by Catherine Blanch.
Grace Barbé has been lighting up stages around the country with an energetic fusion of pop, jazz, and reggae sounds, topped off with a mix of tropical island rhythms and African percussion. Add in her own Afro sound of the Seychelles and you won’t find it surprising at all that Barbé has won Best World Music Act in WA at the WAMI Awards five years consecutively.
Barbé and her band, who have previously supported artists such as The Cat Empire and Xavier Rudd, were last in town when performing at WOMADelaide in 2014. They are heading back to Adelaide once again as part of their Welele! album national tour to perform at the Space Theatre.
Barbé is in Shepperton as we speak and we ask how the tour has been going.
“It’s been pretty amazing so far,” she begins. “We started in August and the team has been wonderful; the tour was funded and well organised so the six of us are feeling very lucky to be doing this nine-week tour. Although this is not our first time to Adelaide, it will be our first at the Space Theatre.”
Although she plays bass and guitar, singing is Barbé’s real love.
“I used to sing hymns with my mum as a young girl of six or seven,” she says. “I picked up the bass when I was 18, and the guitar followed a bit later. I play a little percussion, but I’m not a percussionist.”
Following the successful debut release of Kreol Daughter in 2009, Barbé is very happy to be touring the second album Welele!
“Welele! is an exclamation and a way of expression oneself,” Barbé explains. “We use it a lot on the Islands.It’s not really a word with meaning but something you use to vocalise your excitement, joy, humour, drunkenness [laughs]. You’ll hear many Islanders using it as a way of being heard or grabbing attention. It’s especially at the end of sentences.”
A bit like a cowboy’s yeehar?
“Yes, exactly! It’s that big moment of excitement that you just have to shout about.”
With five years between the release of your debut album Kreol Daughter and Welele! how do these two albums compare to each other?
“They are quite different in production,” Barbé says. “The first album, which I’m very proud of, was produced really well and has more of a pop feel, with quite a lot of reggae and a bit of an Islander feel as well. Welele! is a bit more raw. We initially recorded it on an analogue tape machine – very old school – and has more of a live feel; it’s as close to what you will hear at one of our lives shows as you can get.”
“Absolutely! I was born in the ‘80s so I’m a big fan of pop music, which you will hear elements of coming through my style. A lot of people say they relate to the structure and melodies of my songwriting, even thoughthe rhythms are so complex.”
Are many of your songs sung in English?
“Yes, some,” she replies. “The first album had both Kreol and English songs, as well as blends of both. The second album is mainly in Kreol.”
Even though music and rhythms are universal in the way that people can relate to them, when you’re on stage do you share stories about the songs and where they came from?
“Definitely, especially with this tour,” Barbé says. “Because we are performing mainly theatre shows and art spaces, it’s a great opportunity and platform for me to actually communicate and talk about the songs that I’m singing in Kreol, but also to engage with people. A lot of the audiences are sit-down, music-appreciating, listening kinds of audiences – although I do encourage them to get up and shake their coconuts with me if they can’t help themselves [chuckles] but I do explainthe stories behind my songs.”
Where do you draw your musical and lyrical inspirations from?
“This question is not always easy to answer,” she says. “Inspirations can be drawn from life experiences and moments in time. How I felt with my first album five years ago, is very different now; I’ve grown as a woman and an artist, I’ve matured and have had more experiences in the music industry, I’ve developed different ways of expressing myself, I’m a lot more confident in the way I express my views on life and experiences, so I find that I’m a lot more free to sing about what I feel and see. There’s more to write than the classic love songs; there are also many environmental, economical, political and cultural issues that I can draw from.
“Melody is also something that I am drawn to,” Barbé adds. “I love the A-minor chord and I tend to write a lot in minors. It’s not that my songs are dark but, musically, minors are emotional chords that I can relate to. But I also have the passport to express myself as an artist so I happily explore all avenues of writing and presenting songs.”
As part of your national tour, we note that you are holding a number of Masterclasses, including one at the Marion Cultural Centre on Tue Oct 7.
“Yes, we facilitate a few different types of workshops, actually. At the cooking events I demonstrate how to make a Seychelles fish curry with coconut milk, chutney and rice,” she explains. “During the singing and dancing workshop, the band and I teach the audience how we dance the Sega on the Islands – which is one of the most popular rhythms celebrating the Indian Ocean. We also teach them how to sing a couple of Kreol songs.
“Then we have the Sega Rhythms Masterclass where we concentrate more of the musical features of the rhythms that we play; the history of the Sega rhythm, where it comes from and how it’s played. We demonstrate the different styles that are played in the Indian Ocean. We all have such a great time!”
Following their time in SA, Barbé will be heading over to Tasmania for the final leg of the tour before returning home to Perth.
“We like to keep ourselves musically active, so when we get back to WA, we’ll continue doing gigs as well as making our way back into the studio to keep recording.”
Grace Barbé and band perform at Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 8pm on Thu Oct 16.
Book at BASS on 131 246 and www.bass.net.au.