Inez Jasper is a very busy woman. Not only is she a talented R&B singer, she also works as a nurse, has a three-year-old and another baby on the way. Being seven months pregnant is not stopping Jasper from taking the stage at this year's APTN Aboriginal Day festivities.
The Sto:lo, Ojibwa and Métis artist makes infectious and soulful R&B with elements of hip-hop and traditional native sounds. I spoke with Jasper about her musical roots, her identity and balancing nursing and her music.
Listen to "Bounce" by Inez Jasper.
Q: Can you share some memories of playing fiddle with your grandfather?
A: I started Kodai when I was three and finally moved on to playing a real violin when I was four. I remember learning all kinds of basic scales and the silly songs that went along with them, like “Hot Dogs and Popcorn” and “Wish I had a Motorcycle.” My family loved it when I would play my scales and my grandpa would play his fiddle with me, jamming out to my scales as he stomped his foot and played. Those are great memories. I wish I kept it up. I remember appealing to my mom to quit violin lessons because it was “boring” and we didn’t get to play cool songs like grandpa played like “Rubber Dolly” and other popular songs in the Métis community.
Q: How did you transition from playing fiddle to singing R&B?
A: I was always involved in music somehow through school and my parents always played music in the car whether it was tapes they liked or listening to the radio. At a certain point it became a battle over what station to listen to because I discovered new music that I loved. My parents listened to mostly pop, but I remember loving A Taste of Honey and Whitney Houston … from then on I discovered Mariah Carey, Zhané, Brandy, Monica, etc. I was that girl singing into my hairbrush, dancing on my bed.
Q: What attracted you to R&B and hip-hop?
A: I loved the sound and the stories that rang through R&B and hip-hop. For R&B, it was a natural appeal since most songs were about crushes, lost loves, dancing and all that fun stuff. Hip-hop spoke to me through the bassline, rhythms and the edgy stories.
Q: How do you incorporate traditional native sounds into your music? Is it hard or easy to mix those sounds with R&B?
A: I like to incorporate native sounds in my music sparingly. I think it can be used well in certain songs, but not in others. I never want to force native sounds anywhere where they wouldn’t belong without purpose or the right fit. Usually it’s easy to drop something in a song because it sounds natural.
Listen to "Stick Game Jame" by Inez Jasper.
Q: How important is it to bring your identity into your music?
A: Bringing my identity to my music is very important to me, but I feel that comes naturally by writing my own music and being myself. I’m a big believer in continuing to learn and practice my culture, but it doesn’t always belong in my music.
Q: Can you tell me about some of your songs – what is the story behind "Sto:lo Strong"?
A: "Sto:lo Strong" was the first song I ever wrote. I was feeling really homesick, driving home from university for a weekend visit. I was listening to a DJ Quik song and I could see the valley rising in the horizon. In that moment, I realized so many things: how important my home community is to me, the value of my culture and teachings, and how to gather strength from my struggles and triumphs. I didn’t realize how many other people would relate to that song.
Listen to "Sto:lo Strong" by Inez Jasper.
Q: What about "Singsoulgirl"?
A: There was a very dark time in my life when we lost three family members in a row. It was a tragic and confusing time for me. I was so young and I was still figuring out my identity as a young woman, First Nations person, cousin, aunt, daughter, granddaughter, etc. I rebelled and learned some hard lessons. Singing and listening to music were sometimes the only things that could get me through a rough day, and it still does.
Listen to "Singsoulgirl" by Inez Jasper.
Q: I understand that you are a nurse – how do you balance your day job with your music career?
A: [Laughs] Great question. Apparently I like to learn the hard way! Balance is an ongoing struggle for me because I like to do so many things, but music and nursing are two loves that always compete for me, and those two things inspire one another. I will work as a part-time community health nurse and I’m a mom of a three-year-old with another on the way. I have lots of support from my husband, our parents and my siblings, etc. I’ve had to learn to say no to things and prioritize my family and myself. So far I’ve learned self-care and family first.
Q: What are your plans for National Aboriginal Day? What is the significance of the day to you?
A: This year I’m travelling up to Prince Rupert, B.C., to present to two schools and perform at the city’s Aboriginal Day celebrations. I then travel to Winnipeg to perform for APTN’s Aboriginal Day Live broadcast, live from the Forks. This will be my biggest performance yet! I’m excited to debut my new songs with dancers and fresh choreography. I’ll also be rocking a wicked mummy tummy: I’m almost seven months along now!
Q: What‘s next for you?
A: I’m partway through recording my next album. We’ll be releasing singles shortly and I’ll start touring after a solid rest when the baby comes. Like last time with my son, my baby will travel with me to gigs to stay close to me as possible. Nursing will have to go on the back burner for me while family and little bits of music comes first.
For more great stories and music from Aboriginal Canada, check out the Aboriginal page on CBC Music.
Inez Jasper on CBC Music
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on Jun 20, 2012