Tag Archives: Blackbirds are Dancing Over Me

Danny Michel’s Musical Collaboration with The Garifuna Collective

Danny Michel and The Garifuna Collective

As the heavy humidity settles throughout the festival grounds at Birds Hill National Park, signalling the impending rain, Danny Michel enters the media tent early for his interview. He sets down a black case on the table, shakes my hand with a smile and asks, “Is it alright if we do this now?” He has just come from the autograph session following his joint Winnipeg Folk Festival session with the Garifuna Collective.

“No problem,” I reply, gathering my materials for the interview.

Michel is entering the third week of his joint Canada and US Tour with the Garifuna Collective from Belize, whom he collaborated with on his Juno-nominated album, Blackbirds are Dancing Over Me.

Michel is often seen performing solo shows on festival circuits but, this time, he has brought an entire troupe of musicians with him. “I’ve decided to go from solo to ten people,” he laughs while reflecting on this abrupt transition. Michel’s current tour is filled with unique challenges, such as negotiating work visas and coordinating with the Department of Fisheries for customs clearance of percussion instruments like turtle shells. “Everything has been so stressful and so much work, but as soon as we get on stage… it’s worth it,” he states.

The dancing crowds and enrapt audience at Friday’s sessions supported that fact. Both Michel and the Collective shared the stage, taking turns to perform each others songs. A trend which they will follow for the rest of their tour. As a result, all their performances generate a collaborative workshop energy.

Collaborative projects are challenging to execute because it requires a openness and trust from all participating musicians. There is an uncertainty in the fact that neither party is sure of the musical result. Yet, at the same time, that is the beauty of the process because there is an excitement at the prospect of musical genesis. Michel describes his first meeting with the Garifuna Collective in Belize for the album:

“I walked into the room of people I’ve never met being this little guy from Canada. “Hi, everyone. You should trust me and play on my record and play my songs,” and [they were] looking at each other going, “mmm how is it gonna work?” Michel smiles, recalling memories of the situation.

“How did it work?” I inquire further.

“It just worked. I’d go in and show them a song idea, record the guitar part, I’d sing it, and then we’d have my guitar and vocal. Just like a good ol’ singer songwriter song then we just started piling it on… It kinda just became itself,” he replies.

Even when the record was finished, Michel wasn’t sure of the result. “I was close to it. I was so in. So deep that I couldn’t see it with any perspective anymore,” he demonstrates for me while squinting to see the details on the side of his black case. However, Michel reveals that he never felt like it was a risky endeavour to record the Blackbirds album because he had a solid rationale for starting the project with the Garifuna Collective.

“I really did this for a musical adventure for myself. I wanted to learn about their music. I wanted to open my mind and get beyond Pop music. I wanted to become a better artist. So this was a little self project for myself. That was the intention,” he says with genuine honesty in his voice.

When considering how Michel’s lyrics from What Colour Are You? “Why can’t we all just communicate”, I wonder if his current album and tour with the Garifuna Collective symbolizes how open communication between cultures can be successful.

Michel delves into his thoughts, reflecting on the cascading effects of his collaboration, his gaze unfocused upon the surface grains of the wooden table. He remerges, maintaining his humble initial intent, “If I can be a part of inspiring anybody to try more things like [musical collaboration], that’s an honour to me. I looked at this project like, well, I’m just gonna try it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, if it fails, then it’s still going to be a great learning experience. And the exact opposite has happened. It has snowballed. All I wanted to do was make a record. Now it’s a record, then a tour, now it got released in the US, now it’s on the Polaris prize list.” Michel elaborates further, “I think that maybe happened because it was really genuine. It wasn’t a plan. We didn’t have a marketing plan. All we did was put our heart into something and try. And so maybe that’s the secret to its success – that it was honest.”

Michel’s travels to Belize and Garifuna collaboration is a definitive moment for him as an Artist, not only learning from the perseverance, vibe, energy, and heart of the Garifuna Collective performing on stage but, lyrically as well, contemplating the future topics he wishes to address as a musician.

“There was some point, probably around the time where I got tired of Pop music and where I wanted to go to Belize… there’s gotta be more to say. There’s gotta be something important to say. There’s gotta be a way of saying it without it sounding preachy…where I’m bonking people over the head with it. So I’ve tried really hard to kinda say that without sounding preachy… It was a turning point in my life. I don’t even know if I know what it was, I just thought I can’t do this and not say something more. So I’m just trying to be more thoughtful.”

There is no grand plan for Michel. No gleaming whiteboard with dry erase etchings detailing travel and song plans for his future. He prefers it this way. Guided by musical intuition, he does what he feels is right for him at the time. Michel does reveal a general philosophy he follows:

“My goal is to keep following the goal of writing more thoughtful music and just trying to get much better at it… I have something to say. So in 50 years, if I’m gone… one of my songs could still be important and still have something to say to somebody,” he says thoughtfully before laughing at himself, amused at how deep his contemplations led him.

Regardless of topics, songs, or collaborations Michel chooses to address in the future, they will always originate from his humble intent to challenge himself as a musician.

Catch Danny and the Garifuna Collective on this upcoming Canada and US Tour Dates.

