Attila the Stockbroker – United Kingdom
The rise of hip-hop culture and slam poetry has given birth to a global poetic word movement and we live in a city with one of the most vibrant spoken word scenes on the planet. “Poetry” was a much more dubious word when Attila first took the stage. Like many other young people, the rise of punk culture in England struck a powerful chord with him. Still, we can only imagine the kind of cojones it took on September 24, 1980 to stand up in front of a room full of hard core punks, in a suit, as Attila the Stockbroker, supporting Harlow punks, The De-fex and The Unborn Dead in a local youth centre.
“I registered with an employment agency and because I can speak French I was offered a stopgap ‘job’ as a clerk/translator in the Stock Exchange. I hated it. They hated me. One day someone called me Attila. A light came on in my head.” It was the last ‘proper’ job he ever held. Since then, he has earned his daily bread, fish, chips and pints as a poet and troubadour. He has published four books of poetry and released 15 recordings of his work, both as a solo artist and with Barnstormer. His work as a writer has also graced the pages of The Guardian, Time Out, NME, Sounds Magazine and The Independent, as well as his own fanzine. High among his proudest accomplishments is his role as official Poet in Residence at his beloved Brighton and Hove Albion FC (football club).
In retrospect, what could have been more deeply punk than to set out to bring poetry back into the lives of working and unemployed people? The same might be said for his work with Barnstormer: marrying poetry with Renaissance music as interpreted by a power trio behind this multi-instrumental bard. Clearly, this man follows a muse with a uniquely delicious sense of humour. It has been a dozen years since he last graced these shores. Do not expect that intervening years have mellowed this artist for who “independent” is both a way of working and a way of thinking. His bullshit detector is more finely tuned than ever.
Beats Without Borders – British Columbia
Who isn’t a little envious of the DJ? Standing behind their gear, mixing tunes in perfect synch with the crowd mingling, grooving and/or dancing along, blending one song into another, the flow of music setting the mood, laying down a groove, creating the environment. In some ways, it’s not all that different from musicians performing. What happens then, when four of Vancouver’s best world-beat DJs team up with world-renowned musicians, singers, dancers and producers? When ancient musical traditions unite with modern electronica?
As Beats Without Borders, Nils, Lady Ra, Tarun and Adrian have been creating some of Vancouver’s most magical nights downtown each month, and now it’s time for the Beats Without Borders Jericho Mix. Get ready for a transcontinental journey from the ambience of a starry night in a desert caravan, to a street party in old Havana, to a wedding celebration in Delhi, and the party has only just begun.
Drawing together years of travel, study and performance, they’re a fiery quartet with a passion for live music, dance and performance. Nils, a music collector and event organizer is known for his signature Faeries & Fools Costume Carnival on the Sunshine Coast of BC. Attendance has grown exponentially over the years, as top international DJs and performers get together with a most receptive audience in a beautiful outdoor setting.
Lady Ra has been DJing for ten years. Starting in hometown Guelph, Ontario, her work in radio shows and local parties honed her skills and expanded her music selections to include a world of music. She’s explored the traditional roots of music during her travels in Asia and she brings these roots to the collective, weaving old and new world sounds into tapestries reflecting all four corners of the earth.
Adrian began as a radio DJ in Washington State and he’s now involved in Alchemy, Dojo and BLIST, projects drawing on his skills as a musician, producer and DJ. As a performer, he believes music has magical and healing qualities.
Tarun studies tabla with a master in India, and performs all over the world, experimenting with fusion and electronica, grounded in North Indian classical music.
Collectively, Beats Without Borders present us with a gorgeous palette of musical pleasures: funked-out afro beats, sensual middle-eastern belly dancing and cherry-picked morsels from the Asian underground. As the groove moves, watch for some surprises as the other artists join in. This jam will groove out the park guaranteed!
Ridley Bent – British Columbia
Some nights are just blessed. That night, I was listening to a few of Ridley’s songs on a CDR that had me hooked, lined and sinker when the phone rang and it turns out he is playing live and direct at a brilliant gallery venue right in the neighbourhood called The Butcher Shop. The songs I’d heard were great, but sometimes there’s a big difference between the live and the Memorex. Tonight it’s just Ridley and his guitar, with a buddy beside him playing kona. Musically speaking, there was no place to hide.
Damn if he didn’t kick some serious acoustic and lyrical butt. He’s got an ear for a melody and a hook that just might make you crazy to hear that song again and again. And I speak from experience. He also has a feel for a hip-shakin’ groove that is remarkable, partly for its virtual absence in most acoustic music. Part picker and part poet, he slaps a groove under lyrics that tell stories on all the classic themes of love, rage, the road, dope, fighting back and all the others we know so well from old traditional ballads and the novels of Louis L’Amour, James Ellroy and John Steinbeck.
What he brings to the stage are cinematic, hip-hop ballads. Some people describe it as ‘hick-hop’ and it’s OK with him. He did listen to a lot of old Johnny Cash and Hank Williams-under duress at first-while his dad’s career in the armed forces saw them moving out of Halifax, back and forth across the country, and for an extended period in Europe. He’s been living in BC for a while now, first in Whistler, where he began to write and now (when he’s home), by The Drive.
Beyond his dad’s favourite music, he listened to a lot of Brit pop and hip-hop. He hears his music as “action adventures,” because at heart, these are stories and he loves to tell stories. So in a sense, I guess this is classic folk-with a kick.
Bill Bourne with Eivør Palsdottir – Alberta/Faroe Islands
It’s a long way from Iceland to Austin, but you wouldn’t think so listening to Bill and Eivør singing Townes van Zandt’s “If I Needed You.” I swear I can hear a campfire crackling somewhere softly behind their harmonies on those lovely lyrics.
From there, the spirits get less familiar. While Mr. Bourne is no stranger to this acreage or this city, Eivør sings in Faroese and Icelandic (as well as Swedish and English) and these tongues are mysterious to most of our ears. There is nothing mysterious about how fine these two sound together though.
Eivør was a musical force in the Faroe Islands before she was ten. She made her international debut at 12, quit school to devote more time to music when she was 16, and now at 21 has recorded her third album. Her musical passions have led her to develop a repertoire that covers a very large amount of waterfront, from ancient Faroese psalms to classical arias, and from country music to jazz and rock. She’s a fearless singer, intense, open and honest. In Bill she has found a fellow seeker.
Many of us have had the pleasure of following the evolution of Bill’s music over the years. From Celtic and country roots, he has woven flamenco, funk, blues and other global traditions into a music of the heart with a mystic groove. One of the most remarkable things about Bill’s life as an artist is the way he seems to meet up with unusually kindred musical spirits at just the right time. From his early work with piper Alan Mcleod to his travels with violinist Shannon McDade, to the global blues and groove of Tri-Continental playing with Lester Quitzau and Madagascar Slim, and now his work with Eivør, he seems to have a very musical guardian angel.
It’s as impossibly indefinable as ‘dancing about architecture’ to try to describe how music can be so lean and so rich at the same time, and it’s one of those mysteries of the universe how these two already sound like they’ve been playing together all their lives. Fortunately, all we need to do is listen.
Much of popular culture today is in thrall to a cult of celebrity. Some might see in the rising numbers of reality shows a need for disposable famous people that speaks to a dependency issue heading into full-fledged addiction. In such times, the word “artist” (not unlike the word “festival”) gets thrown around a lot. One could be forgiven for forgetting what exactly the differences are between an “entertainer” and an artist.
Geoff Berner is an artist. He feels deeply, reads widely and thinks differently. He sings and speaks with a frankness some find disturbing. Others, and their numbers are increasing daily, find that same frankness compelling. He is better known in Norway than any number of Canadian idols. His journeys to Europe are becoming more and more frequent. Some of these trips are arranged by Billy Bragg’s manager, who saw them perform together at the Calgary Folk Festival. Some are by invitation, as the featured artist at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast, twice.
He travelled to Budapest and then the countryside of Eastern Europe in the company of violinist Diona Davies, percussionist Wayne Adams and sprit guide Bob Cohen, who has been learning from the few masters who survived the Holocaust. Part theory, part professional development and part pilgrimage, the music and the places where it had survived became a reality check of the highest order. The klezmer music these men played for them was spiritually much closer to the Ramones than it was to most of the klezmer music we hear in North America.
The musical liberation they heard in these musical encounters absolutely screams through Whiskey Rabbi, the CD Geoff, Wayne and Diona recorded after they came home. The raw energy in this music, the tones and the edge are the emotional expression of lyrics face to face with a hard look at what’s going on. It is audacious, it is honest, it is funny and it is brilliant. It makes me wonder if Ms. DiFranco was thinking of the accordion when she said, “Any tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”
Chuck Brodsky – USA
Like Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Chuck has a kind of traveling Zen-thing going on. One gets the distinct sense he is what’s called ‘a good traveler,’ one who listens to the world around him and uses the time between ‘here’ and ‘there’ to reflect, remember and to write. His most recent collection of songs covers a panorama of perspectives, from his own home county to those discovered on his extensive troubadour travels.
Chuck is a songwriter who writes great songs about real people-himself included-who are doing their best in tough times and often end up making a difference in their world. The tale of Goat Man could be subtitled ‘Lessons In Living.’ The story of the couple that moved to a remote mountain valley and changed the lives of everyone there makes it clear that individuals do have the power to make change. His work as an artist, and what that art reveals of the heart of the man creating it, brings to mind Joni’s song about ‘heart and humour…and humility’ lightening up that heavy load. These are songs that come straight from the heart, but as stories they are literate, subtle, ironic, beautiful and very memorable.
