Tag Archives: Danny Michel

Review: Danny Michel at New Moon Folk Club

The words on Danny Michel‘s red guitar (matching those found on the late Pete Seeger’s banjo) state: “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” Friday night’s show epitomized that same message, that the love embedded in music could conquer all. From “Feather, Fur & Fin”, to “Sad & Beautiful World”, and eventually “Click, Click” Michel led us to sense a profound connection between his music and the reality that we now are living. The concert was a moment away from the ugliness that has bubbled to the surface in 2016, but it wasn’t an escape.

But the current Geo-polictical reality wasn’t the only theme of the evening, technology-mediated connections also played an integral role. Both Michel, and the opener Mohsin Zaman, are familiar with stage technology utilising loop pedals to create invisible backing bands, but as strange as the one-man-tech-band may have seemed 15 years ago, on Friday it was the technology of the phone that was featured in a different way. Beginning with Zaman calling/skyping his sister in Dubai (she seemed far more gracious than I would have been if my brother had called me at 7 on a Saturday morning); and, later on in the evening we got a sneak preview of some of the orchestral parts in Khlebnikov the album Michel wrote this past summer on an ice-breaker in the arctic with astronaut Chris Hadfield (can we all just take a moment to realise how cool of an adventure that must have been???) when he played a track through his phone. And with those two phone moments it became clear that the evening was about connections — those between us and the performers, between the songwriter and the topic, between the music and the lyrics.

Through out the evening Michel drew on the wealth of his extensive back catalogue (playing requests called out from the audience) in addition to newer works such as those off of Khlebnikov … check out “24,000 Horses” now:

In typical Danny Michel fashion the music mixed the thoughtful (“Nobody Rules You”) with the humorous (“Wish Willy’s” & “Whale of a Tale”), the nerdy with the sublime (“Samantha’s in the Sky with Diamonds”), and left us all questioning how we can make the world a better place (“Who’s Gonna Miss You” & “Sad and Beautiful World”). Khlebnikov, due out in January 2017, promises to continue the tradition of Michel’s earlier writing, although this time with a bit of a Russian-classical music twist … take the final few lines of “24,000 Horses”:

Through the northwest passage
I stand at the bow
And I thought I’d seen beauty
Until right here right now

Once we had dreams
but they fell through the seams
Like the ice here all melting away

The precise memories of the New Moon show in time will melt away, but maybe the message of the songs that were sung that night will remain.

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The past three New Moon Folk Club shows have been sell-outs. To avoid the disappointment of missing a Friday-night folk music fix in 2017 when the club resumes on January 13th with Ben Rogers you can get five-pack of tickets for the 2017 shows. Please see the New Moon site for details.

Interview and Preview with Birds of Chicago

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The New Moon Folk Club prepares to welcome Birds of Chicago, comprised of Allison Russell and JT Nero, who will be performing this Friday.  This is Birds of Chicago first Canadian tour and Edmonton audiences will be delighted by their soul, gospel, and folk inspired tunes that conjure images of sultry summer heat. JT Nero, takes some time to chat with Folk on the Road before the show.

How has the tour been going so far?

Great.  The rooms have been full of humans, folks have been spoiling us … there are homecomings at a lot of these stops for Alli, who has family scattered across the country — and, of course, I made this trek a fair few times with Po Girl.

How do you feel audiences have been receiving Real Midnight since its release in February?

I feel like it’s been hitting em them in the sweet spot we hoped it would. It’s a cathartic bunch of songs for us, and it seems as though a lot of folks are needing to wring themselves out in a similar way.

 

You’ve discussed the transformative and healing power of music, could you share a moment in which this was true for you?

There are lots of instances in which people will let us know that a lyric or a song has helped them through a particularly rough patch, and nothing in the world makes us happier than that… but as far as personal healing, it’s literally a daily thing – sort of a small and abiding miracle: you can feel miserable, sing a song about feeling miserable, and come out feeling LESS MISERABLE. Where else can I get that kind of trusty magic? Nowhere. Not that you feel miserable every day. But that you can transport through song — get yourself to a different place.. that’s the thing.

