Canadian Artists

Lisa Ray

Photo by Javier Lovera

“Success is yours to define.”

Growing up global

Actress. Model. Advocate. Call her what you will, Lisa Ray is more than all three. From being the host of Top Chef Canada to the face of Rado Watches, her travels mimic the span of her career. “I like to think of myself as more boho than corporate,” says the self-proclaimed “covert type A,” who began modeling at 16 in India. “In reality, I have a strong work ethic.”

Core values  

In 2009, Ray was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a rare blood cancer. She established the Yellow Diaries, a blog that chronicled her experiences, and led her to explore concepts of beauty. Believing that the modern age suffers from ”pathology of perfection,” she embraced meaningful endeavours to inspire change. In a recent collaboration with Indian design house Satya Paul, Ray manifested her experience through silk and sequin. Her “Phoenix Rising” sari is one of many gorgeous creations, where portions of the proceeds are donated to Multiple Myeloma Research at Princess Margaret Hospital.

Diversity her strength

Known for her tenacious role as Sue (Sunita) Singh in Deepa Mehta’s Bollywood/Hollywood, Ray “proudly proclaims” her mixed heritage off screen. “I realized early on that my strength was my uniqueness,” she says of being born to Indian and Polish parents in 1970s Toronto. Ray aptly calls Canada a “cultural stew” that has shaped her outlook on life

Bright diamond

Ray ultimately serves all, be it culture or people. This year, she was recognized for servicing her country with a Diamond Jubilee Medal. “After leaving Canada at 16 to live in India, Europe and the States, I have discovered a new sense of purpose and stability in Canada, which helps me give back in more effective and meaningful ways.”

You can catch a stunning Ray as the lead role in the theatre performance of Taj, which will hit stages across Canada in late October and the new season of Top Chef Canada next year.

 

http://www.lisaraniray.com/

This piece was originally published in the FALL 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

Tre Armstrong

Photo by Javier Lovera

Choreographer, Founder of A New DAEI (Dance Academy for the Entertainment Industry) Dance School.

“Success = failure + persistence + passion.”

 

Always kickin’ it

The choreographer mama and her seven-month-old son definitely share a passion for movement. What she calls a “hilarious birth,” the former So You Think You Can Dance Canada judge recalls back and forth treks to the hospital this January, reflective of her son’s groove. “The second he hears music, he’s doing the belly pop. He’s very rhythmic, so with any music or beat, he’ll catch it.”

 

Dancing past doubt

“At the age of 11, I wanted to give up on life and contemplated suicide,” Armstrong says of growing up in an abusive home. With a dream of becoming “Canada’s first ‘Blackerina,’” she faced scrutiny from instructors and peers before leaving dance at 17. In university, Armstrong cut the rug and said, “This is it. I’m going to be successful.” She established her dance academy with fellow choreographer Tonya Burke, and together, they are driven to elevate dancers into the entertainment industry. A New DAEI caters to all cultures by offering everything from belly dancing to hip-hop and a class for walking in heels.

 

Classroom cavort

Her innovative “Davatar” trading cards promote physical fitness by educating youth about dance moves, and are distributed within the Dufferin Peel and Toronto District School Boards across Ontario. The Youth Empowerment Tour is Armstrong’s latest choreography endeavour, where she will host a conference about “powering youth for success.” The project includes an online “iAM” campaign, which encourages celebrities and students of all ages to post a video that captures their potential.

 

Advising novice dancers

Armstrong believes that life is about decisions, even when we fail. She encourages her pupils to “choose not to lose.”

http://anewdaei.com/
http://trearmstrong.com/

This piece was first published in the fall 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

In conversation: Daniela Nardi’s Espresso Manifesto

Interview and words by Ola Mazzuca
Photo by Vanessa Heins

Coffee is a stimulant. Art is stimulating. Daniela Nardi is a blend of both. Espresso Manifesto is her caffeinated lovechild of global music scenes by sampling a taste of traditional and contemporary sounds.

Nardi’s mission to showcase her Italian heritage is fueled by an unconventional approach of hitting familiar notes in covers of Paolo Conte’s “Vieni Via Con Me” to her roots of electro-acoustic jazz. When she’s not working on her new album, the multi -instrumentalist is practicing for live performances.

