“Music, I think, comes out our pores, and expresses itself in all sorts of ways,” laughed Raven Kanatakta, who, with partner and wife ShoShona Kish, is part of an extraordinary multi-member musical group, Digging Roots, which will perform at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m. “Music is like food to us,” he added.
Digging Roots, which originally formed in 2004, has garnered extensive critical and popular praise. Nominated for numerous awards, the group won a Juno in 2010 for Best Aboriginal Album of the Year, Best Pop Recording at the 12th annual Native American Awards and Best Blues CD at the Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards.
Bill Carriere, on the board of the SLAS, is simply awed by the musical versatility and talent of the band.
“One number finds you immersed in reggae, the next…the music is clearly blues with vocals and guitar working together. Next up one hears something that might have…been done by the Fifth Dimension. Then you’ll be treated to something that is clearly contemporary hip hop. Terrific voices, amazing harmonies…it all comes together beautifully.”
I asked Raven about the band’s eclectic approach to music.
“Well, I come from the 70’s generation, a kind of ‘hippy child’ on the Rez,” he explained, laughing. “I was always listening to the Beatles, to rock bands, jug bands, classical music. It was the same for ShoShona, growing up in Toronto.
I was attracted to a wide variety of music. Listening to music, playing music, and travelling (Digging Roots has toured throughout North America, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand), all these influences come out in our music.”
I asked Raven about the themes, the ideas, the group find themselves exploring through their compositions and performances.
“We spend a lot of time on identity and understanding the world around us. ShoShona and I fell in love in Hawaii, and one Christmas I bought her a ukelele. A uke just seems to lend itself to love songs, and we wrote a whole series of those.”
However, reflecting their rich heritage, Raven and ShoShona have also begun working on a traditional form of composition called Song Lines.
“The Anishinabe were nomadic people who often followed the rivers and waterways, camping at night on the beaches. People sang by the water, sometimes just to hand drums. By the waterside, you could look out, right or left, and see the landscape spread before you, mountains, hills, valleys, forests, and the melodies literally followed the contours of the scenery, rising and falling.
Modern chord progressions allow us to take the same approach, creating songs from the land. We take panoramic photos wherever we go to inspire our melodies. I always say that we are nomadic ourselves in our musical travels.”
Raven and ShoShona are strong advocates of the importance of introducing children to music and the arts.
On Friday afternoon, April 12, in collaboration with the St. Lawrence Stage, and with the support of the Akwesasne Mohawk School Board, they will be performing with, and for, grades 6-8 students at the Akwesasne Mohawk School.
“Holding workshops with students is vitally important,” Raven said. “This is the next generation, and the education children get dictates the kind of adults they become. I believe that exposure to music, dance, culture is important. We need to bring creativity to our schools.”
Finally, I asked Raven the origin of the band’s name.
“Well, Digging Roots is about understanding where we came from. But it also has a symbolic meaning for us as well.”
For seven years, despite conventional medical therapies, Raven’s hands caused him serious health issues. Finally he approached a medicine person on a Northern Reservation. “He took me into the bush, and said to bring a shovel.” Directed to dig up certain roots and plants, (“some in the middle of a bog!”), Raven made a special tea and began drinking it regularly. “In two months, my hands were back to normal and I was playing again. That is also why we chose our name.”
With a new album, For the Light, due to be released in June of 2014, and a cross Canada tour scheduled for the summer, Digging Roots has a very busy schedule. “We are really looking forward to the intimacy of the St. Lawrence Stage, to doing numbers from the new album. It will be fantastic,” said Raven Kanatakta.
Tickets to the Digging Roots concert April 12 are $18 in advance or $20 at the door. Contact www.st-lawrencestage.com
Sandra Whitworth of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage is excited.
“It’s going to be an absolutely fantastic show,” she said. “These are lovely people and amazing musicians too. Having a duo like this on our stage is like getting to have your cake and eat it too.”
Ian Sherwood and Coco Love Alcorn, a dynamic, exciting singer/songwriter duo, and recipients of numerous music awards, will be in Morrisburg on Saturday, October 5, 2013, for a 7 p.m. concert at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre.
The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage has a sparkling line-up of artists in their 2013-14 concert series: Alcorn and Sherwood are two very bright stars in the musical show case.
“Coco has a jazz, a bit of pop and an R&B sound, with some folk tossed in,” Whitworth explained. “She is the daughter of Canadian jazz singer John Alcorn and has toured extensively (with 54-40, Ani DiFranco and Burton Cummings). She is a mesmerizing performer with an absolutely (absolutely!) fabulous voice.”
Ian Sherwood “starts from ‘folk’ and then he moves from there into …R&B and soul. He’s more of a traditional singer/song writer,” Whitworth said. “There is wonderful story-telling in his songs accompanied by beautiful melodies…He’s also multi-instrumentalist.”
Together, these two artists will guarantee a terrific evening of music on October 5th.
“We like the audience to be close to us,” Ian Sherwood said. “We like the interaction with people, and to build a relationship with the audience. We want people to be truly into our show.”
Already noted solo performers on the concert circuits, Sherwood and Alcorn first got together in Halifax around six years ago.
“Actually, a promoter in Halifax contacted me and asked me if I would be interested in opening for Coco,” Ian Sherwood explained to The Leader. “Well, I looked her up, listened to her music, and said to myself, ‘this chick is pretty good,’” he laughed. “We only met during the sound check, but we seemed to really connect on stage. Our music fit well together. Coco later asked me to tour with her for five weeks around B.C., performing in all these little towns and villages. Well, after five weeks in a van, you really get to know someone as a performer: our marriages remained intact, and we’ve worked together a lot ever since,” he added.
