ECMA 2017 Saint John Day Two

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caroline savoie

I began my second day at the East Coast Music Awards at the Export Buyers “Roots” Showcase at the Trinity Royal Ballroom at the Delta Hotel, where I was first treated to Caroline Savoie’s set. She is a francophone singer-songwriter with a gorgeous clear voice and a sweet charm onstage as she tells stories in English to set up her songs in French (most helpful for this anglophone whose fifteen years of French education has largely flown away), with a slight self deprecating edge. She told us about Henri, the man who lived in her new childhood home in Dieppe before her and who still received mail there, much to the chagrin of her five year old self who was waiting for letters from her friends in her old hometown. So, she wrote a poetic ode to Henri, speculating about all those unopened, lost letters. She also told us about her worry about a boyfriend going to Sweden for two months and encountering a plethora of gorgeous women, which became the basis for her song “Y’en Aura” a very catchy love song that imagines all the beautiful things he will encounter, and continues to reaffirm her love for him. Her new album is self titled, and I strongly recommend that you check it out. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you’ll get swept away by the beauty of the melodies and her voice. You can also read translations of the lyrics on her website.

Next up in the “Roots” Showcase room was Dave Gunning. Gunning began his set with “These Hands” from his 2012 album No More Pennies. The song is a rallying cry, a reflection on how we use our hands, whether to help or to hurt, and what agency we take in our everyday lives to make the World better for others. Gunning is a passionate activist, and like many folk singers before him, he often uses his platform in music to speak to the greater concerns, both of his immediate community and the World at large. His new song “Sing it Louder” from his new record Lift continues this narrative, encouraging people to lift their voices, to come together in song and reaffirm their commitment to seeking social justice. His refrains are easily taught to his audience, which creates a rousing communal moment that nicely mirrors the lyrics in the song. Gunning also celebrates an integral part of Canadian culture with his song “A Game Goin’ On,” the winner of the CBC Music and Hockey Night in Canada’s Song Quest competition. Gunning’s music has a inspiring ability to unite people, harkening back to the days of songwriters like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger.

I then went over to the “Electric Showcase” at the Saint John Ballroom, also at the Delta Hotel, to catch Erin Costelo’s set. The hardest part of trying to cover the ECMAs is having to decide which room to go to and how long to stay. I want to see everyone, and it makes me sad that that is impossible. Catching Costelo’s set was a brilliant decision on my part. Her rich and jazzy voice and piano playing enraptured me as soon as she started singing “Give a Little” from her album We Can Get Over. It is one of those songs that I will buy and listen to on repeat for days, if not weeks. Even more impressive is her song “The Line,” which she wrote as a Bob Dylan song being sung by Nina Simone, and she really has captured the essence of Dylan’s more recent lyric writing, which is no small feat in itself. She performed with Clive McNutt on guitar, but has a set with a fuller band coming up on Saturday April 29th at the R&B/ Soul Stage at the Atrium Market Square. The show begins at 11pm and Costelo is up at 12:20. Her new record is Down Below the Status Quo and I can’t wait to get it.

The last set I saw yesterday before the East Coast Music Awards Show was Quake Matthews, also at the “Electric Showcase.” Matthews set up a really poignant multimedia component, playing video footage and interview clips that comment on the inspiration and give context for his music. The most heartrending being the set up to his song “We Can Do Better,” which came out of the shooting death he witnessed of his friend at Winston’s Bar in Clayton Park, Nova Scotia (particularly evocative to me as this happened less than five minutes from my house), and a string of recent (and ongoing) violence targeting specific communities in Halifax that shook Matthews and prompted him to examine how the glorification of guns, gangs and death in rap music contributes to murder and incarceration of his generation of largely young men- so much potential snuffed out in a moment- and for what? Both Matthews’ songs “Rap Music” and “Love Yourself” (a remix of the Justin Bieber song) explore his relationship with rap and how breaking away from its stereotypes can make success and radio play much more elusive. Matthews’ music is lyrically based, poetic and insightful and with important messages, which elevates it above music that you just blindly dance to in a club, you certainly can dance to it, but it makes you want to really sit down, listen and contemplate it as well. He is a Millennial Wordsmith, for sure, and his career is just getting started.

You can read the list of ECMA Winners from the Awards last night here. I’ll write something later about the Awards Show. I find I enjoy the showcases much more, as they’re so much more intimate and you get the opportunity to hear more of the artists’ works. Although, any opportunity I have to see Ria Mae perform “Ooh Love” I will take happily. I will write more later, I am anxious to go out into the very misty day and catch some more East Coast Music.