As the eyes of the music industry have focussed on Cape Breton Island, they’ve been looking in the direction of Celtic music.
But something else is catching their eye as of late: the fact that Cape Breton is a force to be reckoned with is apparent and it goes way beyond the traditional Celtic genre.
Michelle Boudreau-Samson’s award for Francophone Recording of the Year speaks for itself and while J.P. Cormier’s win was categorized as Roots/Traditional his musical roots are as diverse as his experiences have been. There’s the bluegrass country sound that J.P. was influenced by when he traveled through the Southern States playing with the likes of Travis Tritt and Waylon Jennings. His ties to the Acadian community where he lives comes through in his music, as does the folkish quality of some of his songs. And there is obviously a Cape Breton fiddle influence as Winston Scotty Fitzgerald is an idol of Cormier’s.
There are as many different styles of music in Cape Breton as there are cultures living here. This is what Michelle Boudreau-Samson wants to emphasize. Backstage after winning her award, she talked about being known as an Acadian musician, or a musician who happens to be Acadian.
“I think that Acadians are, no matter what they do, if they are strongly attached to their roots, they can’t help but show who they are in what they do. Just like Cape Bretoners. And I’m lucky to be both.”
Both Boudreau-Samson and Cormier are generous in their praise of Max MacDonald and Joella Foulds of Rave Entertainment. Michelle points out that as an artist from the island, sometimes it’s difficult to make an impact in a place that is so strongly identified with Celtic music.
“That’s why I just love Max and Joella, because they allowed me to be part of what Cape Breton music is all about. They’ve made a point to promote me not just because I’m an Acadian, but because they like what I do.”
For J.P. Cormier, there’s a different advantage to being from the Island, and that is the fan base. He believes that there is no way to repay those who have supported him, and wants to acknowledge the fact that he couldn’t have done anything without them.
“The secret to being successful is to start out at home because those are the people who have something to gain emotionally, financially personally, whatever, from somebody in their midst going out and making a name for themselves. Nobody in Vancouver is going to care if I have a hit on the charts or not, but the people in Cheticamp will go insane, and that spreads to the rest of the island, and then to the Maritimes. So it’s very important to have the people in your region behind you because without a home base, you’re just drifting around. There’s no measuring stick for you.”
The music business is a multi-million dollar industry because of the spin-off jobs it creates in supporting itself. Top-notch recording facilities, production companies, management, promotion and artistic expertise are as vital to the industry as the musicians themselves. Cape Bretoners are starting to receive recognition for outstanding work in these fields as well.
Since artist/photographer Carol Kennedy left the fashion world of Toronto, New York and Chicago behind several years ago and adopted Cape Breton as home, her work has been the first impression of many of Cape Breton’s musicians. Her work includes album cover photos, of the Rankin Family, Rita MacNeil and Tom O’Keefe, as well as more conceptual work like the layout and design of John Allan Cameron’s 1996 recording Glencoe Station. It was for this body of work that Kennedy received the 1998 ECMA for Graphic Design.
Kennedy’s images are noted for their moodiness making her work not only beautiful to the eye, but thought-provoking as well. Winning the ECMA not only adds credibility to her work, but shows public and industry people alike that the work needed can be done on the Island, and done well.
“This award is a pat on my back,” notes Kennedy. “It gives credence to my ability to make things distinctive. All the public recognition I’ve received will add to that, because to make a living here as an artist, you need off-island, high-profile exposure.”
All three of these artists have expressed the same sentiment, that receiving their awards will open new avenues of opportunity making the big winners this year, the growth of the industry as a whole. (photo: Matt Foulds)