This winter, Nardi will collaborate with acclaimed jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli in Toronto, and in March 2014, taking on Moscow, Russia at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall. In between, she’ll be representing the “Chloe Woman” of the Verse at our Fall 2013 Gala on October 17. I caught up with Nardi to discuss her latest endeavours – be it French press or doppio, coffee will be required within the next few months.


 

Ola Mazzuca: What have you been up to?

 Daniela Nardi: I’m staying close to home for the next couple of months because I’m working on a new record. I’ll have more shows coming up in November and December, where I’ll be going to Montreal. Then, I’ll be doing a big show in Toronto at Koerner Hall, on December 7th. Next year, we have a Russian tour booked for March. So that will be rather exciting.

Can you spill any beans about the new album?

 It’s an ever-evolving process, but the idea that I have at the moment is to explore Italian songs. Most people can hum a Tarantella or “O Sole Mio,” but the mainstream culture doesn’t realize the vastness of songwriting. Popular song has its roots in Neapolitan song. What I want to do is really showcase that and go from the Neapolitan stuff all the way to the contemporary stuff like Jovanotti and one of my favourites, Gianmaria Testa, and really celebrate by writing my own songs in Italian, with English and mix it up a bit.

Speaking of Jovanotti, you met him last year at Luminato Festival.

Yeah, that’s right.

What was that experience like? You wanted to meet him for a long time.

 It was absolutely thrilling. I admire him and think he’s one of the rare contemporary artists with so much integrity. What you see is what you get. It’s not a show. He is the real deal. His writing is tremendous and the quality of his voice is so compelling and again, so real, that he’s the whole package. From the live shows, to the art and the work itself. For me, he’s a big inspiration and to shake his hand and to be able to say that to him was a check off my bucket list. The next on my bucket list is to be able to work with him, but one step at a time [Laughs].

You’ve experimented with so many genres and now you’re doing the whole Espresso Manifesto thing, where you’re writing or covering Italian music. Yet, you come from a background of electro-acoustic jazz. How has your music and style evolved over the years?

 I don’t know if it’s really evolved or if I’ve just gone in circles and explored things that interest me. You know what I mean? Jazz was something I studied when I was in university and I was interested in it, so I followed it. The whole world of electronica was something I was interested in, so I followed it. Now, Italian music is something I am interested in, so I went after it. I go down these roads that pique my curiosity and then I bring them back and throw it in my songwriting pot, mix it all up, and I see what happens.

Now that there’s time for you to explore cultural music in general, be it Italian or any other traditional genre, what kind of impact does that have on a North American audience?

I think they don’t realize that Italian music; especially Italian popular music, is comparable to other world music. People listen to Brazilian music, African, French and they just take it in and appreciate it. To be able to present it as a North American kind of shakes up their heads a bit and makes them realize that Italian music is another world music. I think that’s the impact that I find I’m having on audiences that are becoming aware of Espresso Manifesto. They’re curious because of the project name, and then when they hear the music, they say, “oh wow, I like this,” and it happens to be in Italian! That’s really cool to see people break stereotypes of what people thought of Italian music.

Amongst all of this, how would you define your sound today?

I would call it “Earthy, Modern, Pop, Jazz, World, Cool.” It just really has all of those elements. There’s a mixture of things in there. It’s contemporary, but there’s a part of me that’s a little retro. There’s a part of me that feels I was born in another time. That shows up every once in a while. But, it’s really music of today. How do we define any music today? I’m definitely not in a rock band, indie or straight up electronic. But I think a lot of artists are a combination of a lot of things. Does that make sense?

Yeah, completely.

It’s hard to define. If you had to put a big label on it, I would say that it’s pop music. It’s not straight up jazz or world. It’s modern.

Now that you’re pushing so many genre boundaries, why is this significant to your show at Koerner Hall?

It is really the first time that an Italian pop project like Espresso Manifesto will be playing at Koerner Hall. Anything Italian at Koerner Hall will be something classical, like an opera or ensemble. To be able to bring this project to more of a mainstream audience is really exciting. Now, we’ve broken the barrier a bit. Which is what we’ve always wanted to do. To be on stage with John Pizzarelli, who is part of the mainstream, is really quite cool. We’re manifesting our manifesto on a more mainstream stage.