They are planning a studio album together, “although it would be great to tape a live concert one day.”
Sherwood admits he has tried other arts careers, but in the end, “I simply love music.” He tends to write in phases, a group of love songs, perhaps a group of jazz songs, even a wave of children’s songs. Then he re-explores his songs, polishing and developing the work.
When he sings, “I tend to borrow vocally from everything, depending on what I am listening to,” he said “I am not sure myself how to describe my voice. I’ll pick up falsetto, or a country twang, and it will be somewhat unintentional. I like whatever works for me and on stage. I lean more to a story telling narrative when I perform.”
Coco, he feels, has a strong folk background, and rhythm and blues is a powerful force in her vocal style.
“Our work is original. We have begun writing together, and there is real variety to our stage show music. Our songs are different enough in style: Coco approaches melody differently than I do. She plays her instruments differently than me as well. She sings back-up to my songs, and I do the same for hers. The overall aim of our concerts is to create a seamless, blended performance.”
Ian Sherwood has twice been named Music Nova Scotia “Musician of the Year,” He was a 2011 ECMA nominee for Male Solo Artist and was recently named best Male Artist at the 8th annual International Music Awards.
Coco Love Alcorn has been the recipient of multiple ECMA, Music Nova Scotian and West Coast Music Award nominations.
Critics have called Sherwood’s songs “romantic as they are clever and snarky…his are often funny, often poignant lyrics.” (Halifax Chronicle Herald) The Ottawa Xpress described Alcorn’s voice as “sparkling and distinctive…a bright burst of colour amidst many shades of indie grey.”
“Folk, blues, jazz, a little pop, a little country, these are the influences that seep into our music,” said Ian Sherwood. “These are the influences that we will make part of our Morrisburg concert.”
For tickets to the 7 p.m. Ian Sherwood, Coco Love Alcorn concert on October 5, contact www.st-lawrencestage.com. Tickets are $18 in advance or $20 at the door.
There was a large audience gathered for the February 16 concert held by the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre.
That really wasn’t a surprise. With such outstanding performers as Natalia Zukerman and Awna Teixeira on the bill, people knew they were in for an exceptional evening.
And the two artists did not disappoint.
Opening for Natalia, Awna Teixeira, an original member of the group Po’Girl, built an informal, comfortable rapport with the audience. Awna is very new to the world of solo performance.
“I’ve been in Po’Girl for about nine years,” she laughed, “but when they went on hiatus for a while, I felt it was time for me to branch out. It’s really an adventure going solo. Suddenly there’s a lot of room up here on the stage.”
Blessed with a sweet, slightly husky voice (it really does have Dolly Parton overtones, a musical comparison she mentioned during an earlier interview with The Leader), Awna cannot be ‘defined’ by a single musical genre. She has honed her talent in a year of concert touring.
“Where Darkness Falls”, the title song of her 2012 album of the same name had a soft folk music flavour to it. Yet “Watch Over Us” was passionate and dramatic. This particular piece reflected her Portuguese heritage, and she sang some of it in that language.
Awna plays several instruments, among them the banjo, guitar and harmonica, and has said that the type of instrument she is playing often determines the nature of the song she sings. Her favourite instrument, however, is the gut bucket bass, although she laughed that she just couldn’t squeeze something that big on to her plane from Utah.
She told the audience that, as a song writer, she often revisits her compositions, not content to leave a song behind forever. “I just added a new verse to a 2005 Po’Girl song I wrote,” she said. “I don’t know how painters ever really finish anything because I have to keep working on my songs.”
Sometimes exuberant, at other times thoughtful, even a little plaintive, Awna Teixeira’s music is an unexpected delight.
There is a gentle sense of humour underlying many of her pieces as well. (One piece was “inspired by two hamsters that I ‘freed’ from their cage in my old classroom.”) By the end of her set, the audience knew that they were hearing a very gifted break out artist.
Natalia Zukerman seemed slight, even fragile, when she stepped on to the Morrisburg concert stage to perform. It was an illusion.
She picked up her guitar and simply filled the hall with a voice that is compelling, rich, powerful. From the moment this artist sang a bluesy “little love song to the South”, swept into the edgy Latin beat of a song about abuse, invited the audience to join her in the whimsical “Valerie” (“Be very Edith Piaf about it!”), Natalia Zukerman was utterly engaging. She owned the Stage.
Accompanied on several songs by Toronto percussionist, Sly Juhas (himself a marked talent), Natalia held the audience in the palms of her hands throughout the evening.
Incidentally, those hands were formidable on guitar. She plays as though the guitar is an extension of her own passionate personality, and her skill is outstanding.
A workshop she held in slide guitar earlier in the day allowed her to share that talent with some eager learners. “She worked with each of us,” said Sandra Whitworth, “and she was terrific and incredibly patient. What a great teacher.”
Raised in New York City, member of the very musical Zukerman family, writing and performance have been part of Natalia’s life since she can remember. But she finds her inspiration in many places.
“I grew up in Manhattan, but wanted to live in a Morrisburg,” she laughed. “I’ve spent my life teetering between big places and little places.”
“It’s been a long day/A long year…We move too fast/We miss too much…We could have some good times/If we didn’t rush.”
A trained visual artist, Natalia makes strong cross over connections between her music and her art. “I begin to think that the same image can occur again and again in a song. Why not? Artists re-paint the same object or scene many times. Even a single image, say of a boat, can create different metaphoric trips in life when you are writing,” she explained in an earlier interview with The Leader.
She has just completed a double live album, an experience the singer/songwriter described as “exhilarating.”
Frankly, Natalia's entire performance at the St. Lawrence Stage Saturday night was exhilarating.
What a grand show!