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Away on Canada Day: Sheepdogs, Lights and Radio Radio Share Their Stories

Music has a place in every Canada Day celebration, no matter where you'll be watching the fireworks this year, or cutting a flag-shaped cake.

CBC will be broadcasting the pop extravaganzas coming out of Ottawa and London, England, for instance. (Get all the info at CBC.ca/canadacelebrates.)

But there are so many more Canadian musicians who won't be on Parliament Hill this July 1 -- or playing their hometown bandshell, either. Like so many people they'll be spending the holiday working abroad.

It's an experience that can put the meaning of the day into relief, and CBC Live spoke with three artists who know what that's like. All three will be taking part in Canada Day concerts this year, some even outside the country.

Read their "Away from Canada" Day stories.

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Toronto might be home, but in any given year, Lights is performing music everywhere else, from the United States, to Europe, to an igloo church in Inuvik.

If you had that sort of nomadic lifestyle, you could imagine how the details of where you've been and when you got there might become blurry, but there's one Canada Day -- "it must be a couple years ago now," Lights recalls -- that something came into focus.

The singer-songwriter and her band were on tour in England, and with a day off to play tourist, they were wandering the city when they hit Trafalgar Square.

That year's Canada Day International concert had taken over the spot.

"I remember being blown away that Canada Day was celebrated elsewhere, and it brought me so much closer to home," Lights tells CBC Live.

"You're already like, 'Aw, we're not home for everything,' like fireworks and the whole shebang. But it brought a little piece of that home. It was awesome."

Her favourite band of the day?

That detail hasn't stuck, but one impression has.

When you're on tour, Canada Day, "for the most part, is just another day," she says. "But when you see things like that it just reminds you how awesome Canada is, and how much you miss it. I mean, I'm a proud Canadian. I flaunt it everywhere I go."

"Having travelled around there's different stigmas Canadians have," she says. "I think you start to really pick up on stereotypes and realize you ARE that."

"I do say, 'Eh!' And I'm nice!" she laughs. "And those are things that they think we are."

"If that's what we are, then I'm into it."

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At some point, Lights will be "dancing in the fireworks." Before that happens, though, she'll play the Canada Day International show in New York's Central Park.

"I'm sure I'll find Canadians to celebrate with, but what I'm most excited about is there'll be Americans there!"

The concert's an opportunity to show off what's happening in Canadian music. "I think Canadian music can be pigeonholed sometimes," she says, "like people think it's going to be Justin Bieber."

"There's a lot of differences in there, especially in the electronic world -- there's a lot of electronic musicians like Crystal Castles and Grimes and Chromeo -- groundbreaking electronic music. So to be somewhere in there, between pop and electronic, I think I'm very lucky, and I'm blessed, to be showing Canada off to the world."

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This time last year, CBC Music asked The Sheepdogs's Ewan Currie what he'd be doing for Canada Day. "We will be in England performing at the Hop Farm Festival," he told them. "It's unlikely we'll be able to have any Canadian beers on the day, but we'll celebrate nonetheless."

Give the man a gold star, his prediction was bang on.

Talking with CBC Live, the singer recalls how that Canada Day played out. As foretold, there were no Canadian cold ones for the Sheepdogs. "We probably drank some English beer," he says.

But once the band arrived on the festival grounds, their UK agent, "a real good guy," had arranged to have a touch of home waiting. "To the promoter's credit, they had set up, in our dressing room, a Canadian flag for us. ... It was a nice little gesture."

Currie reflects on how he usually spends Canada Day, home in Saskatoon: "We'd always go down to Diefenbaker Park and watch the fireworks and get caught in the awful traffic and do all that kind of stuff."

But he doesn't miss those traditions so much when the Sheepdogs are far from Saskatchewan on July 1. (And not just because of the late-night traffic jams.)

Remembering where he comes from isn't exclusive to Canada Day.

"You learn a lot about your home when you go away and come back, when you're going in and out. It's sort of an ongoing relationship, that's for sure," he says.

"I'm sort of a guy who believes you don't need just a day to celebrate something -- whether it's Mother's Day, or Valentine's Day, or any of that stuff."

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It's back to England for The Sheepdogs. After wrapping his set at the Hop Farm Festival last year, Currie says he spent the night in London, where he wandered past the Canada Day show in London's Trafalgar Square. This year, The Sheepdogs are playing it.

"If you'd told me about this thing before, my first reaction would have been: 'Really? This many people care about Canada Day in England?'"

But after witnessing Trafalgar Square packed with revellers, Currie was sold. That and "it's a pretty damned cool setting" to have a show.

The Sheepdogs join a line-up that features a couple more hoser-rock exports: The Arkells and The Tragically Hip. "I think it's cool that it's three good, Canadian rock bands," he says. "That'd be a great lineup in Ottawa, never mind London."

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Three years ago, Canada Day International recruited Nova Scotia's Radio Radio to play their show in London, England. It was one of several honours packed into the hip-hop trio's 2010. Their "Chiac" raps had a place at the Vancouver Olympics that year, the Polaris Music Prize (where they were Short List nominees). But their Canada Day concert was something else.

"Trafalgar Square was quite special," Radio Radio's Gabriel Louis Bernard Malenfant recalls, talking with CBC Live by phone and describing the "micro Canadian environment" created for the event. "There was ball hockey players, all sorts of Canadian stuff. Obviously poutine and beaver tails, and all these cultural things." (The event happening in London this year promises something similar.)

"And the square is an epic spot to be in. We weren't just in any place," he says.

But the thrill of being on stage rapping about "Jacuzzis" and "Dekshoos" -- and introducing the city to their tongue-in-cheek, bilingual rhymes -- wasn't the biggest take-away from their Canada Day abroad.

"We were actually surprised to see a lot of people, a lot of Canadians were there," he says, "and even friends from back home who we'd lost track of for a few years, they were there, too."

While performing, Malenfant says he spotted some long-lost faces in the crowd -- guys who hail from the same spot in the Maritimes. "After the show we got to see them," he says.

"Whenever you see people from back home overseas or somewhere far away -- even if they weren't your best buddies, but from your hometown -- when you see them over there you share something special.

"We were both there, proud to be Canadians," he says.

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Playing an even better Canada Day show, the one in Ottawa. Says Malenfant: "Parliament Hill is like the ultimate Canadian celebration. ... This year's going to be epic."

For more on where to watch Canada Day entertainment on CBC, visit CBC.ca/canadacelebrates.


Related:
Check Out a Musical Map of Canada Day
Want to Sing with Chris Hadfield this Canada Day? Here's How!
Complete Coverage of Canada Day 2012

 

 

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