JT, you’re identified as the main writer for Birds of Chicago and Allison as the song interpreter – what does this collaborative process look like when you are beginning to work through a song for the first time together?

I play her a new song I’ve written for her … while she’s listening to it for the first time, I’ll hit pause every few seconds and say “do you like it? Do you love it?? You hate it, don’t you!!? I KNOW YOU HATE IT!!”
Uh, seriously, I try to skeleton a melody for her and a phrasing — but I am careful not to box her in too much, since she is such a masterful phraser and can do so much more with her vocal instrument than I can… I make sure to leave as much room for take it where it needs to go.

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Folk on the Road first saw you perform at Mariposa Folk Festival in 2014. At that time you had a little one with you on the road, has touring with the family changed at all in recent years?

Our babe is not a babe anymore – she’s a toddler with the disposition of a grizzled rocker. In all seriousness, she’s 3 months shy of her 3rd birthday, which I am fairly certain is a challenging stretch for all parents (right?) and it’s no different for us on the road. She’s a wonder of a human, with endless energy, and we have to make sure we are building park and library stops and such into our schedule. It actually makes for healthier touring all around

Any concluding thoughts you would like to mention?

This is our first proper Canadian tour, and we are so jazzed by the response. We are going to get back in the studio in January, then hopefully make it back to Canada in the summer for some fests.

 

The performance is Friday, October 14. The performance is sold-out. There will be no tickets at the door.

This preview is co-written by Sable and Twila.

Upcoming shows at the New Moon Folk Club include: Tom Russell and Danny Michel. For more information on their season, please see their website.

Preview: Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra at New Moon Folk Club

Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra

Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra opens  Edmonton’s New Moon Folk Club season at St. Basil’s Cultural Centre. A musical collective TMO formed while the musicians were all living in Victoria B.C., however in recent years they have spread out a bit geographically. Currently consisting of Ian Griffiths, Kurt Loewen, Paul Wolda, Mack Shields, and Keith Rodger the TMO musical nomads have been travelling across Canada and bringing their contemporary folk music works to audiences.

Gypsy-folk, jazz influenced, flamenco tinged, gypsy-ska-roots-grass, mega-eclectic, alternative-folk and, West Coast jams have been used among other terms to describe TMO’s sound. And that list doesn’t even touch on some of the band’s influences, both musical and natural. Such diversity of the creative energies in TMO allow them to continually reinvent themselves, making their sound anything but static—the constant is high quality music.

True to their roots, there is a collaborative spirit heard in TMO’s work and specifically their most recent album, LOVE. Whether it’s the two strings playing a relaxed unison melody on Boo Boo’s Waltz and or the nostalgic-sounding keyboard rhythms and faraway back-up vocals in the expansive Wolfe et Montcalm, there is an ease that is audible among the musicians.

It is a rare (some might say eclectic) opportunity to be able to enjoy a beer and homestyle Ukrainian perogies while taking in a folk music performance. TMO’s laid-back folk tunes will be the perfect pairing with the atmosphere at St. Basil’s Cultural Centre.

The performance is Friday, September 30. Tickets are available in advance at Tix on the Square and at the door. Click here for more ticket information.

This preview is co-written by Sable and Twila.

Upcoming shows at the New Moon Folk Club include: Birds of Chicago, Tom Russell, and Danny Michel. For more information on their season, please see their website.

Edmonton Folk Fest 2015 Roundup

With so many options to choose from it was: 1. hard to see everything we wanted (Wish I Was There), 2. great to be surprised by discovering a new artist (New Discovery), and 3. sink into the magic of the workshop stage melting pot (Favourite Workshop). We’ve rounded up some thoughts while reflecting back on the weekend that was the 2015 Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Wish I Was There

Twila: I abruptly abandoned some of my workshop attendance plans on Sunday afternoon due to the unrelenting fabulous weather (to quote an acquaintance I ran into earlier this week “Yeah, I was at Folk fest … I have the sunburn to prove it!”) I opted to find stages with shade. So rather than going to see the Globalization workshop on the always sunny Stage 2, I camped out in the shade and took in The Milk Carton Kids concert at Stage 3 and while I can’t regret the simultaneously hilarious and beautifully performed Milk Carton Kids concert, I do wish I had been able to see Danny Michel, Brian McNeill, Hanggai, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson navigate a workshop stage under the rather broad term of Globalization.

