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!