Two video cameras, three studio lights and two metres of distance. Concerts look a lot different in 2020, but the virtual circuit has been good to Winnipeg francophone singer-songwriter Kelly Bado.

"I really thought that I wouldn’t be that busy with COVID, because the music industry was really impacted," says Bado, 35, while preparing to record an hour-long set in the Garden of Contemplation at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Monday afternoon.

The performance will be streamed during the Canadian Online Jazz Festival, which runs Nov. 8 to 15 and is a collaboration among more than a dozen jazz festivals from across the country. And on Friday, Bado is releasing her first full-length album, titled Hey Terre, with a virtual launch party at the West End Cultural Centre. The event will be recorded by Jazz Winnipeg and livestreamed by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa as part of the organization’s weekly emerging artist series.

"In a way, this (pandemic) is opening a new way of doing things," she says. "Lots of people, even overseas, can tune in, so it gives an opportunity to build more fans.

Like many musicians, Bado misses the energy that comes with playing in front of a live audience. Singing to a camera, however, has made performing feel more intimate.

Kelly Bado's performance will be streamed during the Canadian Online Jazz Festival.</p>

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Kelly Bado's performance will be streamed during the Canadian Online Jazz Festival.

"People are not here," she says. "You’re just imagining that person on the other side of the screen, and you just believe that they’re enjoying with you or dancing."

The small virtual productions have also quelled some of Bado’s performance anxiety.

"I’ve always been a shy person," she says. "I sort of conquered that shyness over time. But it’s still there. Like, there’s still big moments where I’m so nervous. And part of it was because you don’t always know what crowd you’re meeting… so I feel like it’s removing that barrier for me because I can’t tell, I can’t know who’s watching."

While Bado is grateful to be featured on multiple national platforms, she also recognizes that opportunities are few and far between for many fellow musicians at the moment.

"I don’t want to be ignoring the realities of lots of artists who are not able to do this… I’m just lucky."

Bado is also talented. During soundcheck at the CMHR, her rich vocals are front and centre with a powerful rendition of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep — one of her favourite covers to sing — and she switches easily between French and English in much of her original music.

Bado, with her band, appreciates the expanded audience virtual shows provide.</p>

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bado, with her band, appreciates the expanded audience virtual shows provide.

The bilingual musician from Ivory Coast has been making waves locally since winning a series of francophone music contests in 2013. Bado was also named Francophone Artist of the Year at the 2020 Western Canadian Music Awards and was invited to perform with a star-studded lineup on Parliament Hill for Canada 150.

She flew onto Jazz Winnipeg’s radar this year during the organization’s Live from the Alt Hotel virtual concert series this summer.

"Everybody loved it, so we thought she’d be a good representative for us," Jazz Winnipeg artistic producer Michael Wolch says of the decision to put Bado’s name forward for the Online Jazz Festival and National Arts Centre opportunities.

The message in her lyrics caught Wolch’s ear.

‘It’s all about treating people... equally with a lot of kindness," he says. "I thought that was an important thing, in this time, in particular."

Taken literally, the title track of Hey Terre is about planet Earth, but for Bado the song touches on the human experience.

Bado recorded the first half of her forthcoming album pre-pandemic.

MIKE SUDOMA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bado recorded the first half of her forthcoming album pre-pandemic.

"The behind-the-scenes meaning was really to talk about diversity and the fact that we are all citizens of Earth, even though we come from different places," she says. "We are living on the same planet; as such, we are connected."

Themes of love and hope mingle with her experiences as an immigrant to Canada, something she sang about extensively on her 2016 EP, Entre Deux.

"I still talk about where I come from, because I think that’s part of me and I’ll always sing about Africa," she says. "This (new) album is a bit of a step forward."

Bado recorded the first half of her forthcoming album pre-pandemic. The lockdown gave her time to sit with the songs and workshop the album with other musicians.

"I feel like sometimes we try to rush it, like ‘OK, there’s this deadline,’ but in the end, it was a good thing for me to be able to take a step back," she says. "The more time you have to get something ready, the better."

Viewers can tune in to the album release party on the National Art Centre’s Facebook page at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 30. Details at nac-cna.ca/en/event/27494.

Bado’s performance for the Canadian Online Jazz Festival streams on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. The full festival lineup is expected to be released at cojazz.ca this week.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

   Read full biography