Koerner Hall is a great venue. That should be very exciting. And in October, you’ll be performing at the Gala for CHLOE Magazine’s Fall issue launch.

It’s kind of the same thing. There’s so much integrity. A lot of great work has been put into this magazine. There’s so much substance, and to be able to be a part of this, to be able to perform in a place for people that probably wouldn’t listen to or know about is exciting. I can’t wait to see how they’ll react. It’s another fantastic opportunity to bring this music to a different audience.

Considering that our audience of female readers is so vast, what mark would you want to leave on other women experiencing your performance?

 To be authentic, to be who you really are and to not construct this persona that you think you need to be in order to please people or society’s ideas of what they think you should be. A big thing for me, too, is that women should come together and really celebrate one another. A lot of times, we can be against each other. We have insecurities that make us behave a certain way, but for women to come together and celebrate our strengths, skills and beauty, both inside and out, that would be fantastic.


 

Daniela’s Top 6

First live music experience
Engelbert Humperdink at the O’Keefe Centre (now the Sony Centre for Performing Arts) in Toronto

First piece of music purchased
“Outlandos D’Amour” by the Police on vinyl.

Dish best paired with Espresso Manifesto
A warm mushroom risotto topped with truffle oil and a glass of Ripasso.

Favourite film
“81/2” directed by Federico Fellini.

Dream travel destination
India.

The colour of Espresso Manifesto
A deep, rich, earthy burgundy.

 

This piece was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

Vito Rezza: Drums and Colossal Passion

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Vito Rezza’s skill-laden compositions on his 2011 release with the 5 after 4 quartet _ appropriately named Rome In A Day _ make it seem so. On the band’s first trans-Atlantic tour, all it took were 12 hours to visit the eternal city: “Suddenly, I get to Rome and all of these sites are popping up; the Colosseum, Pantheon, Piazza di Spagna.” says Rezza, whose personality and Italian heritage are major influences on the the Peter Cardinali-produced recording.

Born in Modugno, Bari, it was Rezza’s third visit to Italy since immigrating to Canada as a two-year old. At the time, his father was a professional soccer player, invited to Toronto by Steve Stavros, former owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs. As work endeavors were slim, the family found difficulty fitting into the Canadian landscape.

The young musician would later find solace in music, despite being labeled “too heavy handed” when learning piano at five years old. After visiting a music store on Corso Italia, Vito discovered his true calling: the drums.

From the early age of seven, Rezza would begin playing to Toronto’s Italian community in afterhours clubs and bars. He recalls rough memories of performing in adult situations and trauma brought on by his first drum teacher, who hit Rezza when he made mistakes.

In spite of this hazardous learning environment, Rezza claims that the drums have always been his sanctuary. “When I play, it’s the most safe I ever feel,” he says. “It’s reflective of my character and who I am inside, allowing me to do and be the best I can be.”

In the 1970s, Rezza performed live in Italy, impressing the audience with a familiar surname, similar mannerisms and a sound reminiscent of the foreign Elvin Jones or Art Blakey. Rezza’s Italian fans have the utmost respect for his work because of his strong authority behind the kit. His fellow drummers from Italy lovingly say he has “la Grinta,” a term dubbed to describe the soul and grit they believe makes North American music stand out.

Rezza feels that he is “out on the front lines” representing Italian-Canadian artists. He is proud of his accomplishments and plans to do more with the help of his strong values. “There is a great passion that Italians show,” he says. “Loyalty, a sense of family, food, how we eat – it’s very important to eat and share moments together as a band.”

Staying true to his modus operandi, Rezza is drawn to real life stories of struggle when writing and sharing music. His favourite song from Rome In A Day, “Mr. Govindas”, is inspired by a story Deepak Chopra wrote about a destitute alcoholic outside a hospital in Mumbai, India. Rezza is motivated by these experiences to help others.

At the 2004 Montreal Drum Festival, a father and son approached the artist at an autograph session. The father, restricted to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy, lamented that he would “never be able to do what you can” to Rezza. “I’m playing for you,” he replied optimistically.

“Music is medicine; you can’t measure the power of music financially,” says the guru of Canadian jazz drumming, who regards his instrument as his “ashram, temple and church.”