Many of us have had to deal with the intense interpersonal challenges that can come up in a group when decisions need to get made, but it’s more than rare to hear a song about it. In this case, Chuck’s song is set in the small town he calls home. You can hear an edge in his voice that might resonate if you’ve ever had someone in your community stand a little too long on your last nerve, or if you ever felt threatened because you disagreed a little too strongly. These are stories and songs we need to hear these days and don’t get to nearly often enough. They are just exactly the kinds of songs I wish more artists would write more often. It’s a pleasure to finally introduce you to the artist who has created some of the finest songs I’ve heard all year.
Michael Jerome Browne and the Twin Rivers String Band – Canada
Michael Jerome Brown has the touch of a master. It’s no wonder that blues legend Long John Baldry said admiringly, “Michael gives me the kind of tingle like when I first heard Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy.”
Ask Michael what string band music is and you might be surprised how easy-going he is about it. “Some people think it means a string quartet. Or it could be just a fiddle and a banjo. Other people think drums and piano have no place in a string band. It’s all unimportant. It could be old-time, Cajun, country, blues, bluegrass, western swing, ragtime, jazz, jug band-or any style you want. String band music has no race, creed colour, religion, gender, sexual preference or social class. Usually, it’s music for dancin’.”
Born to English professors in love with poetry and music, Michael’s parents took him to folk and blues clubs as a boy, where he was captivated by the likes of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Lightnin’ Hopkins. By the age of 14 he was performing on the coffeehouse circuit in Montreal, and it is still where he makes his home. Each of his three albums, Michael Jerome Browne (1998), Drive On (2001) and Michael Jerome Browne & the Twin Rivers String Band (2004) was nominated for a Juno Award. He’s toured in the UK, Australia, France, North Africa and throughout North America.
In addition to being a talented multi-instrumentalist, Michael is a songwriter with an exceptional command of different styles and genres, and a very fine singer. He plays a mix of traditional material and original compositions on a range of instruments: resophonic guitars, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and harmonica. His music is built on a passionate curiosity and a respect for the deep roots of traditional music and the people who played it. You can hear it in his versions of the old songs, and it gives his own music a powerful resonance and integrity. Listening to him is like taking a trip to the heart and soul of North American roots music.
Michael is accompanied by members of the Twin Rivers String Band: Michael Ball on viola, fiddle and string bass and Jody Benjamin playing the ‘ti-fer’ (Cajun triangle) and guitar, as well as singin’, yodelin’ and dancin’.
Buck 65 – Nova Scotia
Buck 65 (aka Richard Terfry) is one of those young but old characters who achieved so much so quickly, you have to wonder how a guy born in 1972 could possibly have fit it all in. But then, he started early. A ‘b-boy’ (break dancer) by the age of ten, Sesame Street gave Richard his first national exposure. Some years later, as a b-for-baseball boy, he played in the Major Leagues and raced BMX bikes. Now he’s Buck 65 and a major league player in his current incarnation, this year snagging his second Juno nomination for Songwriter of the Year, and rapidly gaining a reputation as the Tom Waits of indie hip-hop.
Describing Buck’s music is a challenge. A lot of people have tried: dirt road break-beat blues, folk-hop, hick-hop, country rap, highbrow hip-hop, junkyard hip-hop. Whatever you call it, it is the next generation of folk, and like a lot of good folk, it’s a musical wake-up call. Buck’s low, slow, hypnotic voice sings deceptively simple tales about life; stories about daily rituals we neglect as we rush to be ahead, above and alive. In lieu of a guitar, he plays turntable, mixer and samplers, with guest musicians supplying the more traditional back-up of strings and keyboards.
Bukowski, Burrows, Leonard Cohen and early Dylan are some of his influences, and y’know, you can sense them in his songs. He’s happy about that, because acknowledging the roots of his music is important to him. Buck takes it as part of his responsibility-and everyone’s responsibility-to keep the links to our history and traditions alive.
His music takes us back to the days when we were content to stare out the window and watch the world go by, then fast forward to the present moment to remind us that the world we live in is not all “roses and blue jays.” But he leaves us with a sense that if we are true to ourselves and others, we can recapture our ability to enjoy the simplicity of life. Would that make us happier and more fulfilled? Listen to the music and see for yourself.
Karan Casey – Ireland
Irish singer Karan Casey is not only blessed with a beautiful soprano voice, she also has an extraordinary ability to sound at once delicate and forceful, lightly melancholic or rousing. She sings like someone from a dream. One obviously enthralled reviewer wrote that she had “…a voice so beautiful, it’s almost impossible to avoid falling under her spell.”
A County Waterford colleen, Karan moved to Dublin for university and classical studies in voice and piano at The Royal Irish Academy of Music. At the same time, she became a big fan of Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald and was drawn to sing in a jazz band. The music was too fascinating to resist. It eventually took her to New York in the early nineties to pursue a degree in jazz. Karan says she was trying to find. “…an unselfconscious approach to singing- what they call a natural-sounding style, though it’s all learned of course.” And she found it: a teacher who helped her bring all her different influences together to create her own distinctive voice.
She honed her style in New York’s clubs and bars, but still had to baby-sit and work as a waitress to make ends meet. Her ‘big break’ came when she was asked to join a band that was about to be formed, Solas, which quickly became one of the most successful Irish traditional bands of the decade. After recording three award-winning albums in four years with Solas, Karan left to start a family and follow her own musical path as a singer and, increasingly, a songwriter, with four solo albums. The last two, Distant Shore (2003), and this year’s Chasing the Sun, display a shift away from mainly traditional to mainly contemporary material of her own and that of socially engaged songwriters like Billy Bragg, Ewan McColl and Barry Kerr.
Karan has a deep understanding of how to breathe life into a lyric, and music’s power to move listeners. She will be accompanied by her partner, concertina virtuoso Nial Vallely, guitar wizard Robbie Overson, and Paul Meehan on guitar, mandolin and mandola.
Doug Cox – British Columbia
It’s hard to know where to start introducing you to Doug. He does so many things so well that when I made a list, I had to stop and shake my head. It is my assumption that when he called his last CD Stay Lazy, his tongue was even further in his cheek than usual.
Doug is one of the finest dobro players around. He started with a passion for the blues and bluegrass, and over the years he’s added a distinctly West Coast thing to this solid foundation. If you’re from here, you know what I mean, and if you’re not, you will after you hear him play. He’s taken his dobro and that distinct sensibility all over North America and a good chunk of Europe as an artist, a sideman and as a teacher. In fact, the demand for the chance to sit down and learn better dobro from him has grown so much that he has created eight books, videos and DVDs on the subject. This led him and a buddy into starting a whole series of instructional DVDs about all sorts of music that get sold around the world.
He’s also known as a player on guitar, Weissenborn, National mandolin, and most recently, has been exploring the Mohan Veena. Some guys might think that was enough to keep busy, but Doug is also the artistic director of the Vancouver Island Music Festival up Island in Comox. In recent years, it has become one of the most interesting roots music festivals in the country as well as a solid example of what a community can do when it works together. His understanding of what artists need, the music business and the way folk happens, along with his generosity in sharing what he’s learned, is changing the way we do folk festivals in this country, and it is all good.
He’s just the sort of artist the Collaboratory was built for: a great player who’s curious, adventurous and loves to mix it up. It is also an established folk fact that any festival, concert, session, meeting or other sort of get-together is always more fun when Doug is around.
Daara-J – Senegal
“Daara J means ‘school of life’ and with every production we want to give an education to our listeners.” -MC Alhadji Man
Senegal’s Daara-J are a shining example of the modern transglobal evolution of hip-hop music. This trio was originally brought together as accounting students in the capital of Dakar. Changing direction turned out well: their latest album, Boomerang, won them the BBC Radio 3 World Music Award for Best African Act. It decries the stagnancy of globalism, the perils of a traditional society and the threatened environment, and toys with the musical formulae of hip-hop, reggae, R&B and Cuban music by respecting the rules of each genre while escaping their boundaries.
Tracing the roots of a genre of music can be difficult, but when it comes to hip-hop, Africa is the obvious birthplace and motherland. Tasso is the original form of rap, ancient rhythmic poetry passed down from father to son, used to discuss births, marriages, deaths, war, living conditions, the situation of the country and hopes for the future. It was the Griot’s (pronounced gree-o), a born-into musician caste, that spread these messages along the trade routes in West Africa through word, sound and movement arts.; from there to the Americas with the slave trade.
“Hip-hop was born in Africa [and] went around the world to come back to Africa, like a boomerang that has been thrown from the motherland and is back home,” says lead MC Faada Freddy.
Good thing it’s back home, as Western hip-hop turns more and more to shallow representations of materialistic values pimped to Western consumers by what Daara-J calls “Babylone,” giving hip-hop and rap a bad rep. However, with impassioned lyrics of philosophical and socially conscious overtones, Daara-J keep the ethos of Senegalese hip-hop. “It’s hospitality, spirituality, smiling in spite of disease, corruption, war. It’s something the whole world needs.” With Boomerang, the world can get it, as these modern-day griots have something important to share. The album speaks for the disenfranchised, returning rap to its roots and revitalizing it with a fresh urgency. Roots that deserve to be heard as its seeds go back to the beginning of humankind.
Kris Demeanor – Alberta
In the way artistic directors do among themselves, Kerry Clarke from the Calgary Folk Festival has been telling me that Kris is a Calgary artist that everybody in the country needs to hear, so I’ve been listening to him for some time now.
Any portrait of this artist as a young man would have to feature the kind of road miles and resulting intimate understanding of our nation’s geography that only a truly serious Canadian independent artist can bring to the table. Solo, with his Crack Band, and recently with our own Mr. Berner, he has covered the waterfronts, dodgy bistros, prairie highways and mountain passes of the True North and beyond.
It may seem strange to some that a guy with smarts, lyrical imagination and musical chops has not yet succumbed to Toronto’s siren call to go east to whip up musical miniature marshmallows with some big city artificial sweetener in the hopes of meeting Big Radio’s curious standards for friendliness. Listening to his songs though, it’s clear he has a strong commitment to weaving songwriting and spoken word into an unique artistic voice, and that he has a deep connection to the artistic community in his home town.