Sable: I wished I could have seen that pre-mainstage magic go down with Brandi Carlisle, Matt Andersen, The Wind and the Wave, and Gregory Alan Isakov. I always love it when Folk Fest is able to slot one of their headliners into a late afternoon workshop session. Plus, Andersen was slaying it in session throughout the entire weekend. He led a bluesy Stand by Me on a Sunday afternoon and I found him to be the perfect musician to toss into the workshop mix.

 

 

New Discovery

Twila: Helene Blum & Harald Haugaard. These musicians are so incredibly talented that it is almost unreal! Blum’s voice has an impressive clear quality and her capacity to communicate the song’s story with the audience even when singing mostly in Danish to a predominately English speaking audience is outstanding. Likewise Haugaard’s ability to interact with the audience and other musicians on stage with his fiddle is extraordinary and seemingly effortless. Combine the two and they are unstoppable – the melodies and unfamiliar words they shared this past weekend have seeped into my subconscious, taken root and have left me with a strong desire to visit Denmark as soon as possible.

Sable: Hands downs, it was Braden Gates. It was a pleasure to hear his intuitive musical playing and lyrical sentiments paired perfectly with his acoustic guitar. I feel like he’s a wise voice singing to me from a youthful form. How is it that I’ve never heard of him all this time and he’s just from Ft. Sask Alberta!?! I will be keeping him on my local musician radar.

Favourite Workshop

Twila: Legacies Sunday on Stage 5. Brian McNeill, The Slocan Ramblers, Helene Blum and Harald Haugaard, Ross Ainslie and Jarlath Henderson. Magic – there are no two ways about it. The almost instant amalgamation of these four musical groups into one massive ensemble with each group taking in turn the leadership role was absolute magic. It was an intense hour and a half – and I wish it was longer.

Sable: Transatlantic Crossing with The Milk Carton Kids, I’m With Her, Eddie Berman, and I Draw Slow was the best way to finish off my workshop streak on Sunday afternoon.I loved how Kenneth and Joey were recruiting different ladies from I’m With Her to fill out the top chords in their tight-knit harmonies. The perfect collaborative voice.

Define Folk – Saturday EFMF 2015

Different definitions of “folk” circulated on Saturday of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.

Workshop of the Day

Workshops

It’s challenging to understand workshop etiquette. It’s a format unique where musicians who have never met are supposed to make music together for an hour and a half. There was a reason that Stage 6 was packed on Friday evening with names like Bears Den, Danny Michel, Jenn Grant, and John Smith. The talent is all there together on stage; whether it succeeds or fails is dependent on the participating Artists.

I find the most successful workshops are ones where there is an Artist or host that is the right balance of being bossy yet friendly. That way they can decide on a song and also indicate who should be the next Artist in the progression of solos. Watching a workshop where is no interaction is like watching kids move the skipping ropes for double dutch but nobody is brave enough to jump in.

The Magical Moments Friday session on Stage 6 finally hit its stride once they realized that doing cover songs was a good place to start. Bears Den started the series of covers with Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Everybody from the fiddle player to the trumpet players from different bands jumped in on some solo lines. Even singer/songwriter, Danny Michel, put his guitar down and hopped in behind the drum kit. John Smith followed up with “I’m on Fire,” and when it came Jenn Grant’s turn, she held her smartphone and referenced it to sing the lyrics of Leonard Cohen’s “Lover, Lover, Lover” with confidence. The final sounds of the workshop were the interwoven voices of Bears Den and Jenn Grant looping the word, Lover.

