Songs from the lockdown
From the Latin-inspired Diamante to folksy Holiday, Winnipeg performers reflect on life during a pandemic
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/04/2021 (793 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Onna Lou’s video for her new single will make you ache for 2019.
The Winnipeg Latin jazz/folk singer, who is originally from Buenos Aires, sings the charming Bailor de a dos while passing alongside the city’s famous landmarks such as Union Station and Portage and Main. Not long afterward though, she sways her way to The Forks to match the song’s title — Bailor de a dos is Spanish for “dance as couples.”
Dancing cheek-to-cheek is one of those activities the world has had to give up for the never-ending Lent known also known as COVID-19. Footage from a 2019 shoot takes us back in time to a sultry evening at Winnipeg’s famous meeting place when masks, social distancing and a deadly virus were only plot devices from dystopian horror movies.
Onna Lou wrote Bailar de a dos, which dropped March 26, shortly after releasing her debut album, Ahora, in 2016 after attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Little did she know then how much the song she wrote then would pertain to what the world has lived and is living in 2020 and 2021.
“It talks about technology, how we’re kind of obsessed about looking into our phones, our tablets and are obsessed with our own lives and we sometimes we forget to connect for real and be alive with someone else,” she says. “I talk about how individualism is overrated. We find happiness in the connection, in getting out of our comfortable little bubbles for someone else. Being helped and helping, that’s where the good stuff happens.
“(The song) has gained a new meaning. COVID also taught us very clearly that individualism is not going to cut it. What one person does affects the rest.”
The new single is a preview for Onna Lou’s second album, Diamante, which will be released May 28. She spent time listening to music from Cuba, Mexico and other Latin American countries for inspiration. She recorded the album during 2020 and found technology proved to be a helping hand instead of a hindrance both in recording and with connecting with family in Argentina.
“In that sense, technology has been a blessing,” she says. “We’re using it in a better way now.”
Onna Lou — Onna Moreno away from stage — moved to Winnipeg in 2016 and wondered if she could adjust to a new city and if the new city could adjust to her music. She quickly found out there’s a small but active Latin music scene and within two months of her arrival she was singing at the Cube with Papa Mambo and has been busy performing — barring the pandemic — ever since.
“Most times people don’t understand what I’m singing but people here I find are very open to culture and music from other parts of the world and really open Latin American music in particular,” she says. “(Winnipeg) has surpassed my expectations and it calmed my fears completely. The reasons why we chose to come here proved to be right.”
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March 26 also brought a new single, Stick Around, from Winnipeg singer-songwriter Slow Leaves, which also previews a new album coming out May 7.
Grant Davidson, the man behind the Slow Leaves nom-de-plume, wrote the song during last year’s pandemic, which wiped out an extensive promotional tour for his 2020 album Shelf Life. Eventually he returned to writing songs and he received some inspiration when Stick Around stuck.
“It was only after I’d written the song that I realized it was about persuading myself to keep making music in spite of ongoing doubts about where it’s leading me,” Davidson says in a release.
The new album, coming out on the Winnipeg-based Birthday Cake label, is titled Holiday, which is how Davidson describes 2020. Some of the song titles suggest his pandemic experience is similar to what many others have faced: Not All Roses, Losing My Mind and Boredom.
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March was a stampede of streaming concerts in Manitoba, thanks mostly to the province’s Safe at Home Manitoba grant program, which led to concert series held by the West End Cultural Centre, the Burton Cummings Theatre and the Festival du Voyageur, among others.
The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra takes on April with its own streaming concert series, which replaces the spring festival it planned before the pandemic began last March.
It begins with British pianist Stephen Hough, who besides his virtuosity at the keyboard is also a painter, author and was named one of the world’s 20 greatest living polymaths by The Economist. Tickets for his YouTube Live show on April 8 at 7:30 p.m., are $20 and are available at themco.ca or by calling 204-783-7877.
The concert series last until June, with future online shows including Dutch recordist Lucie Horsch, Canadian french hornist James Sommerville, American violinist Aisslinn Nosky as well as Winnipeg-based soloists Tracy Dahl, Andriana Chuchman, Alexander Weimann and Victoria Sparks performing with the MCO.
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Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.