Listen to the entire interview here:


This post is part of a series detailing the experiences of Edmonton folkies, Sable and Twila, heading to Winnipeg Folk Festival for the first time. See other posts here. Cross-posted on The Choir Girl Blog.

The Musical Storytelling of Danny Michel

“Any more questions?” Danny Michel says with a familiar ease as a few daring voices speak up between one of his songs. More of his sold-out audience members respond, eager to know more from Michel, such as if it was before or after New Years in Belize that he wrote “Wish Willy,” or what exactly he was drinking from his mug on-stage. By the way, he doesn’t remember whether if it was before or after New Year’s he wrote “Wish Willy” and he was drinking tea to soothe his sore throat from the tour. Michel’s comfortable stage presence makes inter-song banter witty and natural while maintaining an intimate atmosphere with his audience.

Fresh from his European tour to Germany, Holland, and Austria, Michel braved the flight disturbances caused by Hurricane Sandy to begin his cross-Canada tour in Courtenay, B.C. The tour is to promote Danny’s new album, “Black Birds are Dancing Over Me,” joined by his band comprised of Quique Escamilla (Michel’s amazing opening act), on percussion and guitar, Dave Tolly on drums, and Mark MacIntyre on bass and vocals. Although his most recent album was recorded entirely in Belize with the Garifuna Collective, who are not on this current tour, Michel was successful in channeling the South American spirit in live performance with his band trio. All band members were well positioned to create a sense of ensemble. By having the drums on stage right facing inward, it helped to maintain the focus on Michel while creating a collaborative musical pod on stage. While the strange geometric shaped lighting patterns were distracting, the solid backlighting that was dominant throughout the performance kept the attention focused on the music.

There is no mistaking Michel’s characteristic rough voice quality, pulsating guitar playing, and expressive physical presence. He is a musical storyteller. He embodies the characters in his tunes, from the boastful old man in “Whale of a Tale,” or the scorned lover in “Tennessee Tobacco.” No musical detail is missed, like the subtle vocal shiver on the word “touch” in “What Colour Are You?”, a song inspired by winning a mood ring from a toy dispenser while in Belize. The sound of gritty rock emerges with “Into the Light”, and Michel played a previously recorded vocal solo from Chi-Chi (a.k.a Rolando Mercelino) from the stage. The gentle plea for people to open their hearts to love was audible in “A Cold Road.” These three songs highlight the diverse range of his newest album.

The reason for Michel’s success is due to his solidly established musical identity. Michel transcends the need for musical genre labeling because, frankly, he can do whatever he wants because his distinctive voice remains present in all of his work. From the positive audience reception of Michel’s new album, “Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me,” Michel has the unwavering encouragement of his supporters for whatever musical direction he wishes to embrace next.

Stream Danny Michel’s new album on CBC Music

For more information on this artist, check out YegLive.ca, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can catch Michel at other Canadian cities on his current tour.

Danny Michel’s Musical Conch Cerviche

Canadian singer-songwriter Danny Michel has produced a 10 disc repertoire that is one of the most diverse I have ever consumed as a listener. From the Canadiana backwoods tunes of Feather, Fur & Fin (2008), to the Belizean warmth of Sunset Sea (2010), Michel manages to keep his listeners guessing what musical flavor he will embrace next. He assures me that he tries not to overthink things. “I like to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone,” he states. “If things are comfortable, I feel I’m doing something wrong. I just try and make sure I’m moving forward into uncharted waters.” Michel returns to Belize, which inspired Sunset Sea, to record his latest release, Black Birds are Dancing Over Me (2012).

When comparing his newest CD release to a food dish, he reveals that the seafood recipe, Conch Cerviche, would be most appropriate. This musical offering may be exotic for Canadian audiences. The dish involves marinating firm conch meat, which originates from mollusks, in a mixture of citrus juices. This chilled dish is the perfect accompaniment with a beer and view of the sea. The slightly rough quality of Michel’s voice, juxtaposed with the effervescent ease of tunes such as “What Colour are You?” in the new album represents Conch Cerviche well.

Audiences will have a chance to sample Michel’s most recent album performed live at the Arden Theatre on Friday. It promises to be a unique event because a band joins him this time on this tour. This will be a change for listeners who have only heard him perform solo, accompanied only by his loop pedals. A Michel performance trademark involves live-recording vocal, instrument, and percussion fragments so that he can layer other musical lines with his looped accompaniment, all within the live stage setting.

Michel has settled into his identity as a performer: “It’s hard to decide to throw your diary on the table and put yourself out there. But now I just put things out there, personal thoughts, deep experiences, private stuff and let it go. Some songs are very personal and wind up on albums but I don’t play them live. They are what they are.“

Although listening to recordings is a perfectly adequate way to enjoy music, there is something about the energy of live performance that remains unrivaled. Michel feels that “in a world where everything can be stolen and taken, that live moment is still beautifully pure.” Michel’s raw musical offerings await Arden audiences on Friday.

Stream Danny Michel’s new album on CBC Music

Danny Michel

Friday, November 9, 2012

7:30 PM


Arden Theatre, St. Albert, AB

For ticket info, check out YegLive.ca or call the Arden Theatre Box Office (780-459-1542)

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Take a look at Danny Michel’s tour so far on Instagram