Female artists from Yellowknife were among the talented acts to entertain the unleashed post-COVID masses at Folk on the Rocks (FOTR) over the weekend.
Carmen Braden, Laurie Sarkadi, Miranda Currie, Grace Clarke and Brie O’Keefe of Flora and the Fireweeds spoke to Yellowknifer about what inspired them to become musicians.
When Carmen Braden was five years old, her parents signed her up for piano lessons.
“I was really lucky to have Bill Gilday as a (piano) teacher… so it was a credit to him,” Braden said. “(He) kind of got me started and kind of lit this fire in me.”
Her uncle Pat Braden, a well-known musician across the North, was another major influence, she said.
She can recall one of her first times performing live in front of an audience — it was at city hall when she was in her late teens.
“I can remember playing a double bass, a didgeridoo and singing at this community concert, and it just felt so fun and rewarding to have my own music happening in a way that I was exploring,” Carmen said. “That’s really stuck with me through the rest of my musical journey.”
She said she can take inspiration from whatever is around her and incorporate that in her musical expression.
“I’m a big fan of reflecting my geographical environment of the sub-Arctic in my music but also just my home environment,” she said.
Although Carmen formally studied piano, she’s going back to her roots, which is songwriting.
This fall, she is set to release a new album, Seed Songs. It was available at FOTR ahead of the official release. Some of the music she wrote on her latest project touches on her children and living through the pandemic.
Sarkadi started her musical career on the piano with classical music lessons, around age seven.
She recalled taking all the Royal Conservatory exams through Grade 8.
“I think I really only found my voice when I got my guitar. I never sang and played the piano,” she said.
But she didn’t pick up the strings until she was 40 years old.
“I bought myself a guitar as a present and I sort of taught my self to play a bit.” Sarkadi said. “Then, about six months later, I started writing my own songs.
“I do really like blue music… music with heart,” she said,
Relationships, the environment and social justice provide her with fuel for her compositions. This year’s FOTR was actually her first time performing entirely original songs.
One of her first times playing live was during an impromptu jam session with Yellowknife’s Indio Saravanja at the Wildcat Cafe. Whenever she performs it’s always exciting, but “it’s always a little scary,” she added. “It’s a very concentrated experience.”
Not only is Sarkadi a musician, but she’s a writer of books. Her latest e-book titled My Free Trip to Santa Fe came out last weekend at Folk on the Rocks.
Currie was a six-year-old school girl when she excitedly carried a permission slip home that would allow her to learn to play a stringed instrument.
“I remember taking it home to my parents and being really nervous to ask my grandma,” Currie said, “Grandma, I really want to play the violin.”
Currie recalls her grandma replying, “Oh well, your grandfather used to play. He wasn’t very good, but we have this violin if you wanted to use that.”
Playing the violin soon became her favourite growing up. Years later, she started to pick up the guitar. She also tried playing bass for a while in high school, she added.
In her 20s, she began to write songs.
Her mission as an artist is to create authentic Northern Indigenous content that is accessible to children and families.
Last December, Currie recorded Tickling the Taiga, her second children’s album. It’s due for release this fall. She also has a Northern Indigenous children’s TV show in development.
“I’m working on a few other things — not with music — but I just finished a short film that’ll come out in fall as well,” she said.
Tears rolled down Grace Clark’s cheeks as she watched musical mentor Andrea Becker perform at an album release function years ago.
“I remember sitting in the audience and watching her play her own original music and I just had a really overwhelming feeling, I actually started crying in the audience,” Clark said. “I love watching her play music and see her passion for music.”
Becker taught Clark how to play fiddle at age seven, about four years after she’d started piano lessons. Both mentor and protege played at FOTR this past weekend.
Clark began singing and songwriting while in high school. She always writes from personal experience. One of the songs she composed when she decided to take a year off after high school was about the first time she and her twin sister were going to be apart for more than a week.
“I remember writing a song about leaving home, talking about my sister and experiences that have a impact on me,” she said, adding that she also likes to have an aspect of nature in her songs.
Clark graduated in April from a contemporary music and technology program, majoring in songwriting and voice, at Selkirk College in British Columbia.
She got to record a song upon completing the program.
“I decided I wanted to release it as a live extended play, so I’ve got that on Spotify and Apple Music,” she said.
The extended play consists of five songs: Nice Girl, Man in the Moon, Good Intentions, State of Mind and Sweet Talk.
“I really wanted to have an acoustic feel because I think that’s a nice way to connect with others when performing,” she said of the project.
She and a former classmate are working towards producing more songs in the near future.
Flora and the Fireweeds
Brie O’Keefe, founder of the Canadian folk band Flora and the Fireweeds, said she first got involved in music when she was about eight years old at Yellowknife’s Youth Choir, under the tutelage of director Bill Gilday. It was really important to her to learn how to sing.
During FOTR last weekend, she played alongside bandmates Kate Mansfield and Eva Paul on vocals, Jean-Michel Hivon on bass and David Dowe on drums.
Flora and the Fireweeds was formed in 2018. The moniker partially came from Starbucks, in an odd twist.
“People don’t always understand my name, so when Starbucks started the campaign where you gave your name to get your drink, it was really annoying,” O’Keefe said, “So one day I said to the guy, can you just write ‘dragon’ or something on the drink and I’ll pick that up because you aren’t going to understand my name.”
That was when the barista said, “‘So you want me to give you a Starbucks name?’”
The name was Flora.
O’Keefe said Flora became her alter ego.
A lot of the group’s music comes from everyday life, and one of their songs evolved from the time O’Keefe lived in London, England for 12 years.
“I would take the night bus at night and there was always girls having a really hard time, like crying and just, you know, you saw people in these vulnerable moments in their life,” O’Keefe recalled, adding that her song Dying Girl took influence from those moments.
The band is expecting to release a new album in spring 2022, tentatively called Greenwood.