Maple Leaf

Interview with Percussionist-Singer/Songwriter Joannie Labelle

Joannie Labelle is a multi talented artist from Canada. She is an achieved percussionist, singer, composer and teacher. She not only learned from the best but also composes for and accompanies various well known artists. She is also an accomplished singer/songwriter (under the pseudonym: „Bea Box„) who also teaches and shares her knowledge with a lot of people. Joannie appeared on many a world stage like Montreal, Vancouver, Berlin, Doha, Kolkata and performed with artists such as Lara Fabian, Marie-Josée Lord and Les Trois Accords. She graciously accepted to tell us more about herself…

-Which part of Canada are you from?

I’m from the province of Quebec.

-Please tell us about your career path and what led you to music and percussion.

As a young girl there was always a lot of music in the house. My dad played loud rock’n’roll music, we danced a lot, my mom, my sisters and I took piano lessons, I learned folkloric dancing … I think this ubiquity of music made it very natural to always have music around. Also, I attended a lot of live concerts, mostly punk rock. One day at a rock concert I saw a percussion ensemble, Zuruba, and I totally fell in love with percussion. It was a strong calling. My parents were generous and allowed me to buy my first bongos and find a local teacher, Normand Hervieux. Then everything slowly fell into place. College studies, musical projects, university studies, first musical jobs, more projects, more groups, etc.

-What brought you to Germany and how were your first impressions?

It’s a curious story! An ex-boyfriend of mine fell in love with Berlin and wanted to move there. As an adventurer, I accepted the thrill and followed him without a lot of money and without a good knowledge of the German language. It was a fascinating and difficult adventure. I really enjoyed Berlin and its colorful lifestyle. It was very inspiring. But the lack of German networks and communication skills made it quite difficult at first. Fortunately, I then met some very generous people, like Klaus Staffa who conducts the Groove Percussion Zentrum in Neukölln. Thanks to him, I still teach there from time to time. Klaus, among others, helped me build a network and start working as a percussionist in Berlin. Life then took me back to Canada for a few years, but two years ago I met my current life partner in Canada (he’s German!) and came back to live with him in Germany. In Hamburg this time. I find the city very beautiful and the nature all around makes it a great experience.

-You are not only a musician but also a singer, you compose for yourself and other artists and you are also an educator.  Can you tell us what you like the most about all of these aspects respectively?

For me, the singing is very intimate, personal. You offer your own voice and inner sounds to an audience. In relation to percussion, there is a direct conversation possible with your listener, with words and intimacy, about what concerns you. I find this very powerful and attractive to pursue. The composition is also a wonderful world. It allows all of my imagination to take place and be channeled. I enjoy this as a form of expression for myself, but I also enjoy being someone else’s voice. I get to compose for different artists, a lot of them are dancers, and it’s fantastic to slowly realize the musical ideas they hear in their mind. Very satisfying. Collaborative work is also very rich in learning and good social moments. Finally, I appreciate being an educator, because I like to pass on the knowledge and the good advices that I have acquired for myself. In the field of percussion, there is always this concern for cultural transmission. I have had the chance to study with great masters from different cultures and I feel honored to continue on this path, from them to my own students.

-You have started producing a series of video documentaries in which you meet with different percussionists in various parts of the world, how much of an impact has the pandemic had on your career and personal life?

Well … a big impact! Probably like most musicians. In my case, it was particularly difficult because I was starting to be well established as a musician in Hamburg, having been confirmed in a series of performances at the Hansa Theater. I also had a full summer planned of touring between Germany and Canada. It was going really well. But as you know, we don’t control these events and we have to learn to navigate them. So good things also happened as an outcome. I am teaching more and more online, I have developed good skills to produce video performances at home and I have time to write a few new songs. Regarding personal life, unfortunately I see less of my family and friends who live in Quebec, but I get to have more quality time with my life partner. The pandemic has definitely changed my life configuration. Hopefully traveling will get easier again eventually!

-You are known as „Bea Box“ as a Singer/Songwriter, any particular reason for choosing that  name?

Bea first came from Beatitude, because composing often brings me a great feeling of happiness. Everything stops and there is this magical flow that prompts me to write something, or to deepen an existing arrangement. It is a very nice state to be in. And then, Box is in fact this space, which has borders between me and the others. It’s a mental image of me being in that space, very personal, in a very happy state while making music. 

-Of all the people you worked with: DJs, musicians, singers, dancers, who impressed you the most and why?

I must think of my friend Kattam Laraki-Côté. I have known him for a long time because we have evolved together, as well as in parallel, as percussionists. A few years ago, he hired me to perform in his children’s show Kattam et ses Tam tams. It was such a pleasure to work with him. I was and still am impressed by his strong energy, his formidable skills in percussion and transmission, his sense of the spectacle, his concern to respect the different traditions that he shares and finally, his kindness and his work ethic. Always fair, always generous and open to discussion, I am impressed by his exceptional human and artistic qualities.

-What do you miss the most when away from Canada and what do you enjoy the most from/in Germany?

I miss my family, friends and colleagues the most. This is really what makes my life rich in Canada. I have a very close circle of people with whom I communicate often and whom I meet often. Of course, with the time difference and the distance, I have less contact with these people when I am in Hamburg. Missing them shows me how precious they are to me.

What I like most in Germany is above all my boyfriend! Also his family who is very kind and welcoming. After that, the city in which I currently live, Hamburg. I find this place beautiful, especially because of the nature all around and the water canals. The architecture is also very pleasant and I like the museums and the port. Finally, from what I know about Germany so far, I really appreciate Bavaria. The landscapes are magnificent.

-You are a grant holder from Canada Art Council and sponsored by several companies, what does it represent to you and what has been your proudest career moment to date?

These recognitions are very precious to me. I am grateful for this support. When these things happen, it’s like a gift in a long road of art and business development. In addition, it helped me a lot as a newcomer to Germany. My sponsors help me get the equipment I need and they expose my work to more people. The Canada Art Council helps me with art projects at times when there are fewer musical jobs. Incredibly precious. Having said that, I also find great pride in artistic achievements like producing my first album or touring with a great artist like Lara Fabian.

-What is your biggest musical dream?  

Right now, I think my biggest dream is to make a wonderful second album. Colourful, groovy, modern. And I would love to have an amazing team around me to promote the music and the project forward, reaching as many people as possible. I know these things usually slowly combine over years and years of work, so this should be my dream for a while!

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