And though it seems that his success has grown at a rapid rate, his musicianship has been built on dedication. “People don’t know that I have spent 10 hours a day developing my craft as a drummer,” he says of a half-century long career. “When I perform, you’re going to be the recipient of what I have to offer, through my sentiments, emotion and music as an extension of me.”

The drum stool is Rezza’s workbench, and like Rome, the construction of his monumental talent took much more than just a day.

This piece was first published in the February 2012 issue of Panoram Italia Magazine

Priya Panda of Diemonds: Riding the wave of here and now

Photo by Marek Szkudlarek

Priya Panda likes her food hot. At Sneaky Dee’s, a Toronto institution for live music and Mexican fare, the lead vocalist of Diemonds orders two vegetarian tacos with rice, beans and salad. She asks for them “extra spicy,” so the waitress brings a bottle of their signature Habanero sauce.

Diemonds, a Toronto-based hard rock band, is supplying real “party rock” with heavy riffs and sixers of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Last year, the band played nearly 100 shows, but Panda yearns for more. As she digs into crunchy shells of cheese, avocado and tomato, she explains that her current appetite transcends what she eats for lunch.

“One of the things I’ve always wanted to commit my life to, other than music, is travel,” the vocalist says. “I’m that much more hungry to write more songs, play better live and stay in better shape for the longer tours.”

With guitarists C.C. Diemond and Daniel Dekay to Tommy Cee on bass and Aiden Tanquada on drums, Panda is all about the party on Diemonds’ debut full-length, In the Rough, to their 2012 release, The Bad Pack. The band has supported Doro Pesch, Slash and Megadeth to holding their own with sets at Montreal’s Heavy MTL festival. But Panda feels that Diemonds’ most enriching experience to date is one that correlates with her Indian ethnicity.

“India was surreal,” she says of performing in Shillong, a remote area of the Meghalaya state. “Bollywood dominates and it’s hard to infiltrate live entertainment, but once you do, there’s a good response.”

Diemonds made their mark as the first female-fronted band to perform in Shillong. The band’s grandiose arrival was supported by the same outdoor stage Scorpions played two years prior, billboards all over town and a “shitload of people.”

Yet, Panda recalls only two women in an audience surrounded by a “weird atmosphere” due to political unrest between the city and its neighbour, Tibet. Guards armed with AK47s traveled with Diemonds to every location, including the mosh pit, where alternative dancing to heavy music was foreign for locals.

“I had to get out of the pit as soon as I felt the nose of an AK47 hit my back,” Panda says. “We weren’t in Kansas anymore.”

Despite the risks, Panda says that touring the country “legitimized the band” to her parents, who are natives of Bombay. They didn’t immediately embrace their daughter’s career, but their values are present in Panda’s every motive.

“I saw my parents work themselves to the bone, and I think that has completely had an impact on how much time, dedication and effort I have towards everything I do,” she says of household values.

As her parents encouraged her to find a career, Panda studied journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto with hopes of applying her interests to a full-time job. But with her mind on the stage, it was during this time that Panda discovered a passion for spicy food and feisty music.

She worked consistently, and her favourite part-time gig was at Taste The Fourth Sense, a store with over 200 types of hot sauce. Lydia Taylor, its co-owner, is a Juno-award winning musician and founder of the Lydia & Taylor band, a group Panda picked up while shopping for vinyl and Guns N Roses cassette tapes at her local Value Village.

The vocalist insists that you “can’t deny” the aesthetic of the band’s album cover for Appetite For Destruction. The brash imagery of a cross, adorned with skulls of each band member, left a permanent mark on the vocalist, inspiring her second tattoo at age 17: a pair of black pistols on her upper left arm.

This physical tribute is mirrored in Panda’s goal to “bring the fun back to rock and roll.” Diemonds’ raw, sonic approach is driven by various sub-genres and has evolved stylistically on The Bad Pack is with tracks like “Take On The Night” and “Get The Fuck Outta Here.”

“Our personalities are a big part of the band, which is something that was lost at some point when it was Ace, Peter, Gene and Paul,” she says of a similar bond Diemonds and KISS share. “It’s like a big family in the genre that we play, which is kind of sleazy, hard rock. There’s a whole new wave and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Being in an underground scene of resurgence has earned Diemonds high rank on an international scale. With their latest album released in Japan to performing at South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and the band is crossing borders to bring their signature sound to a diverse audience through one passion-fueled goal.

