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Sun Times Article 6: Soul Run

Every year Artistic Director James Keelaghan writes a series of 12 articles for the Owen Sound Sun Times previewing the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival

By James Keelaghan

If you visit Tanika Charles’ page on summerfolk.org, you’ll hear a track called Soul Run. It’s lively, with a beat and an exuberance that makes you want to leap on stage and sing the backing vocals. The track also sounds like hope, which is interesting because the real life story behind the song belies the groove.

 

Charles was living outside Edmonton in an unhealthy relationship and it was time to get out. Grabbing the only vehicle available to make a break, she didn’t get far. It was a manual transmission and she had only ever driven an automatic. But it sometimes happens that once the first step is taken, there’s no stopping.

 

That was the beginning of what Tanika Charles calls her soul run. It took her from a northern Alberta farm to the centre of the Toronto music scene that has embraced her with all its heart.

 

When Tanika left Edmonton, she had no musical background, except for a well-developed love for her dad’s jazz record collection, Stevie Wonder and Bjork. She thought maybe comedy would be her meal ticket but auditioned for work as a background singer. As a backing vocalist with Bedouin Soundclash for two years and touring with Emmanuel Jal and Macy Gray, her exuberance, the crystal quality of her singing and her presence, made her a valued member of those groups.

 

It’s a time-honoured tradition in the world of soul and blues that you learn your chops in other people’s bands. It takes courage, though, to step out of that role and strike out on your own. Applying all that was learned on the road and in the studio to build her own career and her own band, in the best sense of the word, Tanika invented herself.

 

Starting the second lap of the soul run in 2010, Tanika released her first EP What! What? What!? She was among the headline performers at the prestigious Women in Blues concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 2012. In 2015, two singles were released as a teaser for a full-length project. Both charted well on CBC and, by May 2016, Tanika had dropped her debut CD. It was a hit. Soul Run was nominated for a Juno award in the R&B/Soul category where Tanika was the only woman nominated.

 

Now, on the third lap, she had a cross-Canada tour—not an easy thing to arrange on the release of the disc, dipped her toe in the world of theatre with the show Freedom Singer and is currently on a month long tour in Europe—not bad for someone who couldn’t drive a stick!

 

Samantha Martin also has running on her mind. Her 2018 release, Run to Me, is a blues tour de force—music with a backbone. But make no mistake, from the writing to the arrangements, everything on this CD supports the unshakeable pillar that is Samantha Martin’s voice. If harnessed, it could power a small city. It’s not just smoky—it’s a three-alarm fire.

Samanth-Martin_Band2018PROMO

Since Samantha and Delta Sugar were last at Summerfolk, their debut album Send the Nightingale earned 4 Maple Blues nominations and they were chosen to represent Toronto at the International Blues challenge in Memphis. But we all know that she was really in Memphis representing the Grey Bruce.

 

Samantha was born in Edmonton, but her family has deep roots on the peninsula. At various stages in her life, she has found herself living on the shores of Georgian Bay where she has had a lot of formative musical relationships, notably with Trevor and Tara MacKenzie.

 

Her first EP was recorded at Trev’s studio with a full-length solo CD following in 2008. Four years later, Sam like Tanika, decided to form a band. Samantha Martin and the Haggard was a romp through blues, gospel, country and early rock and roll.

 

By 2015, Martin had sharpened her focus—Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar was born. The blues juggernaut owes its strength to the tripod of Martin, guitarist Mikey McCallum and drummer Dani Nash. It owes its sweetness to the unadulterated gospel-tinged, neuron-tingling magic of Samantha’s “co-vocalists,” Sherie Marshall and newest full time member Mwansa Mwansa. And just when you thought that was enough, along come the keyboards and the horn section. It’s a mighty sound.

 

Samantha actually has a couple of voices. The second one finds its way from pen to paper. Singing comes naturally to some folks, but there are no natural writers. It’s a craft that has to be worked on. Sam’s voice wouldn’t make sense without strong songs to sing so she’s has been sharpening her focus there as well. That voice, the one that actually writes the songs, has become as strong as the other one we hear on the recordings. The latest crop of tunes are spartan and heartfelt. Pulling no punches, they are as honest as her voice.

 

Whether you’re on a soul run, or you are running to Samantha Martin, you’ll find the finish line at the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival. It’s our 43rd year at Kelso Beach Park and the dates are August 17, 18, 19. Information about tickets, performers and much more can be found at summerfolk.org.

On the Road Survival with Samantha Martin

Travel can be exhausting and for touring musicians everyday travel struggles come with the added pressure to perform at your best every time you take to the stage. Five Time Maple Blues Award Nominee and Grey Bruce musical export Samantha Martin will return to Owen Sound on July 16th to share the tips and strategies that touring musicians use to keep themselves at the top of their game while on tour. The workshop is the seventh in Summerfolk’s Music Biz Tune Up workshop series helping local performers develop the business skills they’ll need to make the most of their musical careers.

