Welcome to Spotlight Series, a monthly feature shining a light on emerging local music makers in the stellar music community in Manitoba. Come back every month for a new interview!
By Graeme Houssin
Even in a year marked by distance, Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter Kelly Bado is finding ways to maintain and strengthen connections with her fans, her community, and the earth itself.
Originally from Côte d’Ivoire, Bado pulls influence from her African heritage, the Francophone Canadian pop music she enjoyed growing up, and American gospel to create her signature sound, heard through her 2016 EP
Entre deux and her debut album Hey Terre, released in October 2020.
While she attributes much of her performance training to singing in choirs both in Côte d’Ivoire and Winnipeg, Bado’s career kick-started when she began competing in local singing competitions in 2013.
“From there it just went on and on, from one contest to the other, until the music took more and more space and I got more and more acknowledgement [from] the music industry,” said Bado.
Bado’s music competition experience came in handy when she competed in season six of La Voix, the Francophone Canadian version of popular reality-talent show franchise The Voice. She made it all the way to the quarter finals under the tutelage of Canadian-Belgian singer Lara Fabian.
“It was a great experience, I really liked it. But it was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done – besides being a mom!” said Bado. “I was really blessed to make it that far, and not being from Quebec, and even bigger for me, being from West Africa, I felt like I had the whole country on my shoulder, presenting the whole culture.”
After winning the title of Francophone Artist of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards this fall, Bado released her debut full-length album: Hey Terre, lovingly paying tribute to the Earth and the connections between its inhabitants.
“I thought about Earth as a mother, but beyond that, I thought about people living on Earth and [how] Earth is our connection as people,” said Bado. “Even though we live in different countries and all, I feel like we all belong here. It’s like a big village for me. If we take care of the planet, then it’s like we are taking care of each other in a sense.”
The recording process for Hey Terre wasn’t easy; Bado only had two songs recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Winnipeg in March, and production came to a standstill.
Until restrictions eased up for Manitoba in Summer 2020, Bado focused on refining her songwriting, reaching out to other experienced songwriters for their feedback, and taking care of her four-month-old baby. Then she returned to the studio to complete the album, rounding out the eight-track record with songs in both French and English.
“It was crazy, because I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to release it,” said Bado. “But I sort of played it by ear. I felt like if it worked out, great, and if it didn’t, it’s a lesson learned.”
With live performance opportunities mostly out of the question, Bado embraced the shift online to promote Hey Terre, including virtual performances for Canada Day Virtual, Common Ground, Jazz Winnipeg’s Live from the Alt Hotel series, BreakOut West: Home Edition, the Canadian Online Jazz Festival, and an album release livestream presented by the National Arts Centre and Jazz Winnipeg.
The transition from live to virtual shows has been difficult for many musicians without an audience to connect with, but Bado has a tip for her fellow performers:
“You just have to talk as if you’re talking to a friend,” said Bado. “If you really put yourself in the state of conversation, as opposed to imagining a crowd of people, then it’s a little easier to laugh.”
Listen to Kelly Bado’s debut album Hey Terre on Bandcamp and all major streaming services, and tune in to her next virtual performance for Hindsight’s 2020 Music + Talk + Comedy livestream on New Year’s Eve, streaming on Facebook and YouTube.
Graeme Houssin is a freelance music journalist, beadwork artist, and dabbler in many creative arenas, as well as a proud citizen of the Métis Nation. They are the founder of Drag in the Peg, a podcast series celebrating Winnipeg's drag community.