He takes his work seriously, but not himself. He writes about his own life with the same unflinching gaze that he brings to the rest of the world. If irony is indeed Canada’s national sport, Mr. Demeanor is a first-round draft choice. He sings, speaks, howls and otherwise draws artistic attention to true-life situations and flights of fancy, and his music chops span the best and the rest of pop music over the last 50 years or so. The result is an artist whose creative power is getting stronger and more powerful every time he steps onstage. He is also a good swift kick in the stereotypes about culture in the city some like to call Cowtown. This isn’t Kris’ first time on-stage in Vancouver, but it is his Jericho Beach debut and it’s a pleasure to welcome him to the Beach.
Iris Dement – USA
Iris Dement decided she was going to start writing songs in the mid-80s and American folk music has never been the same. Her work is a powerful testimony to a musical and personal integrity grounded in a vision of America where plain speaking about what’s on your mind and in your heart is part of the deal.
She’s the youngest of 14 brothers and sisters born into a devoutly religious family in Arkansas. She came of age in California, singing gospel music and working jobs like waitress. Her gospel roots, her abiding respect and understanding of artists like the Carter Family, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard, resonate through all her work, in the studio and on-stage. Ironically, all this also adds up to music that is too country for Country Music. But it hasn’t stopped the word from getting around about what an extraordinary artist she is. Over the last 16 years, Iris has made four recordings of her music, including one that features many of the gospel songs she grew up singing. When it was released, she said the songs had helped her through some hard times and thought they might help others. To her, they were “not about religion, but something bigger than that”. It was eight years before she released another collection of songs. Over those years, she was invited to participate in a lot of themed compilations including A Nod to Bob.
If Iris seems strangely familiar when you see her, you may be remembering her as Rose Gentry, the role she played in the movie Songcatcher, about the events surrounding the journey of a woman musicologist into the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina early in the last century to collect songs where American roots music was born. Iris’ presence was highly memorable, both onscreen and in the music that the film featured so prominently. You may also have heard her singing duets with any number of musical friends, including Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and John Prine. In fact, her friend Mr. Prine summed it all up pretty well when he said, “Listen to this music. It’s good for you”.
The Dhol Foundation – United Kingdom
The Dhol Foundation, led by Johnny Kalsi, has a mission to bring the dhol drum to the attention of the world. With its powerful sound and intense rhythms, the dhol is undeniably growing ever more popular and familiar to music lovers. Kalsi launched the dhol drum into the world music scene in performances with the Afro-Celts, Transglobal Underground and Natacha Atlas.
The dhol is a traditional North Indian instrument made from a large wooden shell and shaped like a barrel. It has skins made from goat hide on either side. Rope is woven through the edges of both skins and tensioned to produce the bass and treble sounds. It is played with two flat cane sticks, a thilli, held by the right hand and played on the treble side, and a dagga, played with the left hand on the bass side.
The dhol originated in the 16th century and was used as a form of communication by town criers to drum up crowds. During the start of the summer in the Punjab state in northern India, people traditionally celebrated a good harvest by dancing and singing to the sound of the dhol. These included descriptive lyrics reflecting on the dance, which became the roots of traditional folk songs in the Punjab area. Thus bhangra was born.
The Dhol Foundation’s latest album, Drum-Believable, shows the multifaceted ways in which the dhol can be incorporated into different genres of music. Not only Indian, but African, Celtic, Spanish and even electronica. Drum-Believable takes you on a sonic journey of serene sounds infused with thumping bass beats. Watching the Dhol Foundation on stage is a different story. Together, the stimulation of super-charged dhols, colorful costumes and hypnotic movements moves the groove waaay up the intensity dial. Besides their love performances, the Dhol Foundation has also established organizations across the UK for teaching the intricate dhol rhythms and beats. And now they’re in Canada, recently opening a branch of their foundation in Toronto. The Dhol Foundation’s hypnotic music nurtures that primal urge we all have inside to just let ‘er rip! To which we say: go for it!
Dòchas – United Kingdom
Not long ago the music of Gaelic Scotland seemed destined to fade into the Celtic twilight as young people, in increasing numbers, left their homes in the remote highlands and islands in search of work. But during the past decade there’s been a turn-around, with a slow but steady economic revival in many of these remote areas, and an extraordinary resurgence of interest in the old songs and tunes.
The five young women musicians of Dòchas, which appropriately means ‘hope’ in Gaelic, are at the forefront of the new generation of music-makers. They not only create adventurous-yet-respectful arrangements for often ancient music, but write original pieces in the traditional manner. Their two albums, Dòchas (2002), and the recently released, An Darna Umhail (The Second Glance), have taken the folk scene in Scotland by storm.
Julie Fowlis, from the Hebridean island of North Uist, has a hauntingly beautiful voice, yet was only coaxed into Gaelic singing a few years ago. She also plays the oboe, various whistles and the bagpipes. Eilidh Macleod from the Isle of Skye has played the clarsach (Celtic harp) since she was nine, performing at local concerts and ceilidhs and on the competition circuit. She has a remarkably sensitive touch, and is also a gifted composer.
Carol Anne Mackay, Dòchas’ principal piper, comes from Strathy on Scotland’s north coast, and started performing at the age of nine at ceilidhs and on the competition circuit. She not only plays the familiar Highland pipes, but also the much rarer and sweet-toned Scottish small and border pipes, as well as accordion.
Fiddle-player Jenna Reid, from Quarff in the Shetland isles, also began learning her instrument at the age of nine from the hands of the late, great, Willie Hunter. Her vigorous style adds tremendous lift to the groups sets.
Multi-instrumentalist Kathleen Boyle hails from Donegal, the county of northwest Ireland with the strongest links to Gaelic Scotland, and plays piano, guitar and accordion. She made history six years ago as the first graduate in traditional music from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Together these five young women will transport you to a musical land that’s both ancient and contemporary and triumphantly resurgent.
Duplex – British Columbia
I don’t listen to a lot of music for young people. In part, this could be because I’m not young, nor do I co-habit with people who are. In part it may also be because most music for young people is written by people who are not-which often has the flavour of a musical parent encouraging good habits, like the eating of vegetables. Duplex, speaking in a younger voice, expresses the doubts that many young people feel and is not afraid to sing out for all the world to hear that salad tastes like dirt.
The music created by Duplex is made by young artists working with adults who have some pretty serious street cred as players in this town. And they all seem to like each other very much indeed. You can hear a lot of smiling and laughter in their music. It’s also clear that everyone listens to each other and has respect for each other’s different points of view. And those points of view must necessarily be quite varied in a group whose ages span from three to 37.
Duplex was formed when Veda Hille was asked to come up with music to accompany a children’s storybook. She asked her husband Justin Kellam, her stepdaughter, their music pals and their kids, who all share the same East Van duplex, to participate. They all wrote songs, covering everything from their favourite pets, to pooing and peeing. Veda says, “Kids can come up with some amazing things when they are left to themselves.”
Now Magazine called it, “… rad kid-oriented music about happy things.” Musically, this is a band for whom the feel of the song and the energy are infinitely more important than any notions of studio perfection. It is also quite clear that all the artists in Duplex think that other young people are smart, and that they like to rock. Listening to Duplex, and to Truffles, has introduced me to a whole world of music that is strange, new, surprising, compelling, amazing and inspiring. I am now a certified fan of music for young people-as long as they’re involved in creating it.
Feist – Canada
Leslie Feist is no stranger to the international music scene. Raised in Calgary, Alberta, her first real gig was backing the Ramones at an outdoor festival when her high school punk band won a Battle Of The Bands contest. After temporarily losing her voice at the age of 19, she turned to the guitar and not long thereafter joined another band, which led to touring with the Tragically Hip.
When her roommate, the infamous electro clash rap vixen Peaches, invited her on tour as a back-up singer, Feist was re-christened Bitch Lap-Lap, costumed in Cuban aerobics gear and expected to rap in bad Spanish with a sock puppet as her only prop. Eventually, Feist joined Toronto’s Broken Social Scene, which went on to win the 2003 Alternative Album of the Year Juno Award. This past spring she traipsed off with two Junos all her own: New Artist of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year. All in all, she’s accumulated impressive experience and recognition for an artist that’s just twenty-something.
With this cred in her hip pocket, Feist moved on to Paris for her newest solo album, Let It Die, helped by Manu Chao’s producer Renaud Letang, among others. Her reasoning was that although she loved touring other people’s music, “If you’re going to be exhausted and broke, you might as well be that way with your own seed in the ground that you’re watering.” Let It Die is a gem. A timeless dreamy album you can play from waking ’til night, each track varying in style, flair and era. Feist ranges through dinner lounge music with organs and luscious vocals, to country hoedowns, to Parisian street cafes, to 1970s discotheques in pure Bee Gee’s style, with sweet sultry showgirl lullabies to end the aural adventure. Yet her album is incredibly simple and light and avoids today’s exaggerated and over-produced pop sound, with beautifully arranged instruments and handclaps. One reviewer described it as a beautiful slice of sonic escapism.
Feist will have you drifting comfortably away in the sunshine, riding waves of lyrical bliss. She is definitely onto something good and welcomes you to be a part of it.
Ruthie Foster – USA
Ruthie Foster mixes gospel, blues, folk and country into one original, emotional musical experience. Her singing has been compared to Aretha Franklin, and just like that great soul diva, Ruthie’s singing has audiences laughing, singing, dancing, crying and begging for more.
She was raised in rural Texas, surrounded by gospel and blues. Some of her earliest inspirations were Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Etta James. However, she says her greatest influence was her mother Shirley Jones, who urged her to “Open your mouth and sing, girl!” Ruthie did, and headed down the road to get a degree in music at the community college in Waco. Then her musical career took an unusual turn, with a four-year stint in the US Navy band, Pride.
