How technology helped Buffy Sainte-Marie find her voice

She's a music legend, but in the recording studio Buffy Sainte-Marie struggled to make her opinions heard. The Internet and home-recording changed all that, and on this day in 1994 she told CBC how technology transformed her artistic life.

"I was being such a nice girl. I wouldn't complain when things were going wrong."

"When I'm creative, I don't correct anything. I just write it down. Just pour it out, write it down any old way." On this day in 1994, CBC spoke with Buffy Sainte-Marie about art and tech. (CBC Digital Archives)

Buffy Sainte-Marie is going into the Juno Awards this April with three nominations including aboriginal album of the year. And when the category was created, back in 1994, Sainte-Marie herself presented the inaugural award — then called the "Best Music of Aboriginal Canada Juno." As she's said in the past, it was a "dream come true." Because as an advocate for First Nations people, the folk-music legend had long argued for such a category, a detail that's mentioned in this clip from the CBC vaults.

On this day in 1994, the same year the Junos began celebrating the country's brightest indigenous talent, CBC's Adrienne Clarkson Presents turned their focus to Sainte-Marie — who was entering a new era, herself.

It was all because of the Internet. An early adopter of computers, Sainte-Marie's love of technology was transforming every aspect of her work — from music, to poetry to visual art — and giving her a newfound sense of empowerment.

Buffy Sainte-Marie poses with her Juno for aboriginal album of the year during the awards gala in Vancouver, Saturday, March 28, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

"The computer is just one more toy for an artist," she told Adrienne Clarkson, who'd travelled to Sainte-Marie's home in Hawaii for the interview.

"The best way to describe the control it gives me as an artist is I don't have to leave home and go to L.A. and make an appointment and say, 'Can I record now? Can I touch this?'" Sainte-Marie says.

It's a surprising comment, one that interviewer Adrienne Clarkson follows up on. At the time, Sainte-Marie was a respected veteran, with 30 years in the music industry. She had honourary degrees and even an Academy Award. (There's a cute cameo from her Oscar in the clip.) And yet, Sainte-Marie says she wasn't treated as an equal in the studio.

"I was very unhappy when I used to record and things wouldn't turn out the way I would want to because I was being such a nice girl. I wouldn't complain when things were going wrong," Sainte-Marie reveals.

"They wouldn't even play [the music] back to me! Oh man! All my first albums, they're full of heart and emotion and the songs are wonderful but they wouldn't have been the takes I would have chosen," she says.

By recording to her computer, and connecting with colleagues online, Sainte-Marie had finally rid herself of "the middle people," she told CBC.

"Now I can get directly from my own heart into the heart of a listener."

Watch the full story.

For more throwbacks like this one, visit the CBC Digital Archives.


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