RBC Ottawa Bluesfest: Angelique Francis is laser-focussed on music

Angelique Francis and her band are performing at this year's Bluesfest.

Angelique Francis is all business … the music business that is.

She certainly has a laser-like focus on what she’s doing and where she wants to go. And she has had that intention really since she was a youngster singing her own songs around the family home in Kanata.

“Music has always been part of my life,” said Francis in an interview before what will be her fifth appearance at RBC Ottawa Bluesfest on July 12. She first performed at the festival at age 13.

“I was always composing and singing around the house. I was writing songs about … loving chocolate milk when the sun comes up in the morning.”

By age seven, she said, she knew music was her future.

“I was given the opportunity to sing at my school’s opening. It was a big event. It was televised and when I stepped on stage and realized the impact that music had on people, that was it.

“At the beginning I was nervous but after a few seconds I realized that this is what I am meant to do.”

The funny thing, she said, is she was shy.

“I was more comfortable on stage than in regular every day interactions. It was my way of communicating with people. It was my goal and is still my goal to make people’s lives better through music.”

She told her parents she wanted to pursue a career in music and not surprisingly they were encouraging but cautious.

“They gave me some ground rules. They said ‘You need to maintain an A average in school. Then you need to learn an instrument’. I said I wanted to learn the cello and they said that first I needed to learn how to play instruments that would always be useful.” That meant piano first and then the  guitar. Smart parents.

Both of them are musical, she said.

“My mom sang a lot when she was younger. My father actually had and has a recording studio set up in our house. I picked up a lot  from the music he would make in the studio.”

These days her father Kiran is her manager. He keeps an eye on her career and the two of them “know what’s going on in real time.”

Kiran Francis was at one time a global manager for Nortel. As well he had a lot of businesses on the side including a magazine and a small computer company. He had the studio too and he’s also a drummer in a band.

But these days his focus is on Angelique.

“Now we do this full time,” she said.

If you see a show with her band you’ll see Angelique playing a stand-up three-quarter double bass.

“The double bass is an instrument that I have always felt connected to. Also it helped that there was one in All Saints Catholic High School. It was sitting in the band room and no-one was using it.

“They had a concert band and I asked if I could play the instrument. They said sure.” But there was no one to teach her because nobody knew how.

Typically, she just started. “I experimented with it and fell in love with the instrument and all the capabilities of it.”

She said the size of the double bass was a selling point for her.

“I have to admit that how big it is is perfect for what I want to do on stage. You can interact with a double bass on several levels. You have to do a lot to manoeuvre around it. Since I am always playing an instrument on stage, I’m not always given the opportunity to dance,” so the double bass has become her dance partner.

She also plays the harmonica and sometimes she’ll perform a one-woman duet, playing the melody on the harmonica and the harmony on the double bass.

Both instruments are also essential to the Blues-infused music that she plays.

“The Blues have always been a part of my life. Growing up it was the music I listened to. It connected with me. I like the way Blues music can speak to a lot of different people.”

She’s not trying to learn all the styles of Blues music out there. Instead, she said “I’m focussed on making my own kind of Blues.”

She plays other styles of music too such as soul, R&B and pop. She plays the Ottawa Jazz Festival and folk festivals including recently appearing at Mariposa.

She does have performers that she feels close to and has learned from. One is Esperanza Spalding, the jazz singer and bassist. Other bass players she pays attention to are Miles Mosley and Charles Mingus. She mentions Alicia Keys, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin for the piano; Tracey Chapman and India Arie because of their guitar skills and for vocals Big Mama Thornton (who also played harmonica) and Koko Taylor.

Her own musical style is emerging as she writes more and more songs.

“I have thousands of original compositions,” she said.

There isn’t a set process to her writing it depends on where the idea takes her.

“I get inspiration for lyrics from life, from TV, from the books that I read. I try to offer a variety of emotions. I write multiple songs every single day about anything and everything. The hard part comes when I have to choose which songs go on my albums because I have so many.”

Her latest CD is called Kissed By The Blues. It is a compilation of all of the various different kinds of blues that I have explored.”

No surprise that her dad produced it in the family studio.

Believe it or not, there are challenges with recording at home, she said.

“In a typical recording studio, there are set times and you are paying for each minute. At home you have so much time to try out things that it results in a large editing process.” Still it’s a good problem.

These days Francis is a third year music student at Carleton. And she’s also taking a minor in computer science. At Carleton she is working with teachers such as Jesse Stewart, Mark Ferguson and Kellylee Evans last year.

She’ll graduate next spring and seems poised for bigger and better things such as touring more in Europe and the U.S. She’s also pondering establish a music school and she’s also actively licensing her compositions for use on TV and other media. Oh yeah, she has a small jewelry business on the side making mostly earrings.

Angelique Francis Band
Where: RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Claridge Homes Stage
When: July 12 at 6 p.m.
Tickets and information: ottawabluesfest.ca

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.