After leaving the navy, Ruthie gravitated to New York City and gained a powerful reputation singing with such musicians as Robert Cray, Ron Wood, Ben E. King and Paul Schaffer. She was also writing and performing her own music in clubs, which eventually won her a contract with Atlantic Records. But in 1993, when Ruthie learned her mother was seriously ill, she dropped everything and headed home to Texas.
Ruthie found work in television and began donating her talents to various community causes, including literacy programs, nursing homes and schools. When she could find the time, she sang in local clubs. Back in 1996, Ruthie had a club gig that she’d wanted to cancel, knowing her mother wasn’t feeling well. But no, her mother wouldn’t hear of it and insisted she go honour her commitment. That night as Ruthie was onstage singing “Amazing Grace,” her mom’s favourite hymn, she passed away.
Ruthie’s songs are deeply grounded in her experience and her deep understanding of both blues and gospel, but she combines and extends them to create a powerful personal voice. She’s got a voice that thrills audiences and you can hear their reactions on her most recent album, Stages, recorded live at three US concerts. In her first appearance here, she sold more CDs than any other artist in the history of this Festival. The following year, she did it again. It’s clear she’s touched a lot of hearts in this park and it’s a joy to welcome her back.
David Francey – Quebec
Count Basie once said it takes 20 years just to learn what to leave out. David, as it happens, spent none of those years on stage. He was no babe in the woods when he first stood up to the microphone, put his hands in his pockets and started singing the songs he’d been writing for years. Perhaps that’s why he seemed to arrive there fully formed and full of songs that others began to sing almost as soon as he did.
His onstage choreography is nothing if not understated, and he didn’t even begin to learn the guitar until he’d already won two Juno awards. According to any number of “How To Make It In The Music Business” textbooks, Mr. Francey should probably still be grabbing a large cream and sugar at Tim’s sometime before sunrise on his way to a job site to hammer together somebody’s new roof, or working another of the trades he learned before he took the artist’s way. And yet for some years now he has instead been happily writing, recording and singing for audiences that are continually growing. His songs are part of the lives of people across Canada, the US and the UK, and are sung by choir members, other artists and even at hockey games.
His latest project involves a long-time dream of traveling on a laker- those very big boats that haul the coal, wheat and everything else across the Great Lakes and up the St. Lawrence Seaway- and then writing songs about those boats, their sailors and the towns they pass along the shores. They’re not songs designed for the fast lane to the top of the charts, but David’s been watching these boats from the shore his whole life and figured it was time to take that trip. When the songs are ready, he’ll sing them for those sailors and to kids in the schools along the lakeshores, and they’ll get excited about their history and a way of life they can see out their windows.
David is one of our finest, and living proof that you don’t need any music business textbooks if you write great songs about real life and bring them to people straight-up and honestly. He is here this weekend with Geoff Somers and Shane Simpson.
Fruit – Australia
If you have any stereotypes about Australia in your head, prepare to have them messed with. If you were here in 1997, prepare to welcome back some old friends.
When Fruit were last here, it was in the form of a full-on band with a rhythm section and the crazy energy of a band on their first big international tour. In the years since, they have gone on to make audiences crazy at clubs and festivals in seven countries on several continents. They have also beefed up their resume with a truly embarrassing list of awards and nominations for a wide variety of accomplishments from various music organizations in Australia, all richly deserved, as you’ll hear this weekend, but unusual for a musical group so proud of, and dedicated to, being independent. A close look at that list of awards, which includes everything from best live performer, to individual musical skills, to CD design, live engineering and best tour manager, makes it clear that these are artists who take their indie status seriously and who care very much about every aspect of their work together.
Musically, they kick ass: great instrumental skills and vocals that shine with the special glow that comes from years of singing together. Over almost a decade of performing and many, many miles on the road, they have brought together everything they love about blues, folk, jazz, pop and the ways of the groove to create music that sets up a major pleasure loop between them and everyone listening.
This time around, they’re performing acoustic-harmonies, horns and guitars-but from all the raves I’ve been hearing from other festival directors, Mel Watson, Susie Keynes and Sam Lohs are the proverbial power trio, with the emphasis on harmony. One pre-teen festival fan even assured them they were “better than Metallica.”
It’s not easy being indie, especially when you are an 18-hour flight away from home, but FRUIT is living proof that if you do it right, you can find yourself living a dream-come-true on both sides of the footlights.
Ga Gi – Quebec/Mexico/USA
It used to be pretty common in folk music for people who wanted to play it to make their own instruments. These days, it’s not that common, but Ga Gi (comprised of musicians Ganesh Anandan and Gibrán Cervantes) found they just had to do it. Both were already accomplished musicians on a wide variety of instruments, but none were capable of playing the music they could hear in their minds. There were always notes between the notes that couldn’t be played, and so the two began to create instruments that could.
Gibrán created the urukonglo. Its departure point is the berimbau (mouth bow, as in arrow), which has to be one of the world’s oldest instruments. Gibrán has arranged the strings in such a way that they can made to vibrate by sticks, hands, brushes, E-bows, metal slides and other tools. This weekend, Gibrán will be playing a smaller, airport-friendly version of the urukonglo.
Ganesh works in a world of percussion instruments, many of which he built or modified: polytimbral frame drums such as the bodhran, bendir and daff; a metallophone (Indian mallet keyboard); kanjira and kanriqq tambourines; the cheng (Laotian mouth organ); bansuri and kural bamboo flutes from north and south India respectively; the moorching mouth harp; and a Chinese reed instrument called the baou. His voice reflects the harmonic approaches and traditions he has studied around the world.
Their music is a magic combination of composition and improvisation. They create a musical space of trance and dance, rhythm and melody. They can scratch it up like a DJ or give a shape to the silence, take it down to a drone and then to a primal high. Listening to their music, looking at their instruments, one can’t help but wonder about some of those notes between the notes and just how ancient they might be. Who were the first to hear these notes? What did music conjure for them in a world where most of the sound was made by nature?
Voice, drums, bows. These are not just the deep roots of folk music. These are the deep roots of all music, of music itself. Ga Gi is a window of sound and the view might just take your breath away.
Eliza Gilkyson – USA
There’s a lot to be said for being young, but there are some fine things about not being young too. When it comes to music for instance, there are certain kinds of ‘real good’ that only come with time, and the only way there is the hard way. An artist strong enough to get to that kind of good will be able to testify about what becomes clear when the illusions dissolve, what becomes dear on the far side of loss and, down the road, what endures.
Eliza’s back pages are full of music. She grew up in a house full of it, including compulsory harmony sessions at the dinner table and studio sessions as a kid. Her dad was a folksinger and songwriter who covered a lot of ground, including a few hits for Disney, in films like The Jungle Book. Her brother is the guitar player who joined X after Billy Zoom left. Her songwriting put her on Austin City Limits 20 years ago and she’s been writing ever since. Some years were spent living and working in Europe, but she always knew home was going to be in the Southwest.
Eliza makes music that gets under your skin and stays there. Her songs are so solid and real that you wish all kinds of other artists would sing them too because then more people would hear them more often. It’s music that draws on powerful feelings invoked by looking at the real world and seeing a lot gone wrong, but also enough gone right to inspire pride, joy and thankfulness. Some of her latest songs have the kind of anger in them that doesn’t come on fast, but when it does, watch out, or in this case, listen up, which is not a problem because Eliza’s voice is a lot like butter.
When she sings, it’s subtle, sensuous and flows like a cool river on a hot day. She can make a song swing its hips down the street, conjure a wicked smile or bring on a stillness that will freeze you in your tracks. They don’t teach you how to sing like that in school because they can’t. You have to take the long road and learn it yourself.
Grrrls with Guitars – British Columbia
Nadine Davenport, founder and producer of Vancouver’s Grrrls with Guitars, is a 23-year veteran volunteer of this Festival. From Raffle to Stage 5 crew, then on to admin assistant (for pay), Nadine worked and learned, and in 1984 decided she knew enough to produce the First Vancouver Women’s Music Festival.
With that victory, Nadine wanted more. She more occasions for women to perform their own songs. She decided to produce Grrrls with Guitars showcases once a month. Eleven years and more than 500 Grrrls later, she’d created one of the most successful independent performance platforms in Canada, with three western Canadian tours and two compilation CDs under its belt. There is no genre bias among the Grrrls. They hail from rock, jazz, bluegrass, alt country and modern folk. Grrrls alumni that come to mind are Trish Klein and Allison Russell of Po’ Girl, Kinnie Starr, Belinda Bruce, Kat Wahamaa, Sandy Scofield, Carloyn Mark, Linda McRae, Rae Spoon and Marianne Grittani.
A deal with Maximum/Universal will see both Compilations Vol 1 & 2 re-issued and 17 new Grrrls on Volume 3 released this fall. There’s a new touring schedule coming and Grrrls new home base is The Rime on Vancouver’s Eastside. The festival presented workshops with Nadine’s Grrrls with Guitars from 1995 to 1998. This year’s Grrrls are:
Leslie Alexander grew up on a farm and couldn’t wait to hit the road, make a bunch of mistakes and write songs about them. She’s made two critically acclaimed CDs since then, touring Canada on her own or opening for the likes of Mary Gauthier, Barney Bentall and Harry Manx. Her songs, like the one about the contrasts between haystacks and high-rises, are on the radio overseas, and licensed for film. Her newest CD, Garden in the Stones, features Jane Siberry and Barney Bentall.
Nadine Davenport, mastermind of Grrrls with Guitars, also performs and writes her own material. As well, she works with indie label Maximum Music. While focusing primarily on retail and radio promotions, she’s also an A&R rep for the label. Producing, performing and working deep in the business side of music, Nadine is musically multidimensional.
