'Americana' as a music genre is a sonic magpie, a melting pot, a name supplanting the lacuna for all confluent Songwriting, Folk and Roots-driven American music that didn't fit neatly in its original source genre. Though its (muddy) waters run deep osmosing various aspects of American music, 'Americana' is the flag bearer for music that sounds essentially, well, American.
To many, the sum is indeed greater than its parts, and Americana's popularity is on the rise. Hence; in the most quintessentially horrendous British weather, enthusiasm for discovering new music at the annual 'AmericanaFest UK' held across various venues in Hackney at the end of January, was notably undamped. Freezing rain and wind swell that left no umbrella unturned could not deter the crowds gratefully gathered into the cosy stages of this multi-venue festival, now in its fourth year.
A cornerstone this year's plaid-laden festivities was the 'Canadian Blast' - a travelling showcase platform which promotes Canadian musical talent around the world, presented by 'CIMA' - the Canadian Independent Music Association. CIMA invited us along to this evening of back to back gigs from some of Canada's burgeoning Americana and songwriting talent at the Empire Bar on Mare St - their basecamp for the night, where we enjoyed an evening of Canada's finest up and coming Americana-tinged artists; Canadiana, if you will.
Just before the show, we caught a few words with Canadian Blast's Music Export Manager Trisha Carter, to find a little more about what's happening in the Canadian independent music scene and why we should be interested in what's coming….
Please tell us in a nutshell what the Canadian Blast is…
Canadian Blast is the export showcase brand for the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA). We use this brand around the world when we do Canadian showcases at festivals.
CIMA represents the Canadian independent sector in Canada on the business side which represents all the great indie artists. Checkout our website to get to know our member labels, managers, publishers and their artists.
Canada is comprised of 12 provinces; tell us about your own home province and the artists we should definitely be checking out right now, are you allowed to pick favorites?!
CIMA is based in Toronto, Ontario but our members are across the country. Toronto however is the highest music centre in Canada with over 60% of the Canadian industry here, followed by Montreal and Vancouver. At CIMA we are like Switzerland, so very neutral and don't play favourites! Honestly, there is so much great music from Canada from hip hop to folk/roots, from rock to country to jazz. Checkout some Canadian indie playlists on Spotify.
When can the UK expect its next Canadian Blast instalment?
We'll be coming back to the UK in May for The Great Escape in Brighton. For this one we expand our Canadian Blast showcase into a 3 day event where we partner with MusicOntario, Music Nova Scotia and Breakout West to each host a day in a venue we rebrand as Canada House
Onto the music then! First on were symbiotic duo Harrow Fair - enmeshing echoes of barn-storming hoe-downs with haunting gritty ballads. Eerie, ominous violins marry their overlapping gritty vocals, at times heading straight back to dusty stompers. An entertaining and engaging opener, setting a frenetic tone for the rest of the evening.
Harrow Fair - Call to Arms
Next up, Leeroy Stagger, a prolific roots troubadour - we're reliably informed, takes the stage in oaky lumberjack splendour. His songs infuse rough with the smooth in folk rock tinged with bluegrass. His set is what Americana is all about; feeling. Melancholy, reflective and upbeat. It's about loving, longing and mourning things lost with a hopeful eye on the future. Wooden guitars, sure-footed beats, classic songwriting set over upbeat hooks soon get those feet in the audience shuffling.
Leeroy Stagger - I Want it All
When you think of Americana as a composite genre, it makes sense that it would lend itself to further exploration. Some of the most stimulating moments of the evening came when artists subverted the genre, blending new elements, moving away from quiet re-enactments and breathing new life into classic forms.
PICK OF THE NIGHT! The entrancing Kaia Kater cast a spell and all manner of interesting questions over the ownership of Americana. At times, sounding like an introspective Springsteen on quiet mode, at others pulsating energy through rolling fingerpicking banjo and stunning harmonies.
Making the point that sometimes 'you can't move forward without looking back' she draws onto her Grenadian heritage to crack those American sounds wide open with new rhythm and colour, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
Her music comes into its own precisely as it deviates from traditional archetypes. Notably, 'La Misere', a three-part harmony piece, sung in French, with distinctive West Indies flavour. Sublime. Her album 'Grenades' released in Jan 2019 has unsurprisingly received rave reviews and earned her a JUNO award nomination - Canada's version on the Brits.
Kaia Kater - Grenades
Honeyed harmonies were in no short supply on Madison Violet's cockle-warming set. The comradery between the female duo is palpable and their affable, wry sense of humour spills over into their music and perfromance.
With each song they become more personal and involving, not just lyrically but instrumentally, vocally, melodically. Their set feels like waking from a slumber and becoming fiercer by the minute.
Country songs about small town living on the lapsteel, little folk lullabies about young love and heartbreak scintillate over multiple instruments and tight musicianship. Tracks like 'Ohio' place these Canadians wham bam in the middle of the US of A.
Maddison Violet - Ohio
Oh Susannah brought an unexpectedly punk DIY edge to the proceedings. Steeped in nostalgia, this singer songwriter deftly entwines folk pop and roots to narrate her adolescence.
Disarmingly, these folk songs set the backdrop for stories that include her teenage obsession with Johnny Rotten and being in a punk band in Vancouver in the 80s. Oh Susanna has a penchant for rebellion, an acerbic sense of humour and a knack for making her personal experiences deeply relatable.
…And relatability is central to Americana. Soon she has won the crowd over, as everyone sings along to the simple and effective 'Tickets on the Weekend'. Here we find deep empathy; loss and frustration, but also songs about falling in love as a teenager - it's as corny as corn syrup and as sweet. It's not about reinventing the wheel, it's about making it roll even smoother.
Oh Susannah - Tickets on the WeekendFinally, raucous stompers Pretty Archie take the stage, blurring every line between Folk, Bluegrass, Country and Blues, with songs taking a sardonic view of modern living. Bursting with energy, the beardy 5-piece bring the barn dance into the bar, regaling Hackney with tales from the small town. Perhaps more than any other act on the bill tonight, they radiate unadulterated fun!
Pretty Archie - We Don't Live Forever
Americana, a distillation of the American Spirit, is the result of prolific cultural exchange from many different sources, paradoxically not exclusively American at all. Tonight's dazzling array of performances shows Canada is more than worthy of bearing the flag.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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