Behind the 'tartan curtain'

- March 5, 2007

El Viento Flamenco
Sean Harris, Evelyne Benais, Megan Matheson, Maral Perk, Tony Tucker, Bob Sutherby.

When you think of traditional east coast music, flamenco wouldn't necessarily spring to mind...until now.

El Viento Flamenco, featuring Dalhousie guitar instructor Bob Sutherby, took the trophy for Best Roots/Traditional Group Recording, at the East Coast Music Awards gala held February 18 in Halifax's Metro Centre. It was the first regional award for the electrifying band of musicians and dancers, on the strength of their first live album, recorded in the Sir James Dunn Theatre at the Dalhousie Arts Centre.

"Since we do arrangements of traditional Spanish material, it kind of makes sense," says Sutherby, who will be putting forth a proposal for Dal's music department to launch a new flamenco guitar course in 2008.

Dal at the ECMAs:

  • Sloan, featuring frontman Chris Murphy (BA '90) took Rock Recording of the Year for Never Hear the End of It.
  • Liz Rigney (BA '89), singer and local CTV television personality, won the ECMA Industry Award for Media Person of the Year.
  • Dal grad Kevin Roach, a mainstay of Halifax's Celtic music scene, was
    nominated for Instrumental Recording of the Year, for his album The Downpour.
  • Portia White, who did her teacher training at Dal, posthumously earned the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award. In a tribute to the legendary vocalist, soprano Measha Bruggergosman said White's voice "electrified everyone who heard it...she paved the way for so many who followed, including myself."

The self-described 'rocker' was initially skeptical a decade ago, when dancer Evelyne Benais (currently a part-time Dal student) asked him to form a flamenco band in St. John's. But the group has been in big demand across the region ever since, relocating in 2001 to Halifax to make touring easier. Audiences of all ages enjoy the genre Ñ enough that Halifax just hosted a month-long flamenco festival. Part of the popular appeal is its exotic nature, says Sutherby.

"It's also very compelling music, with its rhythm and energy, plus it's a multimedia affair. Perhaps some people are tired of the same old, and want something a bit off the beaten path for the east coast scene."

"Kind of surreal"

The group got national ECMA exposure on CBC Radio, performing live on Sounds Like Canada. Host Shelagh Rogers invited another musician from the Dal universe Ñ kinesiology grad Rose Cousins (BScK'99), who worked in the university's external relations office until launching her full-time music career just over a year ago.

Cousins, who also sang on the nationally televised awards show, received two ECMA nominations for her solo album If You Were For Me: the CBC Galaxie Rising Star award, and the coveted SOCAN Songwriter of the Year award.

"It's kind of surreal," says Cousins, who lived on a PEI potato farm until recruited for Dal's varsity volleyball team. Diving into the music biz was daunting at first, but now she's certain she's doing the right thing. She still enjoys her Dal connections, and released her new CD with a concert in the Dunn last spring.

"You have to follow your gut and your heart, even when you don't necessarily know if everything's going to work out. I hope to be able to play music for the rest of my life," she says.

Beyond stereotypes

Dalhousie musicians (faculty, students and alumni) performed at a variety of ECMA events, from Gypsophilia to Jenn Grant and the Nightpainters.

The ECMAs are a great vehicle for showcasing the broad scope of talent here to the rest of Canada, beyond the usual fiddle stereotypes, says history professor Ryan Edwardson. A Killam Post-doctoral Fellow, he has written a book about Canadian rock and his current research project is titled Canada's Kitchen Party: East Coast Music and the Nationalization of Celtic Folklife.

"After the Hali-pop boom of the '90s, people are recognizing that the east coast has much more to offer," he says. "Beyond the Maritimes, the industry has traditionally marketed a very limited view of what's actually available here, so it's been very interesting to see what's really going on behind the 'tartan curtain'," says Dr. Edwardson, who moved here in September after previous posts at Concordia and Queen's.

El Viento's award should help propel the group to the next level, says Sutherby. "It tends to kind of light a spark, gets a fire going inside. Now we're all worked up about making a new CD, and we're getting all kinds of offers to perform at festivals. There's nice fallout," he says.


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