Angela Harris is a small town girl with a down-home heart. Her voice is sweet, strong and versatile, and she moves easily from bluegrass to traditional country, folk and blues. But first and foremost, she’s a songwriter, describing her creative technique as ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs.’ “There are certain times of the year when I inhale the details of the world and become a holding tank. When I get too heavy, I switch to ‘output’ and start writing songs.” This fall, her self-produced CD, Roots, will be re-released by Maximum/Universal.
Taylor James is a gutsy performer whose contagious energy, love of electric guitar slide solos, wisecracks and intimate acoustic composition, leave audiences in Canada, USA, Germany and Ireland wanting to hear more. With three albums behind her, the newest is an acoustic solo with dynamic guitar playing and versatile vocal delivery.
Sarah Harmer – Ontario
Sarah Harmer is at the forefront of the new generation of singer/songwriters, not only for her music, but because of the stance she has taken on social and environmental issues. The platinum-selling Canadian songstress has a captivatingly honest voice and is simultaneously on a crusade to do her part as a citizen of the world.
Hailing from southern Ontario, Sarah began by fronting a university band, Weeping Tile, touring the college circuit. Her first solo album, Songs for Clem, was recorded as a gift for her father. Her second album, You Were Here, reached platinum and, according to Time, was one of the top ten albums of 2000. Her latest record, All Of Our Names, won Adult Alternative Album Of The Year at the 2005 Juno Awards.
Sarah’s songwriting is about open relationships with loved ones, strangers and oneself. It’s about the people who can strike a chord deep inside you at any moment with their words, actions, glances and silence, visceral moments captured like a snapshot. Anyone who has lived in a relationship will relate to her honest, philosophical and poetic lyrics.
With her record sales skyrocketing, Sarah is using her name and her success as a platform for change, rather than letting it go to her head. She recently launched an “I Love the Escarpment” hiking tour to raise awareness of the Niagara Escarpment, an 800 km green corridor rock ridge in Southwestern Ontario. Recognized as a UNESCO world biosphere reserve, certain areas are being eyed as potential limestone quarries. Sarah grew up nearby, on her family’s farm. “With songwriting or whatever I do-I’m in my 30s now-it’s not up to my parents anymore, and I’ve gotta do stuff. I’ve gotta do something to help the world. Music can be a powerfully understated, subtle message to move you in one direction.” Very much aware of what’s going on, the tough and elegant Sarah Harmer is, like all of us, working toward positive changes through her music and actions.
Haugaard and Høirup – Denmark
Since its formation seven years ago, the Danish duo of fiddler Harald Haugaard and guitarist and singer Morten Alfred Høirup has become one of the brightest constellations in Nordic folk music. In concerts all around the world, these superbly talented artists have gained new recognition for the traditions of their homeland.
Haugaard & Høirup perform an elegant mix of old tunes and original compositions seasoned with fresh interpretations of a few Danish folksongs. The duo’s vast and varied repertoire was gathered from family members, from surviving tradition-carriers and from archival sources. The Haugaard & Høirup sound is Danish music at its finest: melodious and sweet, a hint of enchantment and a touch of fire. There are traditions of folk music in both their families. Harald’s grandfather was a fiddler who played traditional dance music, and influenced him deeply. “I think it is important for musicians to be open-minded as much as possible, to play a lot of stuff,” adds Harald. “I play very experimental music with Sorten Muld, and carry elements from jazz and classical and rock music to my own style, to my folk style.” Harald is one of the finest young fiddlers in Denmark, a violinist with a virtuoso’s command and beautiful tone, who plays with passion, swagger and imagination.
Morten, from Copenhagen, earned a reputation as a top-notch guitarist with his unshakeable swinging groove, immense expressiveness and elegant phrasing. His father carried on a Copenhagen tradition of singing. As Morten recalls, his father “…wanted to play with someone who could play bass guitar and guitar and drums at the same time. So I played with him.” A groundbreaking figure in traditional Danish folk music, Morten is helping define the role and explore the possibilities of the acoustic guitar in bands such as The Vineyard and Danish Dia Delight.
Haugaard and Høirup’s latest of four recordings, Om Sommeren (In the Summer), is a gorgeous collection of tunes and old ballads, in spare and sensitive arrangements. This is their first appearance at the Festival, and you may find Haugaard and Høirup are a beautiful soundtrack for your own summer.
Karen and Helene – Denmark
This year marks the debut of music from Denmark at the Festival, a simple fact that is more than passing strange when one considers that musicians from neighboring Sweden, Norway and Finland started performing here some years ago. It is stranger still when you consider that bronze horns have been found there dating back to the Bronze Age and there are more than 600 medieval ballads, with more than 2000 melody variants that have survived up to the present day.
Out timing though, is very good. There has been a folk music revival rising up in Denmark for a few years that literally has to be heard to be believed. Karen and Helene met five years ago at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music Odense where they were the first vocal specialists in the Folk Music course. They sang together as they learned, and one of the big things they learned was how much they liked singing together. They continued singing together after their studies were completed and then began to work with instrumentalists in different combinations. It was not until four years after they met that they recorded a CD together, produced by Harald Haugaard. Original songs flowed gracefully with traditional ones, voices moving between ancient times and our own, in an ambience of jazz, classical and always folk.
Their music evokes some by other artists from Scandinavia, and there are also Celtic echoes at times. Listen though and listen again and it’s clear that this is a very distinct new music, and that has to be a cause for celebration. Certainly, when their CD was released it drew a lot of attention and turned up on many best-of-the-year lists. This winter, Helene traveled with Haugaard & Høirup to the Celtic Colours Festival in Cape Breton and she and Karen performed together at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. Karen has also been touring in Europe and over here with the Danish group Phonix.
A folk revival is a beautiful thing, and the chance to hear one right before your very ears is one of the reasons we have a festival.
David Jacob-Strain – USA
At first glance, David Jacob-Strain might be considered a kid. But in roots and blues circles, this 22-year-old is considered a pro at what he does: singing and playing the blues, 21st century style. David adds a West Coast twist by singing about contemporary issues while still honouring the blues tradition. He says, “One of the challenges of playing blues, writing blues, singing the blues, is to be honest to yourself and sing what you really feel, and at the same time make it part of that tradition. I’m searching out new ways of playing it, new ways of writing.”
His first guitar was a garage sale find in his hometown of Eugene, Oregon. David began playing, accompanying himself singing, at the age of nine. It was clear even then that the blues had captured his heart. From the moment 11-year-old David first played on-stage, both he and his family knew it was where he belonged. Walker T. Ryan, Bob Brozman and the many other fellow blues men David watched at a young age fuelled his own dedication and drive to learn and improve. In an impossibly short time, he was playing the same festival and concert stages as his mentors. Now, after 10 years of performing, studying and teaching, David can fly very, very high on slide guitar, taking audiences to places they’ve never known.
You may wonder whether he has experienced enough of life to sing the blues. It would seem so. He’s remarkably aware of history and on his current album, Ocean or a Teardrop, released last year, David sings of the dangers of our global situation and the loss of loved ones, performed with bluesy yet youthful ‘tude. Wise beyond his years, David Jacob-Strain is of the next generation of blues artists, those who will carry the torch of this tradition for many more years to come. While blues artists may be turning in their graves at the thought of some of the garbage being passed off as music today, they can rest easier, knowing David will be keeping their traditions alive and respected.
Jaipur Kawa Brass Band – India
Were you ever curious, in a morbid sort of way, about the effects of centuries of British colonial rule on India’s culture, its architecture, literature, art and music, particularly the music? You have to wonder how a country with such incredibly rich and long-standing musical traditions dating back long, long before British colonization, could possibly be influenced by British- primarily military-music.
The answer is that British brass bands utterly captivated the South Asian imagination. The very first English brass band played in India in 1750. By the end of the Brit’s colonizing junket some two centuries later, thousands upon thousands of Indian musicians across the country were members of local brass bands and the tradition was firmly entrenched in Indian musical culture. But during the two centuries in between, times were tough for local horn blowers. The Brits decided brass bands would be reserved for their own listening pleasure and that of India’s elites. Local bands weren’t permitted to play for the common people or even in the street. Today, the trumpets, trombones, clarinets, bass and snare drums and cymbals of a brass band are everywhere. They accompany national and religious celebrations, popular festivals, political processions, weddings and births.
The Jaipur Kawa Brass Band hails from Jaipur, not far from the edge of Rajasthan’s Thar Desert. The band has been together since their debut in 1995 and is led by their founder and artistic director, Hameed Khan Kawa. Their wild repertoire is played by eight of the best brass band musicians in Rajasthan, many trained by their fathers and forefathers. To the music, add colourful and eclectic costumes, a feast for the senses. A gypsy dancer contorts like a cobra, the guardian of the spiritual truth she represents. A fakir (magician) performs unique and awe-inspiring illusions. Merge virtuoso brass band improvisations of popular Indian songs, folklore, and famous Bollywood film classics with the elaborate percussive structures of North Indian classical music, and you are close to imagining the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band. It’s a musical and visual extravaganza, full of vitality and brilliance.
Knaan – Somalia/Toronto
Living in Canada is a luxury. We are extremely fortunate to live in a country where people of different walks of life live and work together in peaceful co-existence. This is a safe place, where we can share our knowledge and ideas and personal experiences and be heard and accepted. Lately, more artists who fled from war-torn countries are sharing their experiences, and we are listening.
K’naan is a twenty-something MC/poet/spoken word artist who was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in Eastern Africa. He started listening to hip-hop CDs sent by his father, who was in New York City working as a cab driver. While dodging bullets and dealing with riots and looting on a daily basis, K’naan learned the verses of the great American MCs, although he didn’t actually know how to speak English. His poetry and spoken word roots come from his grandfather and aunt who were well-known poets and singers in Africa. The trouble in Mogadishu kept getting worse and K’naan watched friends, family and allies dying around him. After several near-death escapes, K’naan was 13 when he and his family boarded what would be the last commercial flight out of Somalia. In the Bronx, K’naan says he was totally unfazed by the violence on the street because “In Mogadishu, handguns aren’t considered dangerous. You have to shoot something heavy. AK-47s or RPGs.”
