Belle Plaine's voice silences noisy taverns.
Born and raised on a farm near the village of Fosston, Saskatchewan, Belle Plaine, aka Melanie Hankewich, is a true prairie girl. A performer by the age of five, she was the ringer for every local musical event. Classical voice lessons began at age six and continued through high school. At 18, she knew what she wanted: to write songs, perform and have a home recording studio.
But when she moved to Edmonton to study jazz at Grant MacEwan College, her focus shifted toward a more technical aspect of music: sound recording. After graduation, she worked in a recording studio in Calgary - close to the action, but not in the game. She occasionally sang jingles for commercial radio, but the work felt meaningless.
“I gave up on music in Calgary. I’d lost touch with my own voice. I had years of education, but artistically I felt drained.” Hankewich recalls.
After two years at the studio Hankewich realized she was better off waiting tables. Eager for change, she enrolled at the University of Victoria as an environmental science major. Science was not the right choice, but she had found the right city. Having fallen in love with Victoria’s vibrant arts community she dropped out of school. She also began to sing again.
Two co-workers heard her voice at the Cook Street Village coffee shop where they all worked. Soon after they informed her that they were starting a band and she was in it.
A handful of performances at open mic nights followed. Hankewich began to write. An itch to travel carried her to Sydney, Australia. She waitressed at a dodgy restaurant, lived in a house with 10 boozy Australians and played gigs with a pack of mongrel musicians. There were pub shows, garage demos and back-up vocals. During her year abroad, she discovered she wanted to be a singer. Again.
In 2006, Hankewich returned to her home province of Saskatchewan. She had not planned to live in Regina, but quickly found a home in the city’s arts community. The scene was small and welcoming. She decided to stay.
By this time, Hankewich’s notebooks were filled with words and melodies. Having quietly decided to pursue music, she was now searching for the perfect moniker. While contemplating this very question on a long drive, she passed by the village of Belle Plaine. The name stuck.
Hankewich left her job to perform full-time as Belle Plaine in early 2010. Appearances that summer included the Cathedral Village Arts Festival, Gateway Folk Festival and the Regina Folk Festival. After hearing her sing, Grant Lawrence of CBC Radio 3 included her in his Summer of 2010 Musical Discoveries podcast.
“It just feels good to sing for people. It’s what I do the best, more than anything. It’s about time I’m doing it for a living,” Hankewich says.
Belle Plaine is a national treasure - a true Canadian. She can sing like a hot-damn, was ready to leave on tour at a moment’s notice and shot the shit out of a spoon with a BB gun from the 50 yard mark.
- Carolyn Mark