Café des Voix at Cafe Balzam at the Takhini Hot Springs on Jan 31. PHOTOS: courtesy of Elaine Schiman

Café des Voix is always looking for new talent

Yukon accompanist Grant Simpson helped found Café des Voix in 2016 as an extension of Jazz Yukon workshops that had been occurring since 2011 and as “a safe and supportive space for local vocalists to learn and perform.” Today, the program is still going strong, with almost 30 members.

Café des Voix presents both new and well-known melodies and sometimes features guest musicians, too. An eclectic range for jazz and jazz-inspired tunes are chosen by participating vocalists and by Simpson himself, rehearsed in studio and then performed.

The concept for Café des Voix grew out of a desire on the part of Simpson and jazz enthusiasts in the Territory to help vocalists develop their talents and to make jazz performance more accessible in the Yukon. Simpson offers performance workshops in an environment where vocalists and musicians can try new things and push their boundaries in the company of like minded people.

“It’s a developmental outlet combining performance with rehearsal,” he said. “There’s really nothing like performing in front of an audience to bring them to the next level. There’s something about being in public that makes you focus in a way that you don’t in rehearsal. It broadens the experience.”

Among other things Simpson’s workshops include voicework, as much theory as a vocalist needs in order to perform with a pianist and some music history to get people’s jazz juices flowing in context. The group is more than just about practice and performing, however. It’s about building community. Simpson calls Café des Voix a space for professionals and novices alike to interact as part of the greater Yukon jazz community.

“It’s become a support network for everyone involved. We’re a funky little family and we have a lot of fun together.”

People drop in when they want, with a core group of dedicated members. Simpson hopes that more will join.
Along with Grant Simpson Music, Jazz Yukon, local venues, audiences and musicians Café des Voix is also starting a new partnership with the Yukon Francophone Association (l’AFY). The resulting program encourages participants to sing in their second language, be it English or French. “Singing in another language opens up all sorts of new doors for people and it’s something that a few of our members have been wanting to try,” Simpson said.

Elaine Schiman is a writer and communications professional based in Whitehorse. She’s been involved as a singer with Café des Voix since the start in 2016. She said the group has given her a tremendous boost of confidence as well as providing a sense of community and a creative outlet.

“I still feel inspired and challenged, but not discouraged (at least not most of the time!). I know the other singers also feel that way… that they have had the chance to grow as singers and musicians, which makes the singing experience so much more enjoyable,” Schiman said. For Schiman the group delivers a creative outlet and has helped her grow in confidence and stage presence.

“It has been a really rewarding and surprising journey to go from feeling discouraged (but also inspired and challenged) at that first Jazz Yukon vocal jazz workshop in 2011… to today, when I have the chance to sing regularly as part of Café des Voix, I have been able to do a longer program at Cafe des Voix Presents, been part of Café des Voix at Atlin Music Festival and Frostbite, and so on,” she said.

Café des Voix has a series of upcoming performances at Baked Café on Tuesday evenings, all at 7 p.m. The dates are April 10, May 1, May 15 and May 29. The May 1st performance will be their first bilingual partnership event with l’AFY.

To learn more about ongoing events and how to get involved as a member visit the group’s Facebook page or email CafedesVoix@gmail.com.

The program is free of charge and open to anyone.