After moving to Toronto, K’naan started on yet another journey. Using hip-hop, he shares the truth about his world and the reality he experienced in Mogadishu, events we only know through the filtered lens of the media. K’naan found producers and managers who believed in him and helped record his first album, The Dusty Foot Philosopher, to spread his message worldwide. He was invited to perform at the 50th Anniversary celebration of the United Nations Commission for Refugees and called out high-ranking officials for their mishandling of the crisis in Somalia. The audience gave him a standing ovation. “It was me now…standing on the stage, able to speak to the world,” he reflects, still visibly amazed by the experience. “I took that opportunity. If I hadn’t, I would not be able to justify my existence. I wouldn’t be able to justify my struggle, my survival.”
Leaky Heaven Circus – British Columbia
There’s poetry in their name that should give even the uninitiated a sense that this is not a circus in the sense of a great big whoop-de-doo just passing through. This circus has roots, right here in Vancouver. It began with a friend talking to a friend and then some friends getting together and getting together again, until one day these friends had a deadline and a map.
Fast forward a few years, and they have become one of Vancouver’s treasures. They’re not a ‘circus’ circus. Rather they are artists of all ages, shapes and sizes, bringing together comedy and drama, dance, dialogue, myths, music, sideshows, love and attitude with an audience ready for anything, and holy doodle Houston, we have a circus. They don’t so much draw the circus from life as they pour life into the circus. When they take your breath away, it’s definitely not big budget production values doing most of the work. These are neighbours and friends of friends and people who, in short, are very much like us. This closeness is at the heart of their work and their relationship with the audience. It’s what made them such a natural for our weekend in the park: their belief that the audience is a creative partner.
Last year it was Ziggurat, a Greek myth seen through the lens of East Vancouver, performed first under their own big top (OK, medium top) just off Commercial Drive; then here under the big Jericho willow tree. There was ranting and tumbling and hip-hop and much laughter from deep in the belly, because they are ours, not a remote and perfect circus ‘from away.’ This year it’s an enigma, code-name Happyland, wherein the circus morphs toward carnival and even sideshow. For hundreds of years, part of the attraction to such gatherings has involved both a whisper of promise and an element of risk. You may be offered an opportunity in Happyland. You may be asked to risk: a loonie or two, a trinket or a bauble for a promise of something more. That promise could be fulfilled…or you may never see your loonie again. Either way, you’ll always remember the day you joined the circus.
It is a fact of nature that the deeper and wider the roots, the stronger the tree, and the longer it will thrive. I think the same holds true with music and artists. An artist with deep roots in a tradition, who understands how it connects to and is influenced by others, can create new work that is a natural, seamless extension of all that has gone before.
I think this can be said of Mel M’rabet. A child of musicians, he grew up Granada, Andalusia, where he began studying the oud as a child. Later, he added percussion and voice to his lessons. Living where he did, it’s not surprising that he was immersed in Andalusian music or that he was drawn to the traditions of its constituent elements: the music played by the Turks, Kurds and Armenians, as well as music of the Roma, especially flamenco. Mel started tracing these roots back while continuing his studies on the oud and this played an important role in his evolution as a musician and a composer.
His professional career began when he was 18, and soon after, he was touring in Andalusia, followed by tours in France and Germany, before he moved to Canada and made his home in Ottawa. Over the years, Mel has returned several times to study in both Spain and France. His trips have also included performances with artists such as Salif Keita, Omar Sosa and Cheb Mami, as well as Chano Dominguez and other prominent Spanish flamenco artists.
Mel has become a virtuoso on the oud and a highly respected singer and composer, but he is not a preservationist. Mastery of the traditions and powerful technique have resulted in a very distinctive style of playing that reflects both his travels and his desire to extend the possibilities for the instrument. To that end, he has even begun to build ouds, to enhance the sound and range. Mel M’rabet, with his roots deep in Andalusia, has become an artist who personifies a proud living tradition.
Juana Molina – Argentina
Music is a universal language. You don’t have to speak an artist’s mother tongue or understand the polyrhythmic ideas behind the melodies and drumbeats in order to appreciate a musical composition or the spirit that created it. The essence of a song is expressed through the total sum of vocals, instruments and rhythms merged into one.
Argentinean-born singer/songwriter/producer Juana Molina’s gorgeous minimalist music illustrates this point perfectly. She assures us that whether or not we are conversant in her language is unimportant because, “The words fit with the music as another instrument, so people who don’t speak Spanish can listen without understanding the lyrics.”
Juana’s father was a tango crooner and taught her to play the guitar at the age of five, and she was surrounded by musicians in their summer home. The idyllic summers ended when a military coup d’état seized power and her family was forced to flee the country. They lived in Paris, unable to return to Argentina until democracy was restored six years later. Back in Buenos Aires, she sang in various bands and decided she needed lessons to refresh her guitar skills. To make extra money for lessons, she got work in television as a comedienne. Perhaps it was partly due to her mother being an actress that Juana had an unusual aptitude for this new role, because she soon found herself starring in her own sitcom, Juana y Sus Hermanas (Juana and Her Sisters), and became a well-known comedienne on Spanish-language television along the lines of a Carol Burnett or Tracey Ullman.
Her musical aspirations lay dormant for seven years until she turned her back on television in the mid-90s and moved to Los Angeles to record her first album, Rara. Now she’s back in Buenos Aires, increasingly successful in music with a third CD, her latest release, Tres Cosas (Three Things). In a soft near-whisper, she sings of life, laughter and love to music that is beautiful and lackadaisical. Take some time; sit back and let her music sweep you away.
Any analysis of this Festival’s DNA would turn up a whole lot of Utah Phillips. His passions-and they are many-for music, history, justice and fun and his intense curiosity and ability to see connections have inspired much that is good about this weekend in the park.
He is radical about many things, and in his songs and his stories, he is living proof that there are few things more essential to any radical toolbox than a long memory, especially one laced with the wisdom of those who have fought before you. This kind of remembering has the power to buttress us up against any number of spinning doctors, ingenuous ne’er do wells snarling at the trough and high holy-rolling hypocrites of any number of ideologies.
At the same time, he is perhaps the only artist who will sit down on any given festival stage and tell you straight out that “folk music is boring.” This from a man who has ridden the rails, walked picket lines, found himself freezing on a battlefield and other things many artists only know from movies and books. He’s the artist advising a giggle of girls about their business plan involving re-usable plates and toonies, and whose consulting fee is one poem, to be written by them and read to him. And late Sunday afternoon, they were back, with a poem and their pockets jingling.
He makes speaking out seem as natural as breathing, which is one of the reasons artists like Ani DiFranco and Dan Bern look to him as a mentor. Utah will tell you straight out if there is a growing divide between your talk and your walk. In music, word and deed, he’s a beacon that always points back to the community, to talking and listening and working together with your friends and your neighbours. It is a very, very special pleasure to welcome back a man who is truly an elder of this Festival. If you’re looking for him, listen for the sounds of cantankerousness, or laughter. And keep your eyes peeled for a red rubber nose.
John Reischman and the Jaybirds – British Columbia
John is a pretty soft-spoken guy and the Jaybirds-Jim Nunally on guitar and vocals, Trisha Gagnon on bass and vocals, Nick Hornbuckle on banjo and Greg Spatz on fiddle-are all pretty congenial folk. It probably has something to do with why this group has been together for so long, but it gives you no clue as to why they sometimes give sound people and stage crews absolute conniptions. But in a time when many groups show up beside the stage with a truckload of gear and stage plots full of circles and arrows, there is often no precedent for a group that only wants two microphones and would prefer it if you moved those monitors off the stage, thanks.
It’s not ‘the done thing,’ as they say, but it certainly works for them. This is music that gets made up close, acoustic and personal with each other, and you can hear it in every note they pick and every note they sing. It’s the kind of music friends make, especially friends who love the old songs as much as the ones they’ve written themselves. Bluegrass is special that way. It’s a relatively new genre of music, but it’s one of the folkiest traditions around, and you better believe I mean that in the finest possible way. There is a large repertoire of songs familiar to both the audience and the artists and I don’t think there is another kind of music where so many of the people who love it, play it.
John could truly be said to be a player in the acoustic community here, and one of the great things about doing a festival in Vancouver is that there are a lot of amazing artists, like John, one can call up to talk about an idea. A few months ago, we met up at Calabria and once we had our coffee and a table, I pulled out a copy of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, the classic recording made in 1972 by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, playing with artists like Maybelle Carter, Roy Acuff and Doc Watson. We began to talk about a special session for this year’s Festival, based on some of the Grand Old Songs rarely heard at folk festivals these days-not specifically the songs on that record, but in that spirit.
The next time we sat down, Koralee Tonack joined in the discussion and some ideas began to take shape about a session anchored by the Jaybirds and Slowdrag. At this writing, I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen at “Will the Circle…”. I don’t know what songs will be sung and I don’t know who will drop in to play them. You’ll have be there to find out. I do know there will be some great pickers and singers onstage and there will be some great songs sung that don’t get sung often enough, and as the young folks say, it’s going to be sweet. See you there!
Dona Rosa – Portugal
We hear so many rags to riches stories: someone poor and in desperate circumstances suddenly, miraculously, elevated to fortune and comfort like a Little Orphan Annie. Few stories can match the pathos of Portugal’s Rosa Francelina Dias Martins’ life.
She was born into poverty in 1957. At age four she contracted meningitis, which left her blind and living on the streets of Lisbon where she first learned the traditional folk music of Portugal, called fado. At 20, the blind girl was put on a train home to her family in Northern Portugal. But as soon as she arrived, she caught the first train back to Lisbon, knowing her family would not accept her blindness. Back on the streets again, she sold magazines and lottery tickets to make a living until someone suggested she use her beautiful voice to earn her livelihood. In the 20 years since, she has survived with just her voice, fado and a triangle for accompaniment.
