Mary Barry gathers local francophiles for a night of music and culture
In the 1980s, fresh out of Vancouver Community College’s jazz program, Mary Barry went to Quebec City for a three-day visit — and stayed for 10 years. A part of her heart never really left.
“It’s really threaded throughout my life and shaped my destiny,” Barry says of her time in La Belle Province.
Known as one of this province’s most versatile and accomplished jazz and blue singers, Barry — who speaks perfect French, among other languages — has made the francophone tradition a part of her career. Often performing in French, in 2010 she released “Chanson Irisées,” her first full-length French record. Late last month she debuted her first French music video, for a song off the album called “Les Engoulevants (The Whippoorwill Song),” featuring dancer (and fellow francophile) Louise Moyes.
She has performed at various francophone festivals, with French artists, and on stage at Montreal’s famous Place des Arts.
“They sound like career opportunities, and I guess they are, but my main reason is more the passion behind the language,” Barry says.
Last summer, Barry programmed the music in the francophone tent at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, in co-ordination with the Newfoundland and Labrador Francophone Federation, and included musicians like Pamela Morgan and Anita Best, Krystin Pellerin and Erin Best and Sandy Morris. She was blown away not only by the range and repertoire of the performers, but the public reaction to it.
“People came from all over — we had a little guest book there,” she says. “And not all of them were francophone, either. It was such a discovery; I was thrilled to see the tent packed with people enjoying the music, even if they didn’t necessarily understand the words.
“It’s been said a million times that music is the universal language, and that’s they way it really is. Lots of people listen to African or Greek or salsa music without knowing the language, because it’s the music that moves us.”
Barry felt it was a shame to have such varied francophone entertainment all together just one weekend a year, and vowed, once the folk festival was over, to organize something similar for the winter. Tonight, she’s presenting, in connection with the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre, an event she calls “Aurora Cabaret” at the centre’s Barbara Barrett Theatre, featuring a mélange of dance and music by herself, Pamela Morgan, Anita Best, Louise Moyes, Krystin Pellerin, Sabrina Roberts, Sandy Morris, Erin Best, Colleen Power, Eren Bayazitoglu and Kira Sheppard. The event will be hosted by writer and actor Paul Rowe.
The performances will highlight songs from the Port-au-Port and Acadian peninsulas, Saint-Pierre and Miquelon and Quebec, as well as original compositions and French classics. Sheppard will play Celtic harp, while Bayazitoglu will play Turkish guitar.
Bayazitoglu is a native of Turkey who says the only song he sings in French is the one he’ll perform as a duet with Barry tonight — Sting’s “La Belle Dame Sans Regrets,” a tribute to Catherine Deneuve.
“The song really complements my music style and my voice, and Mary, who is francophone in many ways. It’s a great fit between us,” Bayazitoglu says.
“If you can sing in another language, you’ll notice the style is different and the phrasing is different. In Latin you’ll hear a more airy sound, and with Italian you get that passion that comes across. French is a romantic language anyway, but the music gives you that added romance on top of what the language is presenting.”
Pellerin, whose background is Acadian, is planning to perform three songs: an Acadian song called “Ultreia,” “Dommage” by Mathieu Boogaerts, and J’Arrive à la Ville by Lhasa De Sala.
“I like singing in both languages, but I really love French and I’m really keen on keeping it in my life,” Pellerin told The Telegram. “I think it’s very important to show our diversity, and it’s really inspiring to be exposed to art from different cultures. It helps us grow.”
Moyes will perform one of her signature docudances, a mix of choreography and documentary.
“Louise is such a unique artist. No one’s doing what she’s doing,” Barry says of her choice to include Moyes. “She also has a connection there to French culture — I call it being a ‘Frewfie.’
“I believe very much that Newfoundland has a strong francophone background. A lot of years and a lot of things have happened to make us not as aware as we used to be. We’re talking 400 years ago, but I really think it seeps into our DNA.”
Something Barry says she realized in Quebec is how similar québecoise and Newfoundland and Labrador music is, both making use of plenty of fiddle and accordion. It’s part of a real fluency between language, music and culture, she says.
Though the theatre doesn’t allow for cabaret seating, tonight’s show will be casual cabaret style, with short sets by each artist, and a bar during the intermission.
Barry hopes to make “Aurora Cabaret” an annual event, if all goes as planned, and is considering extending it to a multiple-night run next year.
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