M/NM: voices from the North, Brittany-Nunavik

Interview by Varun Swarup
Genres and styles : Celtic / Inuit / musique contemporaine

Additional Information

Katia Makdissi-Warren is an accomplished musician and composer from Quebec. She is currently the artistic director of Oktoécho, a Montreal based ensemble that explores the confluence between Western, Indigenous, and Middle-Eastern musics.  This year as part of the New Musics Festival, Warren will be presenting her creation “Voix du nord: Nunavik — Bretagne,” a cross cultural dialogue between voice music from Nunavik and Bretagne featuring an orchestra. 

PAN M 360: First of all, thank you Katia for taking the time this morning. 


KATIA MAKDISSI-WARREN:  Bienvenue!


PAN M 360: Perhaps we can start with how your Montreal /New Musics Festival presentation this year came to be?

KATIA MAKDISSI-WARREN:  Sure. This specific presentation came to be when I was approached by The Orchestre National de Bretagne with a commision. They wanted to showcase music from Bretagne and Canada and because of my work with Oktoécho they called me to do this project.

PAN M 360 So knowing you had to incorporate music from Bretagne, you were free to create around that? 

KATIA MAKDISSI-WARREN:  Yes. When they told me that there would be two women singing acapella, which is the traditional way vocal music from Bretagne is sung, I thought it would be great to mix this with Inuit music, which is traditionally performed as a game between two women where the first to laugh has lost the game. This is why at the end of the performance you hear the singers laughing a lot!

We workshopped a lot together, the four singers and me, and together we noticed that there are a lot of similarities between the history and the culture of Bretagne and Nunavik. They both almost lost their culture because of repression from the government and church, and the same can be said of their language. 

PAN M 360:  Did similarities appear in the music as well? 

KATIA MAKDISSI-WARREN:  In the Inuit side, the music is performed as a game, and the goal is to imitate the sounds of nature, the wind, the river, the goose, for example. When we did these workshops with our singers from Bretagne, we discovered that they also have a particular repertoire that is about animal imitation, but this repertoire is not as well known. So I thought this was a great point of similarity to explore and the direction we took was to make the music playful, using the sounds of nature as a reference.

PAN M 360: Incorporating such similar yet disparate musical traditions must present a lot of technical challenges as far as the score is concerned. What was your approach?

KATIA MAKDISSI-WARREN:  My mother is from Lebanon and so I grew up hearing Middle Eastern music as well as Western music. I think from then I was always aware that there are many ways to conceive and conceptualise music. In this case, throat singing is not written and it was the idea of one of our singers from Oktoécho, Helene Martin, to use cue sheets in our score. It was not always easy but it ended up working very well. 

As far as the orchestration goes, for one year I worked with many different musicians, winds, strings, brass, to see how we could recreate certain sounds and this meant writing a lot of extended techniques. 

PAN M 360: As a composer, what is the musical appeal of throat singing for you?

KATIA MAKDISSI-WARREN:  For me personally, Nunavik throat singing is very very important. I was 15 when I first heard it and I even think it might have been the first CD I ever bought. I was so impressed by how two voices could express something almost like electronic music. I heard sounds that for me were previously unimaginable, and there were songs that evoked emotions in me that no other music had.  It’s a very unique art and the game aspect is a big part of what makes it so musical. 

PAN M 360:  For many casual listeners, regional singing can perhaps be a little bit intimidating, is there anything you would like to say to people attending the show to get the most out of the experience? 

KATIA MAKDISSI-WARREN:  Well firstly, there are a lot of elements that will be recognizable to almost everyone. The colours of an orchestra, the folk melodies of the singers from Bretagne, it’s near to Quebecois folklore. But what I think is most interesting in this experience is the sharing. Everyone is sharing his or her own culture and it happens that we’re all together for it. I would say to focus on the elements of nature and the game. There is even a movement where the orchestra improvises. I think it will be an experience that is really playful and beautiful. 

PAN M 360  Thanks again Katia. Looking forward to the show!

This concert is presented by SMCQ at Montreal/New Musics Festival, Thursday, 6PM, Salle Pierre-Mercure.

To get your tickets it’s HERE.

Participants

Program

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