It’s not all fun and games for the Manitoba country musician
Désirée Dorion can’t wait to get back on the road, even though one of her upcoming gigs is just down the road.
The country singer lives south of Dauphin, near Riding Mountain National Park, and will perform at Dauphin’s Countryfest when he returns after a three-year pandemic-related hiatus from June 30 to July 3 at the Selo Ukraina site, just south of the town in western Manitoba.
Countryfest, whether as a fan or a performer, has been part of Dorion’s life since childhood; she grew up only a few kilometers from the site.
“My mom let us go to the shows when we were kids,” the Juno nominee recalls. “When the festival wasn’t taking place, I would ride my bike to the festival site and leave my bike in the ditch. I would climb the fence and ride down to the main stage and I’d run like a fool , pretending to sing in front of an auditorium full of people.
“I spent a lot of time visualizing what it was like for a main artist to perform at the festival, and it was pretty cool when I got to do that in 2014; I’ve performed at the festival many times since then. ”
For the 2022 event, Dorion will have new songs to perform, including his latest single, Wouldn’t that be funa duet she co-wrote and sings with Doc Walker’s Dave Wasyliw which was released on April 8.
It’s a song that dates back to 2019 and the Manitoba Country Music Awards, when Dorion won the Indigenous Country Music award.
“He was someone I was writing on my radar with,” Dorion says of Wasyliw. “I finally worked up the courage to ask the after-party…and he said for sure, 100%.”
It wasn’t until August 2021 that Dorion and Wasyliw were able to work together and the Doc Walker singer-guitarist should have made one to get a bigger role than just a writing credit.
“He sent me the demo with his vocals on it and it became pretty obvious to me that I thought he should be the person to duet with me,” she says.
The up-tempo track is the second consecutive song on which Dorion has teamed up with another artist. In 2021, she comes out Sometimes I drinkwhich she co-wrote with Crystal Shawanda, who, like Dorion, is a Canadian country artist of Indigenous descent.
“I had a list of titles that I presented to him, and Sometimes I drink was one of them. We had a song in under three hours, but I felt like I spent three hours chatting with one of my girlfriends,” Dorion said.
“We wanted this song to be about giving us, as women, permission to go out and have fun without excuses and without having to feel guilty about it. It’s not just about going out and trying to meet someone. Women are allowed to go out and have fun, just for fun.”
Sometimes I drink reached No. 12 on the iTunes country chart and spent 16 weeks in the top 100 on the Trax chart, which measures airplay on Canada’s 103 country music stations.
“Normally I like really deep or sad songs, or songs with a particular personal meaning. This one is totally fun and it’s out of my wheelhouse,” Dorion said.
She didn’t leave her serious side behind, however. In July 2021, as part of National Indigenous History Month, Dorion hosted the Achimotak series, an online conversation program about Indigenous experiences in the music industry which was presented by the Canadian Association of country music.
The series was planned months in advance, but its timing couldn’t have been more ideal, says Dorion, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. It was released as Canadians were shocked and shocked by the discovery of 215 children’s graves at a former Indian residential school in British Columbia.
“It really happened at a divine time,” she says. “It allowed me, as a host of the show, to connect with artists in a very meaningful way and I think we also had the ears of many people in the country music industry who wanted to learn at that time because of the 215.
“It allowed me as the host, and the artists and people in the industry who attended, to humanize us, so people could see us as people first.”
She hopes Indigenous artists will have more opportunities on the radio and with major record companies. She points to a 2021 Songdata study by Jada Watson, a musicologist and professor at the University of Ottawa, which found that Black, Indigenous, or Artists of Color (BIPOC) receive 2% of total country radio airplay; Aboriginal artists receive a small fraction of this amount.
“I consider people like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Crystal Shawanda — and Don Amero is killing it right now in country music — and even the little country airplay I get,” Dorion said. “I consider myself very privileged to occupy the space that I have had the good fortune to occupy because I know that the percentage of indigenous artists who occupy this space is very low.”
Alan Small has been a Free Press reporter for over 22 years in a variety of roles, most recently as a reporter in the Arts and Life section.
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