It was another example of spontaneous music-making that exists in a fleeting moment of time.

Speaking Out Against Oppression – An Interview with QuiQue Escamilla

During the his song, Mascara de EsperanzaThe Mask of Hope“, QuiQue Escamilla pulls a black balaclava over his face and begins singing the words:

I’m throwing this mask down right now

in exchange for equality and justice

I’m throwing this mask down right now

and I hope this vicious racism will be gone

I’m throwing this mask down right now

indigenous and mestizo should be one

Escamilla moved from Chiapas, Mexico to Toronto, Ontario at the end of 2007 as has been in Canada for the last 6.5 years. In that time, QuiQue Escamilla, 33, has tackled the daunting task of establishing himself as a musician in a country where he has no connections. He moved to Canada in order to pursue more opportunities and freedom to work as an Artist. Escamilla cites the importance of collaborating with other musicians. Performing with Danny Michel, whom he toured with last year as a pre-show opener and percussionist, helped to disseminate his music to Canadian audiences. “I have been so fortunate to merge into the Canadian scene singing in Spanish and playing music that not necessarily the most common in regards to styles,” states Escamilla.

On Escamilla’s newest album release, 500 Years of Night, many of the tracks are a platform for him to voice his perspectives on the social systems of Mexico. Escamilla aims to bring awareness and challenge perceptions in response to the EZLN, a civil resistance group fighting for the rights of indigeneous people in Chiapas, Mexico. “One day I was awakened by a speech in the square given by the leader of the EZLN movement. He opened my mind. I was moved. I was almost crying listening to this speech. It was so humbling to hear the reality of all these people who had been oppressed for a long time,” he says.

One such politically charged track is, Ni Uno Mas “Not One More”.  A few shots of gunfire and voiceover are heard in the starting track, archival footage from an actual protest. “In the chorus I call out for organization to get together and communicate… I felt a lot of frustration after that year. One more time we would have to live through another six years of terror and oppression,” he announces. However, Escamilla succeeds in bringing awareness to these issues through his music without berating the audience from a pedestal of superiority.

Many of the album tracks are sung in Spanish but Escamilla has no concern that his message is lost in translation: “I’m surprised by how music has the power to connect with people regardless of language and the style of music. The music speaks by itself regardless of the language. People come up to me and say: ‘I felt that song.’ It’s pretty nice to see that because if I was singing to a Spanish audience they would understand all the lyrics, but to an audience that doesn’t speak Spanish, it’s the music that it’s all being measured by,” he says.

A listener with the CD has the luxury of following the lyrics and translations to understand Escamilla’s message; however, he is successful in bridging this potential gap in understanding by providing summaries to his songs prior to performance in a live setting. “If I didn’t do that, I doubt that people would see my direction and purpose as an artist to convey a message. Everybody should be aware of it… music is a means to communicate things I don’t agree with about the world, society, and things that I think could be better. One of those is racism and discrimination, those things really shouldn’t exist anymore. I think music is a great means to address that and plant those seeds,” he states with understanding optimism.

The musical stimulus for Escamilla traces back to his upbringing in Chiapas, Mexico. Immersed in a culture saturated with musical exposure from the streets, markets, parties, and family gatherings, Escamilla began playing a wide array of music such as heavy metal, rock, and reggae. However, around the time he turned 19, his perspective and approach to music shifted: “I started to realize more about my life, my surroundings, and you notice that not a lot of things are right about society. One of those was going to speeches in public squares. Those were moments that really made me open my eyes about [what was happening around us]. All the [indigenous people of Mexico] that had been segregated and excluded out of the system. I didn’t really pay much attention to it growing up as a teenager in the middle class. I was just comfortable. I had a family that gave me what I needed, nothing luxurious. You forget about those things. As you grow up and start developing your own ideas, you start to say: ‘what this guy just said makes sense.’ All these [indigenous people] have been oppressed for so many years, 500 years, and it is wrong. Why are we not doing anything about it? Especially when they represent so much out of our culture. Indigenous people represent the true culture of Mexico. Some people see it and pretend they are not seeing it. For me, it is not my personality to do that, it is not who I am. Music is my best weapon,” he states with passionate fervor and a smile.

