Daphne Roubini of Black Gardenia brings her band’s blend of London jazz and Americana to Granville Island’s Canada Day celebrations, while John Welsh & Los Valientes share their combination World Music and Reggae at the Surrey Fusion Festival, and Iskwé aims to deliver a fully experiential trip-hop performance at the Vancouver Folk Festival.
Black Gardenia founder, ukuleleist, vocalist and lead songwriter Daphne Roubini was born and raised in London, England, where her affinity for traditional jazz standards inspired her to study the genre.
Roubini first established the British Jazz band with her husband, and guitarist Andrew Smith, in 2010. Sharing a love of vintage early 20th-century jazz, the duo sought out more members through jam sessions and other musical performances in Vancouver.
Roubini, who came to Canada in 2004, recalls jamming with a myriad of performers at Vancouver venues such as the Bayside Lounge and the Railway Club, finding band members and gaining a Roots/Americana influence that’s now present in the band. And while Black Gardenia’s line-up is now more or less set in stone, for Roubini, the journey may have been just as fulfilling as their current destination.
“Every time we had different musicians the song would be different, and I loved that about it. I thought that was true jazz: it was open and spacious, and the musicians could really explore their contributions to those songs,” says Roubini.
The result is a band whose rhythm lies steadily in the strings rather than the drummer, whose absence in the band was a conscious choice on Roubini’s part, and which carries Roubini’s voice, reminiscent of the vocalists who inspired her: Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McCrae and Sarah Vaughan.
“So now I would say that now Black Gardenia has some of that Americana in the choice of material,” says Roubini. “But there’s also the Django Reinhardt ‘chunk’ that comes through in the guitar playing, and yet it’s still got a Billie Holiday and old country tune feel, so it’s become even more of a kind of blurred, burnished interpretation of jazz.”
John Welsh & Los Valientes
John Welsh has been on the move from a young age. Having immigrated from the U.K. to Canada and back again, studying in Guatemala after high school and finishing university at UBC, Welsh has acquired not only a fluency in English, French and Spanish, but also a love of British bands like the Beatles, as well as Reggae and a number of other genres of Central American music.
Welsh picked up the guitar late in high school and has since built up his musical and vocal chops over the years on his own and with friends. Having met various band members throughout the many music scenes of the Lower Mainland, Welsh now performs in both English and Spanish with Los Valientes.
“Los Valientes means the courageous ones,” he says. “So it’s just about moving forward and instead of focusing on the negative, trying to bring this happiness and positivity which we believe the world needs more of.”
Welsh’s music is tinged with a multitude of multicultural influences, picked up both from his own and other band members’ worldly musical knowledge, but he says that the main goal of the band is engaging the audience and bringing people together.
“We’re really big on bringing different ages and cultures together, because there’s these common songs and rhythms that seem to resonate with people from all walks of life, so we’re all about trying to find those sounds that really bring in people,” says Welsh.
Iskwé recalls being raised in an arts-heavy family, particularly with an emphasis on music and dance. Although she resonated less with childhood piano lessons, her love of singing has persisted throughout her life.
Yet at times her passion for singing was a quiet one; she took a hiatus from singing partly to focus on dance, as public solo singing performance had always evaded Iskwé. That is until she was inspired by a friend to try out for Canadian Idol.
“I was like ‘Well I wanna audition for Canadian Idol’, and my partner at the time had no idea that I even sang, because even though we’d been living together for 2 years I kept that very private,” says Iskwé. “I went and auditioned for Canadian Idol, and did alright [initially] but then bombed one of my auditions because I had no experience: the nerves got me. From that moment on I realized, this is what I want to do, this is what I’m going to do.”
Iskwé’s cultural heritage has had a significant impact on her music, drawing both from her non-biological father’s Latvian/European heritage in building an appreciation for the classical arts as well as her mother’s Cree/Métis side with regards to topics in song. But although her music often touches on political topics and the social and political landscape surrounding indigenous people, for Iskwé – or “ ”, whose name is Cree for woman – music is, more than anything, an intuitive, liberating, creative process.
“I like to create music that feels good to write – whether it feels good because it’s a release for me or feels good because I feel like music itself really moves me, whether it’s musically or lyrically,” says Iskwé. “But I think my goal is really just to feel free in that creation process.”
For Iskwé this manifests in a multi-faceted, performance-based trip-hop project with a heavy emphasis on bringing the audience a veritable artistic journey.
“I want people to walk away feeling like they’ve experienced something,” says Iskwé.
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