Feb 6, 2014
By Coral Andrews
Folk artist Janice Lee says the first time she heard Lauryn Hill’s stirring interpretation of Joyful Joyful in the film comedy Sister Act 2 it stopped her world.
“I rewound that VHS tape and learned that song note for note including all the runs that Hill did.” admits Lee. “Because I found that the emotion in blues and gospel music really spoke to me so I wanted to sing like that.” notes the singer, adding that her Korean childhood included listening to a lot of her parents’ eclectic music playlists from the Beatles, and Mariah Carey to mainstream Korean pop.
It’s no surprise then that Lee’s debut album Drown the Earth (produced by Lee and Dave Houde from The Sound Distillery) with her band The Free Radicals (Justin James, Adam Lewis, Brockenshire Lemiski, and Daniel MacPherson) was created against a soul/blues/gospel tableaux.
Rather than “singer” Lee identifies herself as a folk artist and storyteller — an artist of the people talking about social justice and relevant community issues connecting to audiences through emotion whether it’s through poetry, story or song. She adds that a song is easier to listen to “than someone yelling at you on a street corner.”
Lee’s CD is a savvy mix of love songs (Take a Walk with Me, Will You Go?) plus social commentary includingHow Do We Fall, White Collar Blues (an ode to Lee’s old corporate hamster wheel) and I Lost My Darlin’, about Toronto’s G20 riots.
Directed by Cambridge documentary film maker Michael Sizer and shot around familiar downtown Kitchener haunts, this wry police state comment features Lee and drummer Adam Lewis (who actually went to jail during the riots) dressed as cops spying on social justice organizers.
Lee says title track Drown the Earth was written in a “moment of helplessness” during a summer drought, followed by severe flooding. She’s convinced these were not isolated extreme weather incidents, but climate change. And denial’s really a “head in the sand attitude.”
In perfect sync with her music, Lee’s also artistic director of the KW Poetry Slam, and said that slam poetry is any poetry performed in a “slam” or spoken word performance.
“It has dual things.” she said. “One thing is the content — the words themselves and then the second part that makes it “slam” is the performance.” she affirms adding “slam” in the competition world means a three minute time limit.
She credits Waterloo Region’s arts and culture maven Isabel Cisterna for her first spoken word gigs plus the garnering of three different arts grants which give her the “freedom” to perform.
Lee’s music, infectious stage presence, and slam poetry prowess make her a favorite at many local and regional literary festivals like Word on the Street, Latitudes, and Tri Pride, plus The Hamilton Fringe, and Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.
On Feb 9, Lee and The Free Radicals bring their mighty multi-meld of blues, jazz, folk and satiric slam beats to The Jazz Room with special guest Charlena Russell, for a evening featuring two powerhouse female vocalists.
After that, Lee will be “slamming” her way coast to coast performing at festival events and hosting social activism workshops. From The Vancouver Poetry Festival to Ottawa’s Youth Can Slam 2014, Lee will greet her audiences “eye to eye” encouraging them to pump their fists and practice joy as she continues to rally the power of the people.