In addition to the social commentary in his pieces highlighting the EZLN resistance movement, Escamilla has purposely chosen a series of black and white images by Marco Antonio Cruz. “The person on the cover of my album. She died from untreated cancer,” he states before continuing, “I hope just see that I’m trying to bring it attention in an honest way.”

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However, not all Escamilla’s pieces are fueled by social commentary, such as Huapango del Tequila. While it may seem like a tequila party song, the musical construction of the piece is highlighting a part of Mexico’s culture: “I wrote the song with a particular old style of music that is actually disappearing. It is a beautiful rhythm but it is not so common today in the modern musicians of Mexico. I want to bring those traditional sounds with a modern approach: electric guitar with a drumkit and electric bass. I like tradition.” The other tracks such as Okavango speaks to the innate lure of Mother Nature that calls an Elephant into migration and Presa Fácil details how people are powerless when it comes to love: “Love is really what moves anything. I think, in a way, love is shown throughout the whole recording because we wanted to say something for others. I’m not the one being affected but I feel love for those people. It’s out of love that I want to see people happy,” he says summarizing his hopes behind the album.

It is clear that there is a depth of feeling within Escamilla for the people of this world: “It takes a long time to see what you have around, what life is about. Right now I am at that point where I can appreciate friends, family, and every human being.” It is apparent that this love for humanity fuels his desire to speak for the social injustices that all races face through the medium of music. Escamilla says the following statement with a warm smile: “I think there’s nothing that can’t be said through music. It’s just finding the right way.”

 

More insight into other tracks on 500 Days of Night:

“Nuevo dia, a Hombre Libre literally means ‘Free Man‘ hoping that one day we will have that capability to accept each other regardless of language, color, race, no matter what, we will be able to co-habitate without prejudice. The title is a dream that we will be able to reach that one day.”
500 Years of Night is the first English song that I’ve written. The title encompasses 500 years of oppression and the darkness we’ve been in. The movement is fighting for these people. The song is historically somebody has been a witness of all these problems in the world. It all came down to the moon. The moon speaks to the earth. The moon has been the witness. A long witness of the earth and hearing all the outcries. This is the only English song. I wrote this song when I was finishing the album it was the last song that I wrote. I felt comfortable actually thinking about it in English.”

 

What’s in the Water in Winnipeg?

Photography by Twila and Miss. Sable

Before heading to Winnipeg, I contemplated why there is such a strong Folk Arts community there. While the Arts community is thriving and well in Edmonton, I was always curious as to why Winnipeg is such a strong breeding ground for Artists. Is there something in the water?

Sound + Noise creator, Michael MacDonald, discusses in his PhD thesis how Western Folk Music Festivals are like a “series of festival-garden plots. Like any garden plot it is a piece of land that has a variety of connections with the land that surrounds it. But gardens only exist where there are gardeners to tend to them.” What is it about the gardeners in Winnipeg that make them different than the gardeners of other Folk Festivals in Western Canada?

After attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival (WFF), I have some hypotheses of my own on why there is such a strong Folk Arts Community in Winnipeg. I feel a large part of it is due to the creation of the WFF, which was made possible by the timing and presence of passionate individuals, Mitch Podolak, Colin Gorrie, and Ava Kobrinsky. In addition to becoming one of the premiere North American music festivals, there are Folk School education programs and Young Artist mentoring programs that help to educate and support up-and-coming local Folk Music Artists.

