From Yukon to Yk

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It was life in the Yukon that inspired Sophie Villeneuve to begin writing songs.

Sophie Villeneuve performs on the NACC stage in Yellowknife as part of Contact Ouest, the largest gathering of francophone music and performance art in Western Canada. Villeneuve is a folk artist who plays multiple instruments onstage: guitar, piano, harmonica, ukelele and even the kazoo. Emelie Peacock/NNSL photo

Before moving up North, she said she only performed around campfires and wouldn’t have thought of performing in a bar, let alone on stages across Canada.

She’s come a long way since then. From performing at open mic nights at the Whitehorse Gold Rush Inn to winning the francophone singer-songwriter competition Chant’Ouest, the last four years have been a whirlwind of activity for the Quebec native.

Villeneuve visited Yellowknife as part of the four-day francophone music gathering Chant’Ouest/Contact Ouest, the first time this event has been held in the NWT.

Yellowknifer caught up with Villeneuve after her performance on the NACC stage Saturday.

The following interview has been edited for brevity.

Q: How has Chant’Ouest/Contact Ouest been for you so far?

It’s really good. I’ve enjoyed the opportunities to talk to other venue co-ordinators and people who are likely to buy our show. Because when I’m in the Yukon it’s hard to contact people. You feel so isolated sometimes when you’re in the North. These events just bring people together so you feel less alone in your little part of the world.

Q: You said you feel a bit isolated at times in the North – what recommendations do you have for people trying to do what you’re doing?

In my case just having a couple English songs really helps. For example, when I perform in a Western part of Canada or even in Whitehorse, I always try to introduce my song in English for the English people who don’t know French so at least they know the context of the song.

Q: You are originally from Quebec, so what’s your coming up North story?

So I was looking for a place where I didn’t have to drive in the traffic to go outdoors, basically. And I’m a big mountain lover so unfortunately Yellowknife was not in the list. Yukon just sounded nice and I knew some people who had good comments about it so I just drove up there. I hadn’t been before, and I got a job and here I am fours years later and I’m not intending to leave.

Q: Do you feel that you’re sometimes an ambassador for the North, when you are performing in southern Canada?

Yeah, totally. Just sharing some of the aspects, because I’ve been in the North for so long, I feel are not exotic to me anymore but they are to people down south. Like just sled dogs, you don’t have sled dogs down south. And in the Yukon it’s like, ‘Oh you’re a musher?’

Q: Last year was a big one for you, winning Chant’Ouest and performing at the Festival international de la chanson de Granby. What’s next?

My album. I just finished recording last week actually. So there’s the mixing and mastering that’s coming up and I’m expecting February or March it should be released. And it’s all songs about, again, my adventures. It’s called the singing of the owl (Le Chant Du Hibou). In two of my songs, I talk about this owl that was living near the cabin where we were living this winter. So we’d hear him through the walls of the thick log cabin every night. And I’m doing this tour in the fall, it’s called From the North and it involves artists from the three territories … We’ll be in Yellowknife Oct. 27.