After cancelling their festival in 2020 due to the pandemic, Coastal Jazz returns to present the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival from June 25 to July 4, 2021. Breaking from the recent pandemic-era tradition of pre-recorded performances, the festival will be streaming artist performances live from several Vancouver venues, as well as hosting several live in-person free and ticketed performances.
Three such Vancouver-based acts include Jasmine Colette and Al W. Cardinal’s blues, jazz and rock duo Blue Moon Marquee, Quincy Mayes and Yuyu Feng’s ambient Wawona and soul, neo-folk and R&B artist Tonye Aganaba.
Tonye Aganaba – a new reality
Music has been both a great passion and a crucial means of self-expression for Aganaba. Having debuted semi-formally performing odd gigs in Kitsilano in their teens, Aganaba has since grown into a multi-faceted singer and songwriter, employing a mix of soul, neo-folk and R&B in their music.
Aganaba says the last few years have been turbulent enough to reset their relationship with themself and their body, and an equally profound change has been found in how they create their music.
Diagnosed with MS in 2015 and suffering an intense car accident in 2017, Aganaba says their album Something Comfortable represents a reckoning with a ‘new body’ and new reality for the artist.
“This album was really about me wrestling with the reality of who I am now. No longer being in my job because of the disability that I have, not being able to have sustainable energy, to be able to do the thing that I love so much,” says Aganaba. “It’s about me processing these huge existential questions I’m being faced with, like can you even be a musician now that you have a disability?”
Disability has been a complicated and challenging new reality that has brought with it a new perspective. For Aganaba, being disabled has shed a new light on how systems of oppression interact with one another, and how that fundamentally affects how marginalized people interact with society. It’s a perspective Aganaba hopes to bring both to their music as well as their activism.
“I don’t want anyone to experience the things that I’ve experienced, or the things that I know about having MS that are really hard. And [there’s] a richness that I have come into contact with by being surrounded by other people who are living with disabilities,” says Aganaba. “Without the experience of living in a disabled body, I would have come to it eventually, but it would have taken me a lot longer to understand what it means to be in solidarity with oppressed people.”
Wawona – when music calls on instincts
When he met Yuyu Feng at the forward-thinking New School music university in New York, Quincy Mayes says that they both had an open-minded approach to music and composition.
“When you’re working with vocal and piano, it can be easy to kind of fall into roles, like the pianist is the accompaniment and the vocalist is the one who’s leading a melody. But I feel like in the music that we’ve written so far, there’s kind of a subversion of that. Sometimes the human voice is treated as more of a supporting, harmonic role, for example,” says Mayes.
This subversive approach has led to a kind of reverse engineering of the songwriting and production process in this latest performance. The result is a musical set that is, in a way, produced in real time, with the more acoustic elements being performed and improvised in real time, backed by more pre-recorded but nonetheless mutable electronic production.
“[There’s] this very manual, modular way of playing with sounds. I think how we both play music is in thinking about how a well-produced song can be emulated in a live performance,” he says.
For this duo, the goal is to create something essential and natural, music that is easy to connect with on an instinctual level.
“Something that’s very important is…conveying feelings in a really direct way, but maybe using unconventional means to do that. Maybe music harmonies that people haven’t heard, but trying to create emotional responses that are fairly simple and straightforward,” says Mayes.
Blue Moon Marquee – from the source to modern days
Colette met Al Cardinal through Alberta’s punk and metal scene years ago and says the two have continued to share similarly evolving musical curiosities over the years. Despite the stark difference between that scene and Blue Moon Marquee’s current blues, rock and jazz sound, in a way Colette and Cardinal’s shared move back to rock’s roots makes sense.
“You just dig back to where the metal came from, where rock and roll came from, where boogie came from and it all comes from the blues, all of it. So that’s like the, it, it was, it just felt right to kind of go back and tap the source,” says Colette.
Blue Moon Marquee employs a range of genres and influences, but perhaps most pertinently, the duo – following from Cardinal’s heritage as Cree-Metis and Colette’s First Nations stepfather – draws another source of inspiration from Indigenous folklore. Their song Black Mamba represents an example of interpreting said folklore in a modern context.
“It’s inspired by a Lakota prophecy from a Lakota-Sioux man called Black Elk. It’s a very old prophecy of a big black snake that will crawl through the land and poison the water. Of course, a lot of people kind of take that to mean pipelines,” says Colette. “So, we ran into that and we were very inspired by that [prophecy] and also by the current events.”
That said, the duo strikes a balance between more contemporary and political lyricism with a sound that is focused on having a good time.
“Sometimes the audience just wants to come out and have fun and they’re pummelled by the news and all the distressing stuff that’s happening,” says Colette. “[Our music] might have a groovy vibe to it but have deeper stories behind the lyrics. But they can read into that if they want, or if they need to just shake tail feathers and be entertained then that’s great as well.”
For more information on the festival and the artists, visit www.coastaljazz.ca