“When we’re on stage, we’re bleeding for you,” Panda says of her greatest high. “When the crowd reacts, they put out 110 per cent of the energy we have given.”

Panda isn’t in the newsroom, but she’s telling another story about following her dreams. When Diemonds became her focus, she stopped worrying about expectations, income and monotony.

“We aren’t animals in a man made world,” she says. “We have desires beyond a piece of paper or what money can ever be quenched by.” With a Canadian tour this spring, writing a new album with Diemonds and scourging vintage stores for classic albums and denim jackets, Panda is going to need lots of water – and it’s not because of the Habanero sauce.

This piece was first published in the Spring 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

Saidah Baba Taliba: True Colours

Photo by Wade Hudson

On a hot summer day at a studio in Toronto, Saidah Baba Talibah is getting her makeup done, clad in garments by American Retro and rocking Chanel combat boots. Her manager, David ‘Click’ Cox, sits nearby and is responding to an email.

“Would your mom be pissed if someone called her a blues singer?” he asks.

The content is for a book about blues. Talibah isn’t having it.

I wish my mom could talk right now. She’s not just a blues singer, she’s not just a jazz singer…”

Rather than succumbing to a sole label, the multi-instrumentalist, whose main tool is her voice, prefers to omit the word ‘genre’ from her vocabulary. Born and raised in Toronto, Talibah is one of the city’s most polytropic artists. She leaves eardrums ringing, wanting more, with an idiosyncratic mix of edgy, raunchy soul, but will always be the daughter of Salome Bey – “Canada’s First Lady of Blues.”

From being the frontwoman of 90s metal band Blaxam to her Chevy commercial hit, “Revolution,” Talibah believes that “whatever touches us, resonates with us,” regardless of chord and verse.

“We don’t listen to one type of music because those genres would not thrive. But because we are humans, we have to see certain colours or touch before we taste. That’s human nature, but if you don’t like it, keep it moving.”

Talibah is doing just that. Her next record is all about “finding your place, finding your voice and speaking your truth.” RedBlack&Blue, scheduled for release in 2014, is a sonic memoir of familial connection. The album’s concept is shaped by the influence of three women: Talibah’s mother, sister and daughter; and three animals: the red robin, Black Panther and blue butterfly. What the vocalist initially called a “crazy idea,” the animals aren’t necessarily symbolic of three people, and the context is neither good nor bad.

“It’s how they’ve influenced and inspired my life and how I have moved from that,” she says. “We are all dealing with different kinds of adversities and it’s about how we get through them.”

 The greatest challenge in Talibah’s life now is witnessing her mother live with dementia. Although Bey’s struggle has been an emotional journey, the singer believes that compressing inner battles isn’t a way to gain support and grow. For when she encounters rough waters, that’s when she finds clarity to write a good song.

But Talibah witnesses Bey on good days, too. The songstress that once belted “I Never Knew” can sing and groove when she’s present. This has taught her daughter the art of patience and gratitude.

“I miss my mother and miss spending time with her,” Talibah says, wiping water from her eyes. “I am learning to appreciate each moment as it comes as opposed to just taking it for granted because you can’t get it back.

When Talibah found out that her mother also had epilepsy, she was told to keep it on the down low. But the constant oppression of bottled-up frustration made her realize that RedBlack&Blue required the opposite. Hesitant to begin the project of raw, vocal expression, she valiantly decided to take the first step by discussing the issue openly in a status update on Facebook.

She pressed enter. Tears flowed. People responded.

“That’s when you figure out that there’s a thread that connects all of us. We all have to know that there is support.”

On the morning of the shoot, she walked by a homeless man asking for money, and realized: “How many emotions must you go through before you get to a place where you’re standing on a corner asking for help?” The artist now finds herself in his shoes, seeking the support of her fans to produce her next album.

RedBlack&Blue is funded by Pledge Music, a “direct-to-fan” project that assists the artist in creating the record while providing audiences with exclusive content. Talibah’s audience will choose up to six songs from three EPs – Red, Black and Blue – which will be narrowed down to 10 tracks for the final production.