Another important factor is the environment and location of the festival itself. The process of going out in the “wilderness” has been reinforced by literature from “Hansel & Gretel” to Homer’s “Odyssey”. There is something about being in the metaphorical wild, whatever the wild may be, that promotes the process of self-discovery. Located in a Provincial Park, the WFF capitalizes on the isolation of the location to create a temporary community. There is a strong sense of inter-disciplinary artistic collaboration seen in the use of Art installations throughout the entire festival site. These are not static pieces of Art, but Art that is allowed to be touched and manipulated by its audience. This community energy does not dissipate once the Festival is over. The WFF serves as a retreat for the Winnipeg Arts community and they take this renewed sense of identity back to the city. The WFF also has The Folk Exchange where they host Open Mics, Concert Series, Workshops, Songwriting Circles etc. that run year-round. The summer festival is only one component of the organization.

I had a chat with Mitch Podolak, Co-Founder of WFF and Home Routes while at WFF. WFF is the Festival template of Western Canadian Folk Festivals like Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF), Calgary Folk Music Festival, and Vancouver Folk Music Festival. He ventured a hypothesis at why the Winnipeg Arts scene is well and thriving:

“For the most part the population here is Eastern European. All those people brought their culture with them. In Winnipeg, there is an 80 year old Mandolin Orchestra. This is a blue collar working class culture here, combined with people holding onto a sense of tradition,” he states. “There’s something in the water I suppose. There’s something about the fusion of the cultures. There’s a certain sense of the fact that the working class people tend to hang onto that more than the middle class bourgeois…I believe in people’s power. I want to teach people they can run things. You don’t need politicians. You can just run them,” states Podolak in an inspiring tone.

The political fervour of Podolak is an important factor when considering the structure of the Western Canadian Folk Festivals. The Festivals are fueled by the volunteers, which symbolize the working class in order to promote a sense of individual ownership. There is a deconstruction of class divisions. The volunteers and artists eat in the same areas, socialize the the same backstage areas, and they are all invited to attend the same parties. Podolak believes “the festival is tied to the working class. The common peoples experience… all festivals, Edmonton, all of them, every one of them, they are going to have the next Bob Dylan’s on their stages in the next 3-4 years.” However, Podolak realizes that music festivals are prone to mutation depending on the needs at the time:

“The songwriters will become the anthem writers. That’s what this whole show is. And when this happens, [festivals] mutate because they have to. I think we’re in store for a lot of fun over the next ten years. I’m kinda hoping I’ll survive long enough to see it,” he says with a laugh.

While I have only tapped the surface of the WFF culture after being an Edmonton folkie over the past years, I have a greater sense of the historical lineage and ideology underlining the Western Canadian Festival experience. The main thing is to evaluate what unifies all of us in the Folk Festival experience. As different as some of the things at the WFF were from the EFMF, there was a sense of familiarity at the festival site. The familiarity is due to the Festival structure from the volunteer-powered initiative and collaborative workshops. The WFF is like a new friend that I have just met, but it feels like we have known each other longer. It is a friendship I intend to sustain.

Memorable Moments from WFF 2013

Twila (T), Sable (S)

Favorite Workshop Session

T: 1974 “It was amazing to see the music I grew up with there: Stringband, Sylvia Tyson, and seeing them interacting with each other.”

S: Songs I Wish I Wrote “I loved seeing artists like Lindi Ortega, Danny Michel, Bhi Bhiman, Robert Ellis, Sean Rowe covering songs by the Clash, Talking Heads, and Elvis Presley. It lets me hear their soloistic voice as they perform song covers.”

Favorite Concert

T: Nathan Rogers “It was such a beautiful venue at the Little Stage in the Forest, seeing his interaction with the audience and his daughter made you feel like you were a part of the performance. You weren’t just watching the concert.”

S: The Garifuna Collective with Danny Michel “I liked the workshop dynamic of this concert with both Artists taking turns to perform in each others songs. I am always a fan of hearing musical collaboration.”

Favorite Festival Moment

T: The Mary Ellen Carter Finale on Mainstage “The Mary Ellen Carter is one of my favorite songs. It’s was amazing.”

S: Lantern lighting at the Finale “Watching the first family of Folk Music, Nathan Rogers light the floating lantern at the end of the WFF finale with his daughter just reinforced the community strength of the Folk Fest community in Winnipeg.”

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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.

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:

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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.