Fado is the heart of Portuguese soul, arguably the oldest urban folk music in the world, dating from the streets of Lisbon in the 1800s. The essential element of fado music is saudade, a Portuguese word that translates as longing or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. It speaks of an undefined yearning that can’t be satisfied. It is played for pleasure but also to relieve the pain of everyday life. Fado is derived from the Latin term fatum, meaning fate, and in Dona Rosa’s case, fate dealt her an unusual hand. Austrian multimedia artist Andre Heller was searching for the mysterious woman whose voice continued to haunt him from many years ago. After some sleuthing, he found Dona Rosa in 1999 and took her to Marrakech for a television production. Sometime during taping, the JARO record label heard her and signed her immediately. She has been touring and recording ever since.
Dona Rosa’s courage, and the strength that helped her survive on the street are unmistakable in her emotional and moving songs. Singing her own special brand of fado, Dona Rosa plays the triangle with accompaniment by Vincent D’Aversa on accordian and Abilio Marques Caseiro on guitarra, a 12-string Portuguese guitar.
Xavier Rudd – Australia
There are certain moments in your life when everything becomes clear.
Whether from words spoken, or music that has moved you, your understanding of life and the relationships between everything suddenly makes perfect sense. People may come and go, and surroundings change, but one thing is constant: you are always part of a global nexus of connectedness, a greater whole. Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd speaks of this reality throughout his music and the power of truth in his voice is loud and clear. Xavier calls both Torquay, Australia and the West Coast of BC home because the Pacific Ocean, the beauty and fluidity of his surroundings, have such a strong influence on him, which he expresses in his music and words. In his album Solace, Xavier reflects, “Here I’m at one with these trees. All these birds sing to my rhythms, and these waves, they comfort me.”
Xavier is an activist artist. His passion for music is energized by his love of life and the natural world. He uses his voice to draw attention to the beauty of this world and to the forces that threaten. He also walks the walk, supporting environmental causes through benefit concerts and records sales, drawing attention to the sensitive ecological areas along the coast and the diminishing lands of indigenous people in Australia. Lyrics in his album, G.B.A., question the power and egos of those who “…could end our days…here on this earth, this magical place.”
A humble, self-taught solo musician, Xavier and his instrumental entourage are electrifying onstage. He instrumentation is impressive for the lone performer lap steel guitar, harmonicas, acoustic/electric guitars, hand held drums and djembes, didgeridoos and other instruments, all set up on stage waiting to be played. The result is a super high-charged, energetic set from one of today’s most literate up and coming musicians.
It’s no wonder that more and more people are hearing about Xavier. He is the kind of artist friends tell friends about. His passion for making a difference reflects what many of us are feeling.
Oliver Schroer – British Columbia
Oliver’s trajectories as an artist are a violin version of the Big Bang. He’s created music and appeared with artists from Jorane to James Keeleghan, Liu Fang to Tanya Tagaq Gillis in sessions of all manner of off beaten tracks all around the world. All the while, he keeps composing music of such singular originality that it defines the musical translation of the word “diversity.”
Since we saw him last, Oliver’s been travelling of course, but then he’s always travelling. There have been film soundtracks to play in LA; records to produce for artists all across the country; and his own recordings. Another journey saw Oliver on the famous European pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago, with his partner Elena and two friends. They walked across southern France and northern Spain every day for a month, faithfully following the route pilgrims have taken for a thousand years. It was a long walk: a million steps by their best reckoning.
Along the way, they stopped at old churches. Sometimes con permisso, sometimes not, recording gear set up if the church was empty and Oliver played his violin-solo-in the centre of a centuries-old stone church, playing music he composed while treading the ancient route. The recordings are soon to be released as a fascinating and haunting CD called Camino, and Oliver will be performing the music in concert this weekend.
You may remember The Twisted String from last year: a vivid group of young fiddlers studying with Oliver. This year he’s teaching more and even younger fiddlers. In a time when so much of music is about business, it’s a rare artist who will spend hours transcribing compositions by an eight-year-old so they can be played by an entire stage full of fiddlers. When you hear his new protégés in Truffles this weekend, you’ll know why he finds them a joy to work with.
Oliver is also taking part in the Collaboratory again. He has been close to the heart of that project since it began. He is a unique combination of composer, soloist and accompanist, curious and fearless, with more bright ideas than a box of sparklers. He is a musical seeker, and seeking has taken him down many roads and made him an avid listener, which may be why his own music is so rich both in sound, and silence.
Kate Schutt – USA
Nobody does it better than Kate Schutt when it comes to working hard and still having a good time.
After completing a degree in traditional composition and jazz performance at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Kate returned to Cambridge to complete her studies in English Lit, balancing academia with athletics as an All-American lacrosse goalie and varsity ice hockey player. That college athleticism stood her in good stead in her choice of instrument: she plays a Novax 8-string guitar/bass hybrid (five guitar strings, three-bass-strings) that was originally made for the infamous Charlie Hunter. In fact, she’s the only woman in the world that plays this instrument, and even seems to enjoy working with its physical challenges. The Novax provides a rich soundscape backing her seductive vocal techniques.
Since her Harvard days, Kate’s produced a series of her own CDs on her own record label, Wild Whip Records. She launched the trilogy with Brokenwingtrick, uniquely personalized covers of eighties pop tunes. Her second album, Brokenworld, is all her own material-just Kate and her emotions and her unusual guitar. The final piece of the trilogy is Broken, an agile synthesis of folk and jazz. Her powerful and intimate voice makes each album a pleasure.
Some hear a little of Ani DiFranco’s rock/roots style in Kate’s music, although she has a taste for musical freedom that leads her more toward jazz than her ‘righteous babe’ peer. Her live performances are fierce. She’s an unrestrained singer with amazing endurance and handles her guitar with the strength and agility that must owe something to her years on the ice. Kate was in danger of losing her voice permanently a few years ago, had a successful throat surgery and kept right on multitasking at full throttle. She released a five-song EP last year, collaborating with MCs and scratch DJs and is now finishing another full-length album. Meanwhile, she runs her own record label to help support other indie artists and for the past four years has also been mentoring undergraduate women interested in music and the music biz through Radcliffe’s Mentoring Program at Harvard. If there was a “Hardest Working Musician In Show Biz” category at the Junos, Kate should definitely be nominated!
Mike Seeger – USA
Mike was five years old when he learned to sing his first ballad. The song was “Barbara Allen” and he learned it from his parents. In the decades since then, he’s learned a lot more songs. He has also learned to play the banjo, guitar, fiddle, trump (jaw harp), autoharp, quills and lap dulcimer as well as many other instruments. His teachers have been many, including artists like Maybelle Carter, Dock Boggs and of course, Elizabeth Cotton. Many have passed on, but some of their music can still be heard because Mike learned it, and he recorded them performing it.
He calls it “music from the true vine,” the combination of European and African traditions in the pre-media American South. It was music created for dancing, for working, for passing along stories and passing the time with good company, not for sale or for concerts. This “music from the old weird America,” as Griel Marcus calls it, was at the heart of the folk revival 50 years ago. It is rarely heard at folk festivals or clubs anymore. Ironically, while most of the world’s classical and improvisational traditions see creating a musical voice through the interpretation of old songs as fundamental, much of the music that is called ‘folk’ in North America does not.
Mike was a founding member of the New Lost City Ramblers, one of the most influential groups through those early revival years. He’s an artist, a musician, an archivist and an historian who has recorded almost 40 albums, made dozens of field recordings and videos, performed all over and also organized many tours for traditional musicians and dancers.
At the heart of all his work is the desire to inspire greater interest in the music of the “the true vine.” Jerry Garcia and David Grisman are among those who’ve testified to the influence listening to Mike had on their music. Bob Dylan talks about Mike in his new book Chronicles, describing a performance at Alan Lomax’s home one night and his realization that he would never be able to do the old songs like Mike could. Dylan writes, “It dawned on me that I might have to change my inner thought patterns…maybe I’d have to write my own folk songs, ones Mike didn’t know.”
It’s an honour and a very special pleasure to welcome him to the Festival.
Tons of Fun University (T.O.F.U.) – British Columbia
One of the emotional and aesthetic high points of last year’s Festival was the entry into the world of Tons of Fun University. The ensemble was, literally, born as a result of the overwhelming audience response to the spoken word artists we’ve had here over the last few years and a conversation I had with Shane Koyczan over an early afternoon plate of bacon and eggs. I was not the only one in tears as their words of love and rage hit the sunset sky.
Shane, Mike McGee and CR Avery are the principals in the group, but who you might find onstage together under the banner of T.O.F.U. will depend what night you see them and where the gig is. They come out of the old school of slam poetry, when it was all about being amazed by what other poets were doing as well as pushing yourself to bring the best you had to the stage. All three artists have a deep understanding of community anchored on The Drive and connected to other poets and musicians and activists all over.
This sense of community and representing runs deep. It was clear last year that they saw bringing spoken word to the Evening Concert Stage as an opportunity not just for them, but for everybody in the spoken word community. They are their own first (and probably worst) critics, relentlessly editing and always daring themselves to take it to the next level. It is respect and payback to the writers and musicians who’ve inspired them through life and it’s also the true work of an artist-to be honest, learn your craft, and devote yourself to give the best you have to share.
It’s been a busy year since that night here. They’ve toured north and south, solo and ensemble. They were featured in a major international showcase of First Nations artists in Montreal this winter and commissioned to create a piece by Rock The Vote. They have an agent now to take care of business, and have just released their first CD. Needless to say, it was recorded in East Van and all kinds of friends from the neighbourhood helped them take it to another level.
