|Buffy Sainte-Marie mixes traditional instruments and new technology in her recordings.
Buffy Sainte-Marie is one of the few Canadian singer-songwriters who really deserve the term "legendary." Born in Saskatchewan and raised in New England, Sainte-Marie's been singing folk, country, rock and traditional music for 40 years. Her remarkably varied portfolio of songs includes Universal Soldier (recently inducted into the Canadian Songwriters' Hall Of Fame), Until It's Time For You To Go (covered by Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond and many others), Up Where We Belong (which won her an Oscar) and Piney Wood Hills.
Sainte-Marie is also a teacher who created an innovative native studies curriculum called the Cradleboard Project, a computer artist and a pioneer in digital recording, which she says came about because she is "musically dyslexic."
"It means I can write for an orchestra, but I can't read it back," she explains. "I'm much better at live playing and recording, so digital technology and multi-tracking really appealed to me very early on.
"I got into electronic technology in the '60s. It was never a struggle -- I wasn't scared of it because I approached it like play, as opposed to number crunching or military secrets."
Sainte-Marie has a fascinating way of mixing low and high technology in her various creative endeavours -- digitally recording an ancient mouth-bow, making paintings on her Mac and educating schoolchildren about traditional native culture online.
"I always think of myself as an overgrown kindergarten kid who does one thing one minute and another the next," she says. "It all makes sense when you look at the big picture. The important thing is what you have to say, the human part of the song or painting or curriculum -- the tech is just a medium. You can say something in a three-minute song and make more sense to the average person than if you wrote a 400-page book. It's so direct, and it reaches so many people."
While she writes new songs constantly, Sainte-Marie hasn't put out an album since 1996's greatest hits package Up Where We Belong, and has no plans to do so in the near future.
"I don't know -- it takes a lot of time and concentration and uncreative days," she says. "I really enjoy creating and interacting with audiences.
"I like a varied show. When I listen to other musicians, I find that most of their songs sound the same, but in my music there's a big difference from song to song. I don't know whether it's the musicians' personal choice or decisions made by their record companies. But I think those of us who came up in the '60s, when there was so much more variety on the radio, have a bit of a broader attitude. It may fail to pay off in the marketplace, but it doesn't stop us."
Buffy Sainte-Marie plays Hugh's Room tonight.
- Hugh's Room, 2261 Dundas St. W., 416-531-6604