Shawn Hall of The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer has provided me with my mantra for the next year. In an interview with Mike Usinger of the Georgia Straight, Hall mentioned that on the road to self discovery “… What it comes down to is—you’ve got to try on a lot of pants.”
I’ve been trying to tell people that for years, but never so simply.
It’s not surprising though—simplicity is the driving force that makes the music of The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer such a spine tingling pleasure. For two guys—Shawn is the Harpoonist, Matthew Rogers is the other guy—they produce a mighty sound.
Hall and Rogers are from the lower mainland. They met, like most acts do, in their twenties. A chance bit of session work introduced Shawn to Matt. The session work—they recorded a jingle for a local Jerk restaurant—lead to the creation of the duo in 2007. They released their debut disk, The Blues Can Kill, the same year. They were enthusiastically embraced by the west coast scene. The halls kept filling up and they kept touring further afield.
They pump out dark, brooding, danceable blues-based songs.They tend to the raw, low down, gritty end of the scale. With a name like The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer that’s to be expected. Their new cd, Apocalipstick, deals with some dark subjects but it’s done with a bit of a grin—a dark sense of humour. The lyrics are sharp and precise and Hall’s crunchy harmonica sounds and Rogers gritty guitar chops whip up a rhythm storm.
They have moved past the duo now, adding back ground vocalists—they will be joined by Alexa Dirks who was last at Summerfolk as part of Chic Gamine-percussion and keyboards, but the music retains its simplicity. It always comes back to the groove for them, and for their audience.
Like Hall and Rogers, Shakura S’aida had to try on a lot of pants.
She simmered on the edge of the music scene for a quite a while trying out a lot of different styles. She fronted a world music act— Kaleefah— and was a backing vocalist to artists as diverse as Rita MacNeil and Patti Labelle. Her heart , it turns out, was really in the blues.
In 2008 she placed high in the running at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. She also released her first solo cd, Blueprint. Maple Blues and Juno nominations followed. She’s not the edge of the scene any longer. She is the scene. She’s got a rich layered voice, a knack for writing and interpretation and a great choice in players.
I’d heard Shakura’s name a lot, but hadn’t seen her perform. Then, two years ago I was asked to take part in a songwriter’s circle for the Canadian Songwriter’s Association. Shakura was going to be one of the 4 performers. A beautiful room in Koerner Hall and a sold out crowd of enthusiastic listeners—what could be better.
Whenever I play a songwriter circle I treat it like a festival workshop-a round robin where it’s important to listen to what is played before you. Have you got a song on the same theme? Do you have a song that compliments the one just played? If you can think of what the audience is experiencing rather than an interior agenda, the whole thing can lift off.
Shakura and her guitar player were on my right, so as we went round the circle, she was playing after me each round.
I found out that Shakura is an ears-wide-open musician. She listens intensely. She pulls thread from the song you’ve sung and with a twist, and a bit of wit, she spins that thread into her song. She was awesome and a natural at the art of the workshop.
I got to know Shakura better a couple of months later when she asked me to co-write a song with her for a United Way project in Toronto. She was easy to co-write with because she is comfortable in her own skin, and makes you feel the same. It comes partly from the multinational nature of her life. Born in Brooklyn, raised in Switzerland, now making home in Toronto, she’s had to be able to break down barriers.
The night we performed the song, it wasn’t just her and a guitar player. It was an 8 piece band, including a horn section. She rocked the room. Having seen her in an intimate setting and at full throttle, I was sure that she would fit in at Summerfolk.
Shakura S’Aida and the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer will meet on stage with the legendary Trevor MacKenzie at our celebrated Saturday afternoon Blues by Bay session—Saturday, August 19 at 4PM-ish. Information can be had at summerfolk.org or by phoning or office at 519-371-2995. Summerfolk happens August 17, 18, 19, 20, at Kelso Beach Park.