(S)Cream, Talibah’s debut record, was also released through crowd funding. She has complete faith that RedBlack&Blue will be just as successful, if not more, as she reciprocates the support to a cause close to her heart

The artist will donate 10 per cent of the money raised to The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. Talibah likes the format of Pledge Music because it shows a percentage, rather than a dollar, which “gives a sense of being a part of a big picture.” Currently over quota, things are looking pretty good.

The search won’t be over, even after the album is released. With a surname that means “seeker of knowledge,” Talibah lives up to her name in all aspects of life and is guided by her craft.

“It’s the ability to bring a sense of unconditional love to the surface,” her voice says with vigor. “That’s what I am seeking through music; talking with and connecting to people.”

sbtmusic.com

@SBTfly

This piece was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

 

 

AKUA: Cultivating Sound

Photo by Maja Hajduk

In the West African country of Ghana, “Akua” means “Wednesday” in the Fante dialect. In Canada, it’s the name of the innovative artist that graces this page. The singer is not in The Gold Coast, but Toronto’s High Park. And it’s a Monday. The ground is soggy after a morning rainfall, rather than dry and dusty like the African plains. Cherry blossom buds have barely made an appearance for this year’s bloom, yet their pink leaves are peaking, slowly but surely. They’re transitioning between seasons, like a songwriter and new compositions.

Akua Carson is budding like a cherry blossom and doing it in the most unconventional way. The 28-year-old uses her voice as a “metaphor” for personal development, where confidence has played a huge role throughout years of self-exploration. Her curly hair, tall stance and spunky style evoke individuality on another level and it’s audible in the music, too. With downtempo-laden synth, tribal percussion and a voice both richly soulful and full of grace, “Gravity” is the centerpiece single from Akua’s new EP, One’s Company.

The track is also featured on Episode 12 of the Showcase series, Lost Girl. Akua believes that public exposure isn’t a factor of affirming hard work, but rather an imposition from society.

“It’s funny because I’m getting past that point of needing approval. I think it’s part of my Ontario upbringing of succeeding and being acknowledged for something,” says the London native. “I had a lot of themes of what is legitimate because I didn’t grow up around artists or in an artistic home.”

Originally a closet singer, Akua’s talent wasn’t unveiled until she auditioned for an elementary school play at age 10. Raised by doting, biracial parents; a Nova Scotian mother and Ghanaian father, she always knew she could sing with a “hairbrush in hand” or in the shower, but didn’t know how to share her raw talent.

Everything changed when Akua moved to Montreal to study international relations at McGill University. She joined an acapella choir singing contemporary pop before branching out into the local indie music scene.

During her undergrad, Akua began to compose original music, mostly alone in her room, feeling intense emotions, encouraging her to write captivating lyrics of relationships and identity. She describes her sound as “more melancholic” than “sunshine,” yet doesn’t imply that her audiences should feel the same.

“I’m not at a place where I need lyrics to hit people and move them. It’s more of a personal exercise,” Akua says. “It’s cathartic for me.”

Writing One’s Company wasn’t easy. In November 2012, Akua lost her father to prostate cancer after many years of struggle with the disease and moved home from Montreal to be with her family. Months after the grieving process, Akua reclaimed her strength, putting “emotion to pen.” She believes that the best way to honour an influential person is through chorus and verse.

“If it weren’t for my dad’s illness, I wouldn’t have taken that pause to explore music. There are all of these tiny little blessings in dark times, you just have to look for them.”

The candid musician truly believes that “the power of people” has enabled her to develop relationships in the arts scene. From opening for Atlanta R&B artist Cody ChesnuTT to playing Canadian Music Week at the Silver Dollar Room, venue size doesn’t concern Akua, for it’s all a “matter of vibe.”

After performing at North By Northeast Festival in June 2012, Akua received an inquiry from a high school acquaintance, which led to an open-air homecoming set for the London community.

“It was the most beautiful, intimate show,” she says of lights strung and lawn chairs filled with neighbours young and old.

Akua has also connected with others as a vocal instructor at the Rock Camp for Girls program with national charity, Girls Action Foundation. Last summer, the artist witnessed young women emerge from cocoon to butterfly.

“I truly like watching 13-year-old girls pick up a guitar on Monday and play a song on Friday,” Akua regards the impact of the program. “You see that confidence being cultivated in the way the girls take risks and interact in a healthier way.”

