Where: NAC Presents on the Fourth Stage
When: Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: Start at $34 at the NAC box office, or with surcharges through Ticketmaster: 1-888-991-2787 or ticketmaster.ca
One day - a year and a half ago - Jully Black experienced something no singer wants to ever experience. She was reaching for a high note, the highest note that she can sing actually, and she felt something.
"I actually almost lost my voice. I experienced a vocal hemorrhage and I had to work with a speech pathologist. It took three months of only speaking 15 minutes an hour to bring my voice back."
She says her voice is even stronger now, but in addition, Jully Black the singer is a whole lot wiser, too.
"I didn't start doing any sort of vocal training until eight years ago when I did theatre. That's when I realized that just being born with the voice wasn't enough, you better get training or you could lose it."
The vocal hemmorhage was a wake-up call.
"I took a month off, and I still sounded like Marge Simpson's sister, so I said to myself, 'what's going on here?' You know as a singer you might get hoarse for two or three days, but this was going five weeks."
She knew she had to change because "this is my life." And the Juno winner now knows "when to stop" and that "I have to use my sophisticated voice at times."
She also knows now to set some boundaries.
"It took something that serious for everyone around me to realize that Jully can't come bowling right now. She's got to go sleep after the show."
It really is a good thing that she is healed now.
She possesses one of the great voices in Canadian music and that will be on full display Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at the NAC.
Some of what she will perform will be off her fourth album, called Made in Canada, that is headed for release soon.
"It's done, mixed and about to be remastered," Black says.
It has been a labour of love - and a lot of sweat.
"I recorded 62 songs for this album," she says, noting that it took a lot of sifting to get down to the 12 songs on the disc.
"It's kind of like Mixed Martial Arts; the songs gotta fight against each other. It's the last man standing kind of thing.
"I decided to put the ego to the side and do rate cards. I asked people that I trust to number the songs.
"Our mandate is if it doesn't give you the chill, it's not in the will." Call that Jully-speak.
But seriously folks, the new album is a mash-up of her influences. "Basically, if Etta James and Tina Turner had a baby, it'd be Jully Black."
It's a love album, she says. "The most common feeling of life is love, you want to be loved, you lack love, you're looking for love. This album is really about being vulnerable enough to say, 'I am here to love you.' (There is a song called Hear to Love You BTW.) There is also a funky little number called Rebound, which has been bouncing around for awhile. It's about the other side of love.
There is also another kind of love attached to this album. Jully Black is a patriot.
"It's my declaration. I kind of look at it like the label on your clothing, Made in China, you know exactly where that garment came from.
"This is the album that we are taking international, and so this is the record that I want everyone to know I was made in Canada and I'm ready for the world."
It's a point worth making in a world where, in her experience, "some people still don't believe there's black people in Canada."
Others may argue that the idea of a Canadian soul singer might by an oxymoron as well. But Black is determined to clear up any misconceptions.
"There is Canadian soul, it just hasn't got beyond the border." And that is her ambition.
And so she is also working on her dance moves.
"I've been dancing for the past year. It's the one element that's been missing from who I am as a performer. I have been working with a choreographer. Not Hammer-time choreography, just accenting the words and letting people have a visual experience."
She has also hooked up with "my producer and partner YoungPete Alexander." Alexander is a drummer by trade from Atlanta, Georgia, but for the past six years he's been back and forth to Toronto. He's worked with Janelle Monae as a drummer and still plays on her records, Black says, but he is also developing a skill as a producer. "He doesn't want to play drums his whole life."
Church is where Black got her start. As she put it, the youngest of nine children was six years old when her voice found her. She is the only singer in the household but there is an artistic streak in the family.
"Everybody, including my mom, could draw but I can't colour between the lines."
But for the soul singer, her influences aren't Canadian.
"I'm born here, I'm born right here in Canada, but my influences come from America. I used to be uncomfortable saying this. I know that I am paving the road I am walking on. And if this is what it means to be a pioneer it's OK."
Nor does she dwell on race. "I really don't think about it. I do know that I've made black history in Canada. I'm doing talks in schools, and my angle when I do talk to students isn't Marcus Garvey and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I'll talk to them about Michaelle Jean but really it's about the history that we are all able to make today.
"I think racism in Canada shows up through exclusion. Maybe it was how I was raised (by a single mother in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood) but I've never really felt uncomfortable in my skin being black travelling all over in Canada."
It's enough of a struggle just to be an artist, she says.
"I feel that the struggle to be an artist in Canada has created an intention. It's helped artists in Canada have a reason why. And what makes or breaks the success of each individual is perseverance." The biggest challenge she's faced was when EDM started to take over radio about five years ago.
"House music became the mainstream. Everything on radio was oomph oomph, oomph, but I think that's changing now."
Just in time.
Credit: Peter Robb; Ottawa Citizen
Jorge Polio Photography / Singer Jully Black recorded 62 songs for her new album Made In Canada. She asked people she trusted to help select the 12 best.; Caption:
Copyright Infomart, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. Jan 25, 2014