Sam MartinSamantha Martin has deep family roots on the Bruce Peninsula and she spent a formative musical period in Owen Sound. Now, she fronts an in-demand band (Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar) and tours from coast, to coast, to coast in Canada as well as in Europe and the USA. With so much time on the road, Samantha has built up an arsenal of tricks to stay healthy and happy. “The more planning ahead of time you do – means when the unexpected happens (and it always does) you are in a position problem solve with the least amount of stress”, she said. The interactive workshop will allow participants to ask questions and learn from Samantha’s stories first hand.

Summerfolk is presenting Music Biz Tune Up workshops every month to help local musicians of all genres develop the business skills they need without having to leave the area to develop. The On the Road Survival workshop will run from 1-3pm at the SuiteSpots building at 1051 2nd Ave East, Owen Sound. Participants can register online at Summerfolk.org/musicbiztuneup or at the door on the day of the workshop. Registration is $20.

Building on Musical Mentors

By James Keelaghan

In April this year, I lost a good friend. Ron Casat had been one of my earliest mentors. He taught me pretty well everything I know about music. He taught me how to be band leader and about the fundamentals of song writing and performance. He taught me the importance of musical community.

His memorial was held in Calgary on a bright May afternoon. Five or six hundred people attended to remember him and to play music. There were reggae bands, folkies, country singers, There were hundreds of people that he had played with over the years-hundreds who couldn’t make it. There were no “kinds” of music for Ron, there was just music. Ron built community and connected us all because he knew that was the only way for musicians to survive.

Most musicians have a “Ron” in their lives. I talked to Samantha Martin a couple of days ago and I wanted to know who were the influences on her musically. I wanted to know if there was something special about the Grey Bruce in her musical development. Sam was born in Edmonton, but her dad’s family have been on the peninsula for 4 or 5 generations. At various stages in her life, she found herself living by the shores of Georgian Bay. She says there is a special community vibe here, a feeling that’s hard to find in other places.

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar

Her voice is always true. True enough that she could belt out show tunes when she was in elementary school. Like most great musicians she plowed through a lot of different styles before finding the music that speaks to their heart.

Eventually she spent a lot of time hanging out at the intersection of gospel, blues, rockabilly and soul music.

2015 may be her biggest year yet. She was featured in the prestigious Women Blues Revue concert at Massey hall in Toronto last November. She’s in demand at festivals in Canada and Europe. The critics have been universal in praising her power and originality.

Who was her Ron? Without hesitation, Samantha answered that it was Trevor and Tara MacKenzie.

When Martin came back to town in 2004 after time away at college, it was Trevor and Tara that helped her focus on what she wanted and how to get it. They encouraged her to write and helped her join what was in her head with what was in her heart.  She recorded her first EP at Trevor’s studio. She’s hardly looked back, except in gratitude.

Musicians are like sharks. In order to live you have to keep moving. You have to try to carry your music to its farthest geographical limit. But in doing that, it’s easy to lose home and community.

When Tara MacKenzie came back to the Grey Bruce after being away for the better part of her 20’s, it was only for a family visit. She had been playing and studying in Amsterdam, Budapest and throughout Europe.

On that trip back, she met Trevor MacKenzie. In Trevor, she found someone who shared her passion for building musical community. She did what is hard for a lot of touring musicians to do. She put down roots.

You can see Trevor and Tara’s contribution to the musical community everywhere you look. It’s  can be seen in The Choir that Rocks, the constant recording sessions at Trev’s studio, their participation in the Youth Discoveries program. They’ve provided hands on education and vocal training and many more initiatives.

In the past 3 or 4 years, though, the road has been calling again. The MacKenzie Blues Band has been wandering farther from home. They have a full slate of festivals this summer. If you don’t know them from here in town, you haven’t been paying attention. As blues outfits go, there are few as tight or as powerful as MBB. Trevor is a truly awesome electric guitar player. At Summerfolk three years ago, no less than Oscar Lopez, threatened to steal him away. Trev declined. With a rhythm section anchored by Mike weir on Drums and Joel Dawson on bass, the Mackenzie Blues Band make a mighty sound.

 

The MacKenzie Blues Band

The MacKenzie Blues Band

The beating heart of the band is undoubtebly Tara MacKenzie. She gives the band a run for its money in the power department with a voice that will literally blow your hair back. As a vocalist she does more than blues, though. If you haven’t heard her sing Irish Traditional music you haven’t lived.

No matter how much they tour, though, there is no way that they will abandon the scene they have helped to build.

Summerfolk survives because of the community that has been built over 40 years, by the work that is done every year by over 700 volunteers, by the kind contribution of sponsors. It also thrives because there is a vibrant musical scene in the Grey Bruce that gets better with every passing year.

Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar, The MacKenzie Blues band and over 40 other acts will be building a community by the shores of Georgian Bay at the Summerfolk Music and Crafts Festival this year. Summerfolk gets underway with a 40th Birthday bash on Thursday, August 20 and continues for three days of music, art and food August 21-23 at Kelso Beach Park. Information can be found at summerfolk.org or by calling 519-371-2995

 

 

 

 

 

 

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