Growing up on the Wikwemikong Reserve on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island, country phenom Crystal Shawanda has been submerged into an array of musical styles since she was born.
Although she keeps her tribal heritage close to her chest, Shawanda grew up listening to artists like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
“For me, country was what my parents and grandparents primarily listened to, and even within my community, there was a pretty big country music fan base,” said Shawanda. “At variety shows or talent shows, most of the music performed at those shows was mainly country music.”
Moving to Nashville and recording her first album at the age of 13, the golden-voiced performer worked hard at her craft for over a decade before people knew her name.
Shawanda has had a remarkable year, in which she both won a Juno Award and played live at Barack Obama’s inauguration.
Winning the Juno for Aboriginal Album of the Year, Shawanda was floored by the honour, but also took it as a sign that she needed to keep her creative engines running.
“For me, any time I get an award of any kind, it’s just motivating,” she said. “It doesn’t take much to motivate me, but an honour like that is all the fuel I need to keep going for a long time.”
Being closely linked to the Nashville music community, Shawanda has been inspired by the city and its unique musical hotbed haunts.
“For me, now, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I’m definitely a 24/7 music person — I’m obsessed with it to the point where it’s sometimes annoying to the people around me,” Shawanda said. “Nashville is the perfect place for me in that regard, because it’s a 24/7 music town. I make sense there — I don’t seem to make sense anywhere else.”
Having a nostalgic view of certain parts of Nashville, Shawanda is thankful for cutting her teeth in such a music-rich environment, and for the presence of other artists who raised her like a family member.
“I’ll always have a soft spot for downtown Broadway (in Nashville). I got my start at a place called Tootsies World Famous Orchid Lounge and it’s a place where everyone from Patsy Cline to Willie Nelson used to hang out,” she said. “I started going there when I was 13 years old, and I really learned how to be an entertainer down there and how to be tough as nails, and in a way, I grew up down there. A lot of older musicians and artists kind of raised me, and when I first moved down there that was a pretty rough place, so I had a lot of people looking out for me.”
Coming from humble beginnings, Shawanda has been thankful for her success and the loyal and loving fans she’s collected.
“My fans have been amazing. They don’t really care if I have a song that’s currently on the charts, they just come to the shows anyways, and they keep buying the music I put out on iTunes and in stores, and they are always on Facebook and Twitter asking me about the next song or the next album. I feel very fortunate to have such amazing fans,” she said.
Blending her rich heritage with her musical feel has always been important for Shawanda, as she sees her music as a way to connect with her creator.
“It comes out with how deeply I connect with the music and the passion that I have for the music. When you think about my culture, music has always been a part of expressing ourselves as far back as you can imagine,” Shawanda noted. “It’s always been our way of storytelling and connecting and spirituality. It comes out in the rhythms, and I’m very specific about the rhythms that go on between the drummer and the bass — it has a bit of a tribal feel and when it’s not there, it feels empty.”
Shawanda loves the entire province of British Columbia and can’t wait to perform in Whistler.
“Every time I go (to B.C.) I try to absorb as much as I can and I am a complete tourist. I always say that if I ever moved back to Canada, I’d love to live in B.C. It’s so gorgeous and the people are always so wonderful to me,” she said.
Country music lovers can catch Shawanda live at the GLC Sunday (June 30). Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at www.clubzone.com. The first 100 tickets at the venue are $10, the remaining $15.