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This article was published 2/3/2017 (1666 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There are more than 1,700 different species of the begonia plant. Some are flowery, vibrant and beautiful, while others look harsher, with dark, jagged leaves protruding at odd angles.
Two species of plant that appear totally dissimilar are both part of the same genus. It’s that idea of contrast that led Winnipeg singer Alexa Dirks to name her new solo project after the flowering plant.
"The name itself represents how I feel about myself in some ways… it kind of just spans how I see myself, or my femininity, I guess," says Dirks, who released her debut EP as Begonia, Lady in Mind, last month.
Dirks, who is best known from her work with Juno-winning pop and R&B group Chic Gamine, has adopted a whole new persona as Begonia; often clad in long, flowy dresses that resemble caftans or gospel robes, she confidently commands the stage as a solo artist for the first time.
"It’s kind of confusing even for me, because it’s not like I want people to call me Begonia in the streets or something. I think, for me, I was ready to go off on my own but there’s a certain vulnerability with having your birth name out there for the world to see," says Dirks. "And I felt like, yes, I’m very personal in my writing —it’s not easy for me to write from other perspectives other than my own — but that being said, I kind of wanted to take on something a bit larger with this. I wanted it to be bigger than myself.
"Even with the name Begonia, it gives me this different feeling of power, that I can just take on a little bit of a persona and indulge in that," she adds. "Once I wear this costume and I go onstage, I feel like it gives me more power than I have in my everyday life when I’m just putting my jeans on scurrying out of the house…
"It makes me feel like I’m engaged and I’m ready to perform."
Of course, Begonia is not a total departure from the Alexa Dirks the Winnipeg music community has come to know and adore, but the familiar power and finesse of her voice has never been showcased as purely as on Lady in Mind. It’s a brief release at just five songs, but it genre-hops deftly from retro Motown and soul sounds to pop and jazz, all within less than 20 minutes.
The cohesive throughline comes in the content of the songs, and not so much in their soun. Dirks explains she wrote them all during the same period of her life, and when it came time to choose track list for the EP, this collection of five were the ones that felt the most "ready."
"They spoke of a very specific time and a very specific place, so I felt like they made sense together, even though they are a little bit eclectic in genre," says Dirks.
"I’ve been writing with a primary collaborative partner, Matt Schellenberg (Royal Canoe), for a really long time and we had band together called Courier News for a while, which was a hobby/basement project. Some of the songs had stemmed from that experience, from (us) writing together in that context."
Schellenberg, along with his Royal Canoe bandmate Matt Peters, also helped Dirks produce the record, which she says took her ideas to "the next level." The reponse has been overwhelmingly positive.
Her single, I Don’t Wannt (Love U), is sitting at No. 5 on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20 chart, jumping up 12 spots from last week; she’s spent the better part of the last two months on tour, including a brief stop in Sweden to perform for Swedish royalty at the Friends of Canada event in Stockholm; and her hometown show at the West End Cultural Centre Friday night sold out months ago, almost immediately after tickets were released.
All this is to say Begonia is not a side project for Dirks; it’s now the sole focus of her creative attention and, given the current trajectory of her career, will stay that way for the forseeable future.
"I’m comitted to this — this is what I’m putting all of my energy and hopes and dreams into," she says. "I’m invested in this now; this is what I hope to continue to build on and have a long-standing career with."
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Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
Friday, March 3, 8 p.m.
West End Cultural Centre
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