Duke EatmonGroove Innerviews

“People ask me what music style is it? I’m not sure, it’s Kam Ala!” She says with a laugh. This was Montreal singer Kam Ala attempting to describe her musical melange to me recently, which will take the average listener for a delightful loop in its unique style.

Au Suivant, the brand-new single with its Martine St. Claire’s poppy arrangement is quite a contrast with the dark neo-soul of Solitude which was released last June. With its Latin and African undertones, it would not have sounded out of place on Portishead’s classic 1994 trip-hop opus Dummy, but with a Sade twist.

I asked her not only about Martine St. Claire’s influence on her, but about Sade and George Michael, both of whom she’s cited in the past as influences. I asked if she recognized the diversity in that list. “Absolutely, they’re not just the source of what I’ve listened to but it’s also the emotions that they all trigger.”

“Martine St. Claire has this really light flow, you know happy which is really poppy. But I still need that depth with Sade and with George Michael and all his soul.”

Although she never confirmed this to me; her musical eclecticism may have been inspired by family diversity.

Her mother of Joliette, Qc. of Irish and French-Canadian stock left for Brazil in search of life’s answers after dealing with some family issues. Instead, she found the kindred spirit of an Afro-Brazilian percussionist she just met on the street and was drawn to as if this were in some Louie Malle romantic film noir piece of celluloid from the 50’s.

They fell in love and Kam Ala was the result of their electric time together. However, Kam Ala’s mother, also an artist and bohemian in her own right, wanted to know nothing about having her first child born in Brazil and wanted her to have the benefits of her being born on Canadian soil, and so she moved back to Quebec. She and her mother would lose touch with Kam Ala’s father altogether.  She raised Kam Ala in The Plateau district of downtown Montreal. The Cirque De Soleil environment of the neighbourhood’s artsy community was what inspired Kam Ala most of her life; coupled with her mother’s creative circle that basically helped raise her.

Fast-forward to March of 1999, Kam is more than 3 months pregnant and is in Rio visiting a Brazilian journalist friend of her mother’s, who is determined to help her find the father that she never met.

Kam attended the world-famous Rio Carnival with her journalist contact, putting out the word to local musicians that she was searching for her father, a well-known local percussionist. The responses ranged from, “Yeah I saw him recently” to “isn’t he dead?”.

Kam had no luck, although she had put out the location of the hostel she was staying.

At the time, Kam was living in B.C. with a roommate when she had decided to search for her father during the Rio carnival. Her roommate in B.C. contacted her to say that someone had called for her but was speaking in Spanish.

Kam, meanwhile, at the hostel in Brazil was confused. If it had been her father, he would have been speaking Portuguese. Truth was, her father was alive and had gotten word that the daughter he had never met was looking for him.

He went to the hostel where she was staying at looking for her. The hostel of course protected the security of their guest and refused to confirm if such a guest was staying there.

Her father, desperate to see his long-lost daughter told the person at reception, “Look, my daughter might be staying here and I’ve never met her before and if you don’t help me now, I may never get to meet her”. The reception gave the man her phone number in B.C.

It was her father, Amauri (stage name Didi Sheik) who called and Kam’s roommate mistook his Portuguese for Spanish. When Kam returned his call, a young French-speaking lady answered saying “Hi, I’m your sister”, thereby confusing Kam even more. Her sister had been educated abroad in Switzerland, hence her knowledge of French.

And yes, Kam finally met her long-lost dad, who obviously passed down some of his musical chops to her. When I asked Kam if there was there a possibility of a musical collaboration of some sort, she said, “maybe”.

Oh – and what became of her mother Louise’s relationship with the father of her eldest daughter? Through Kam’s reconnection with the man, they fell back in love and rekindled their relationship.

Sadly, Kam’s mother Louise passed away from brain cancer in 2018.

Her commitment to social justice and her work with immigrants coming to Canada had a big impact on Kam Ala. Her music reflects her non-conformist attitude to life in general in its spirit of not wanting to be categorized; in the same manner that Kam chooses not to be categorized as a person.

All this will come out in the wash when her yet to be titled, new album finally comes out in November with a surprise she’s promised to those who take the musical trip with her.

My guess? Could be someone special make an appearance at the album launch…???

Duke Eatmon’s music segments can be heard regularly on CBC Radio’s Let’s Go, hosted by Sabrina Marandola on 88.5 FM and he also appears regularly with Debra Arbec on CBC Montreal News at 6.

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