lighting up your life. Like they end up meaning a lot because they become the connective tissue between people. 

Tom: People have said that to me, but only when the party involves blowing up balloons. 

Elamin: Good Lord.

Tom: Sometimes I'll go to a balloon blowing party and they'll be like, "Do want to talk about inflation?" I go "Yeah, how big you want these balloons to be?" 

Elamin: We go to different parties, maybe. 

Tom: Two, I understand what everyone else can get from this. The offer. What do you like about it, though? 

Elamin: I'm one of those people who thinks that the pop culture we consume becomes a part of us, and sometimes in ways that we don't even necessarily think about. Like we don't necessarily think about, "Hey, what am I taking away from this show? What am I taking away from this big cultural debate that everybody's having right now?" And it just kind of settles into you. 

And I think why I got into culture writing is to in a way explain, why is that thing registering with people and not the million other things that could be? And sometimes it's really fascinating, the sort of doors it ends up opening. Sometimes it's like, this just went viral because it's funny. It's not that deep. 

Those will not be the conversations we have. I think we'll get really insightful, smart people who can comment about an artist's place on the world stage in terms of what cultural conversation we have. Why do we talk about Beyoncé the way we talk about Beyoncé? These questions, to me, are big curiosities that I think I kind of inherited because I came to this country when I was 12. And my first question was like, why are people the way that they are? Why is Nelly Furtado singing about being like a bird? Like, I don't get what that means. And pop culture kind of becomes a way, for me, of decoding the world, and I don't think people are that different. Because the ways that we consume pop culture open up to the larger questions we're all sort of obsessed with.

Tom: You've been on a journey to get to the CBC for a while. You've been in and out of the CBC, I used to see you around the building a little bit. I knew you from At Issue on The National. I knew you from Pop Chat of course, Party Lines the politics podcast, but can you tell everybody about your first gig at the CBC?

Elamin: I'd love to. It was March of 2012 and I got to this building on a 30-day contract to work on a show called George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. And my job was a production assistant. And my very specific job literally was to go every day to Queen Video, an old video store that used to exist on Queen Street in Toronto, to rent DVDs in order for the video editor on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight to put together the video package. And then at the end of the day, I'd usher in the audience for the taping and then I'd watch them and watch their faces delight.

Tom: And did you think, "Oh I think I'd like to do something like that one of these days?"

Elamin: I did. But, you know, the summer came and I thought, man, my landlord does not care that it's summer. They still expect rent. The only thing that didn't have seasons was the news, which is actually why I switched to the news. So my second job in this building was at The National. I rolled prompter and I printed scripts. It was my job to roll prompter to keep up with the speed that Peter Mansbridge was reading the news at.

Tom: I love that's how you got started at the CBC, and I love that that's where we are right now. What have you planned for the show with the debut week?

Elamin: Oh buddy, so the first day we're having this conversation about Pamela Anderson who has a new documentary out. But the new documentary is done with her participation. What's interesting to me about this is that there's this recent run of documentaries where celebrities have a documentary made about them, but they're also an executive producer. I watch these documentaries, like Shawn Mendes had one, Selena Gomez, and I'm curious if you can take them at their word for it or not. I think what's interesting to me about Pamela Anderson is that this is someone who went through hell. The way that people have talked about Pamela Anderson was so degrading, so misogynistic for so long. And so you would think, of course someone like Pamela, why would she ever be interested in just giving someone else control? Of course she'd want to be involved in this. And so we're going to be talking to a couple of people about that. 

Tom: Yeah, I think you're absolutely onto something. I cannot wait to hear all about that. I am so excited that those of us in Canadian media and just those of us who have spent time with your work over the years have always known that more people needed to hear it. And it was a matter of time. So I am so happy that people across this country are going to get to spend some time with you every day.

Elamin: Tom Joe Power, that's very kind. Thanks, man.

Tom: Well, I mean it. Elamin Abdelmahmoud is the new host of Commotion—I didn't even have a joke for you at the end, just pure sincerity.

Elamin: So nice.

Tom: Airing right here in this timeslot on your CBC radio dial, at 11:00 a.m. everywhere except Newfoundland and parts of Labrador, where you can catch it at 11:30 a.m. Of course, you can stream it when you like at CBC Listen and you can find it as a podcast.


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