With the release of One’s Company, this solo artist is more than comfortable in her own skin – be it on stage, with fellow artists and new environments. Growing from her past, Akua states that her voice now “mirrors” her confidence as a platform to share sub rosa messages with others.

“In terms of personal expression and exploration, I’m on a spectrum. I’m not saying all of the things I want to say yet.”

Akua has bloomed. But the shape of each petal wavers in every note she hits and chord she plays. For the songstress, poise is in place, but the pursuit is still in its prime.

This piece was first published in the Summer 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine

 

So happy I could die: Catharsis, growth and music with Bif Naked

Photo by Kim Akrigg

Bif Naked loves herself today, not like yesterday. For Naked, born Beth Torbert, yesterday is an assemblage of adversity. Yesterday spans the last four years: a battle with breast cancer, a crushing divorce, recent kidney failure and open-heart surgery. The Juno Award-nominee and Vancouver native pop rocker believes that these hard times have finally made her sanguine in her own skin.

“Breast cancer turned me into a woman,” Naked says, clad in what she considers “little boy clothes” of a crisp pink dress shirt, purple skinny jeans and vegan Doc Martens loafers. “Before breast cancer, I really don’t believe I was an adult. I don’t think it was because of my own suffering, or physiological experience. I think it was because of my proximity to other women and their experiences.”

The other women Naked refers to are those she met while volunteering at a local hospital. Stating, “Emotions are worse than anything you can go through physically,” she felt a great source of positive energy from being around fellow cancer patients and survivors. Living by the motive that everything happens for a reason, Naked is grateful for her diagnosis, as she discovered “new passions,” along the way.

Naked has documented this gratitude in her new single, “So Happy I Could Die,” from her latest release, Bif Naked Forever: Acoustic Hits and Other Delights. The album is a collection of re-recorded acoustic classics and three fresh tracks. Like the singer’s moniker, the music is stripped down, both natural and vulnerable, showcasing Naked at her core.

“As a lyricist, I have been able to tap into my feelings and its very cathartic,” she says of writing new material with producer Ryan Stewart. “Emotionally, I envision myself as a resilient lady. I think (in a Yankee accent) ‘Ah, fuck it; I’ve seen it all. I’m tough as nails.’ But not at all, yet I had a completely open-heart writing with him.”

The heart is both a literal and figurative symbol for Naked. In the summer of 2012, her kidney failed. It was the crisis of the year, and having dealt with real heartbreak from a divorce in 2011, the artist faced an array of life decisions, yet a strong will to move on.

This strength-turned-solace is audible on “So Happy I Could Die,” a track evoking the gratitude Naked has practiced since the beginning of her career.

“I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to hear my song on the radio,” she says of her big break that led to a tour with Life of Agony and a performance on the Today Show. “It didn’t matter if I got hit by a car.”

After several years of success and radio domination with hits like “Let Down” and “Spaceman,” crises arose, but with the help of her family and a clear mindset, Naked was full of fortitude.

“Life can be stressful and I get that,” she says. “But at the end of the day, reconnect with yourself, your surroundings, your gratitude and reality.”

The artist considers this to be her greatest insight and a value deeply rooted in her upbringing. Born in New Delhi, India and adopted by Canadian missionaries, Naked grew up in a multiethnic home. A “self-identifying Indian,” Naked found belonging in the Hindustani Khana Indian food her parents made, paired with the worship of Hindu deities and Christian faith. Now straightedge, vegan and an avid yoga enthusiast, she says that her path was guided not by religion, but by spirituality through music like Krishna Punk.

At first glance, Naked’s heavily inked body forms many misconceptions. The artist admits that people would never know that she loves the colour pink, doesn’t drink alcohol and is politically active with the City of Vancouver Women’s Advisory Council. She even has a house music side project under the name Jakkarta, in all of its “filthy, fun” tenacity.

Regarded as a role model, Naked’s biggest piece of advice emphasizes one of her most prolific songs.

“Love yourself today,” she says without pause. “For women, our biggest hang-up is ourselves and only we can know that self worth, self honour and self love is the biggest struggle we have.”

Among other endeavours, these feminine battles and a slew of adverse situations may be compiled in a book Naked is writing, set for a 2013 release. This may all seem a bit much, but for now, she’s cool, calm and definitely okay.

This piece was first published in the Winter 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine