Florence K and Serena Ryder at The Stanley Alliance TheatrePhotos by Alex Ramon
Photos taken on the set of Homechild, designed by Ted Roberts.
Music has no borders. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white (yellow in my case…), English or French, boy or girl. Music is a language unto itself, and you don’t necessarily have to understand the lyrics in order to enjoy the tunes. I’ve been a strong advocate for this, and truly believe that music transcends any conflict or difference, and could (and should in my opinion) end any war. The power of simple melodic chords can bring people together, and that is exactly what happened when Florence K and Serena Ryder stepped on stage at The Stanley Alliance Theatre. Serena, winning a Juno the night before, was kind enough to bring Florence along for her whirlwind ride in Vancouver.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Florence grew up with a very strong musical background. Her father, Hany Khoriaty, is a guitarist and composer while her mom, Natalie Choquette, is an opera singer, so it goes without saying that Florence is following in their footsteps quite nicely. She made her first television debut at the tender age of six, and ten years later she toured with her mother as a pianist. A year later, Florence played her first solo gig and spent the next several years as the house pianist at Montreal’s Stash Café. She would occasionally leave and head overseas to the likes of Atlantic City, Casablanca, and Hanoi to play a few shows. In 2005, she released her first LP titled “Live au Lion d’Or,” on her own Red Blues label, and she is currently supporting her most recent release “La historia de Lola.”
Florence timidly walked on the theatrical stage and performed all by her lonesome, with just a keyboard and a mic. She had a heavy French accent when she talked to the crowd, still understandable of course, but as soon as she performed an English song, the accent dissipated faster than a donut from a cop’s fingertip. She described her music as worldly, so of course not all her songs are in English. She had amazing French and Spanish pieces, salsa-like at times, and I didn’t have to understand a single word coming out of her mouth to comprehend the beautiful melodies that she created with just a slight touch from her vocal chords.
I especially enjoyed “Cherie,” a song about a woman stalking a mysterious man in Paris. French is by far the sexiest language (aside from Chinese of course…) and when Florence went into her falsetto, she provided a magical atmosphere for everyone in the audience and kind of made me wish I had paid more attention in French class. Aside from her gentle voice, Florence’s piano interludes were intricate and charming, where she had a little quirk to her playing that I found very intriguing. She capped off her set with a nice rendition of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” where she got the entire audience snapping on time throughout the song. It was a beautiful set, and even though it was just Florence up on stage, she had a voice and presence that filled the entire room.
All the way from Millbrook, Ontario, Serena has already accomplished quite a lot for an artist her age. She’s put out four studio albums (her latest “Is It O.K.” was released in 2008 to rave reviews), toured across Canada numerous times, and played at high profile festivals such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and South by Southwest. There is no end in sight for Canada’s jewel, and for her to play at such an intimate environment such as The Stanley Alliance Theatre is a blessing we shouldn’t take for granted.
Serena literally ran out on stage to a loud ovation and proceeded to wow the crowd with her distinct voice. The last time I saw her was at The Whistler Music Festival, where she played a solo acoustic set to a not so large crowd. This time, she was accompanied by her full band which complimented her sound quite nicely. From time to time, she commented on how much she loves Vancouver (I see a trend happening… everyone that strolls into town falls in love with our fair city!), and who wouldn’t right? We have the best weather year round throughout all of Canada, even though it was pouring outside the night of her show.
Serena’s win the night before at the Junos did not go unnoticed by the audience, as one fan screamed out “Congratulations!” She was incredibly humble, thanking everyone in attendance for supporting Canadian live music, which is exactly what makes her so special. She hasn’t let fame go to her head, staying grounded in everything she does. I remember when I was in Toronto covering Virgin Fest, I saw her out and about walking with everyone else just enjoying the music and the beautiful scenery.
Half way through her set, I put down my pen and paper and just enjoyed the delightful melodies coming from the PA system. At one point, she was all alone with just her guitar, playing folk tunes that could stop a heart beat. My favourite track of the night had to be “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream” where she made me believe that music could truly end war. Every aspect of her represented peace, and if her songs were broadcasted around the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if people never fought again (far fetched I know, but not out of the question). Serena is just getting started with her career, and is one of Canada’s finest musical exports. She’s doing Canada proud, and there is no end in sight for this lovely soul.