Truffles – British Columbia
Truffles are the latest musical blossom to appear in the valley up around Smithers, BC. Over the last couple of years, we have come to know a little about the musical situation up that way. It began with some remarkable stories about a community where there were about 70 young people getting seriously into music, particularly fiddle music. The stories were brought by Oliver Schroer. He and a few other fiddlers, like Daniel Lapp, had been going there to teach and it was obviously having an affect.
Two years ago, the Bulkley Valley Fiddlers, all 70 of them, along with their folks, came down here to play at the Festival. Last year, The Twisted String showed us what a dozen teenaged fiddlers could do together when they decided to get serious about having a good time. This summer, they’re touring other festivals in BC.
This winter, Oliver returned from the valley with tales of Truffles. It seems that while we may have presented the next generation of Smithers fiddlers as of last summer, there is now a new next generation, including musicians as young as eight, composing music for violin. Among the first pieces I heard, one was about the untimely passing of two hamsters and another commemorated the eating of a sponge by a horse under the care of the two young composers. To the members of Truffles-Lauren, Carly and Hayley Allen, Katherine and Emily Clougher, Robin and Madeline Lough and Jason Oliemans- they are simply composing music drawn from life.
Music by Truffles, like that by Duplex, is young people’s music and neither of them sound anything like music made for young people by people who are not. Unlike Duplex, Truffles create instrumental music. It’s fiddle music that weaves elements of a lot of well-known folk traditions into the internet, Game Boys and other elements of contemporary rural life. These pieces twist, turn, pause, switch directions and otherwise confound expectations. It’s like a chance to listen to the future, and in my experience it makes you glad you have ears. Truffles’ music is fresh, fun, funny, delightful and lovely, as well as a cause for celebration of something wonderful happening in a community where teachers and families and music are getting together.
Le Vent du Nord
Le Vent du Nord epitomizes the verve and bonhomie of the current roots music revival in Quebec. From the opening track of the quartet’s debut release, Maudite Moisson! (Heck of a Harvest!) which is steeped in the traditions of La Belle Province, it was clear this band meant business. The album deservedly claimed a Juno Award in 2004, and this year’s release, Les Amants du Saint Laurent (The Lovers of the St. Lawrence), is a powerful follow-up, brimful of toe-tapping gigues and reels, the infectious call-and-response songs known as chansons-à-répondre and excellent original compositions.
Soon after the group formed, Le Vent du Nord joined us in the park in 2003 and made a lot of friends. The group is back again this year with an exciting new guitarist and singer, Simon Beaudry (brother of La Bottine Souriante’s, Eric Beaudry). Front man Benoit Bourque is a youthful veteran who honed his skills during the earlier Quebecois revival of the seventies and played in several bands, including Eritage, Ad Vielle Que Pourra and Matapat. Benoit plays button-accordion, mandolin, jaw harp and bones for Le Vent du Nord, and is an incredibly agile gigueur (stepdancer). Don’t be surprised if he jumps off the stage to organize an impromptu dance set in the audience.
Fiddle-player Olivier Demers and multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Nicolas Boulerice are immensely talented young artists who met while at school and have been making amazing music ever since. They studied jazz and played classical music, pop and even country. There are elements from all these genres in their own compositions, and in the sound of Le Vent du Nord, though the pair remains solidly grounded in the traditions of French-speaking Canada. The most distinctive colour in the band’s acoustic palette is provided by Nicolas’s hurdy-gurdy, an instrument very rarely heard in Quebecois folk music. He also plays keyboards, snare drum and accordion.
When the musicians of Le Vent du Nord perform, it’s clearly not a case of ‘another day, another gig.’ They are having a ball and they want us to share the energy. As the Quebecois like to say, “Ça swing en ostie!“
Aditva Verma – Quebec/India
Music has been part of Aditya’s life since the day he was born. When he was a child, he started to play the tabla with his father Dr. Narendra Verma and Ustad Zakir Hussain. His musical studies would inevitably lead him to India and in 1987 he left Montreal to study Hindustani classical music in the Maihar Senia Gharana as a disciple of the legendary sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar and renowned sarod master Ustad Aashish Khan. Aditya has also trained under the eminent Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
In this tradition, the disciple is taught by the guru through the oral tradition and it’s not surprising that a highly regarded guru will select disciples with great care. It takes time and dedication to learn the kind of subtleties found in a tradition that has evolved over two thousand years where up to 90% of what will be played may be improvised. It is expected that an artist’s technique will be excellent. The improvisations reveal both one’s understandings of the music and one’s imagination, and if one is a disciple of a highly regarded guru, the expectations will be high. His instrument, the sarod, took its present form more than 200 years ago and its roots run back to the first century. The body is made from a single piece of teak, with goat skin stretched over the belly and a neck made of polished steel. It is played with the fingernails and a pick made from coconut shell.
This classical tradition is both the heart and the foundation of Aditya’s music. Much of his time is devoted to being a concert artist and I’m not the only one who remembers his stunning concert here in 2001. In recent years, he has also stepped outside the tradition and begun working with Vineet Vyas on tabla and Joy Anandasivam on guitars as the group Tantra. Drawing from both Hindustani and Karnatic traditions, and the improvisational tradition in jazz, they performed here in 2003 and have just released their first CD. Aditya continues to explore trans-cultural improvisation, and those explorations will resume in this year’s Collaboratory.
Although the Jennys are seasoned festival veterans, this year we see them in a new light. When Cara Luft left the group late last year, the remaining Jennys, Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta, started searching for a new member: an alto, whose vocal, musical and personal chemistry would meld well with theirs. They found Montreal’s Annabelle Chvostek, and by January they were on the road touring together with new material and a CD in the works. By all accounts, this new incarnation of the Wailin’ Jennys is stronger than ever.
You could say that the Wailin’ Jennys were first brought together by fate. Each of the women was a successful Winnipeg singer/songwriter in her own right when they finally agreed to perform together at a concert one evening after talking about it for quite a while. The synergy between them during that performance was too good to ignore, and a little more than two years ago, the Wailin’ Jennys were born. What makes them so special are their incredibly luscious, harmonious voices and talented songwriting, which combine to deliver mesmerizing performances.
They began touring in Canada and Europe and the response, by everyone who heard them, was immediate and electric. Not long after, in 2004, they won a well-deserved Juno award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year for 40 Days. Everything was rolling along quite merrily and then Cara decided to leave the group to pursue a solo career. Thankfully it was only a minor bump in the road, as Annabelle’s charismatic talents as a musician and vocalist quickly lifted the group back on track. It is the kind of setback that could see a group just fade away, but the Jennys took it in stride and their music is all the richer for working through the challenge.
The Jennys hearken back to an era before business and technology dominated, when making music was a simpler pleasure. All it took was a good voice and an acoustic guitar. Although music has evolved to embrace newer methods of expression, the Jennys have a special knack for staying true to the beauty of the folk tradition. There’s no doubt these classic elements are at the heart of our response to them. They are a delight that’s absolutely timeless.
The Grande Mothers – USA
Each year, among the million phone messages that make a festival, there are a few that tear a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum and reveal a door that one never dreamed existed. So it was the day I got a message that a fellow named Roy Estrada had called with a number where he could be reached.
You don’t have to be one of the musical literati to know about Roy. Back in the early sixties, he was playing bass in a band called The Soul Giants. One day the guitar player quit. He was replaced by a tall skinny Armenian kid. A month later the band’s leader quit. The kid stepped up and took his place, and convinced the group to play his original compositions. They weren’t popular in Orange County, so they headed for LA, 30 miles away. The band changed their name several times. They tried The Blackouts, and Captain Glasspack & The Magic Mufflers, but it wasn’t until 1964 that they finally settled on a new name. When the band finally landed a record deal, MGM had them tack “of Invention” onto their new name. The band was The Mothers, the album was Freak Out and the skinny kid with the guitar was Frank Zappa.
Such were the beginnings of a musical mystery tour that created some of the most radical music of the 20th century. Roy played bass and sang the high end as the Mothers made album after album that destroyed musical boundaries and created new horizons in live performance. He also worked with Captain Beefheart, as that strange angel shook the blues roots of rock and roll with a kind of fearless beauty that makes most rock bands sound like chamber quartets almost 40 years later. Roy would continue to work with Frank over the years. Along the way, he also co-founded a band called Little Feat with Lowell George, drove a lumber truck and helped raise a family. But he never stopped being a freak.
Don Preston grew up in Detroit. He attributes his love for strange and dissonant music to being repeatedly struck on the hands with a large wooden ruler for making mistakes by the nuns from whom he learned the piano. After graduation, once he had put enough pistons in enough car engines at the Dodge plant, he headed for LA, and began playing keyboards with the Mothers just as they were starting their second album, Absolutely Free. It was the beginning of a long history with Mr. Zappa that continued even after The Mothers dissolved and went their separate ways. Don also worked with the Residents and Carla Bley, among many others, and composed a lot of music for film.
Napoleon Murphy Brock began playing sax and singing with Zappa in 1974 for Apostrophe. He became the voice that took Zappa’s lyrics to the world, as they recorded and travelled together for the next decade. Over those years and since, he’s played in many other formations, but when the call came from a festival in Europe to create a living tribute to the music of Zappa and The Mothers, he was ready.
The Grande Mothers base their performances on 20 years of music, from the first album on. Their passion for the music and performing it is as fresh as you could ever want. They know the intensity, complexity and the incredible musical discipline this repertoire demands, because they helped to create it. Working with them are Christopher Garcia and Ken Rosser. Chris is a percussionist from East LA who moves between all the rhythmic tones and instruments needed to drive these songs. Ken’s approach to guitar is infused with exotic musical traditions, from working with kora master Prince Diabate and several Chinese orchestras.
Together, The Grande Mothers have toured all over Europe to ecstatic reviews and audiences of adventurous music lovers who never dreamed anyone could or would do this on stage again. This is the Canadian debut of the music that not just a Mother can love. It’s a personal thrill and an honour to welcome them here.