Singer-songwriter Alejandra Ribera, a new Montrealer with a deep warm voice, is reaching out to scores of music lovers through La Boca (The Mouth), a collection of evocative and haunting original melodies performed in English, Spanish and French.
To produce this second album, released in February 2014, Ribera brought together a dream team that included producer Jean Massicotte, who has worked with such major Quebec artists as Pierre Lapointe, Lhasa de Sela and Jean Leloup, and the seasoned musicians Yves Desrosiers and Mario Légaré. She also called on the French-born singer Arthur H, with whom she delivers a scorching performance of Un cygne la nuit (A Swan in the Night), a move that has helped add to the buzz about this fascinating new artist.
Born in Toronto to an Argentinian father and a Scottish mother, Ribera studied violin and cello at a young age. In 2009, she released NavigatorNavigateher, an album that was recorded over a mere five days and brought unhoped-for attention to the young performer, who had only been trying to raise money to pay her stage musicians, and suddenly heard her songs being played on CBC Radio. She later toured extensively across Canada and Quebec, where she was a repeat guest on Télé-Québec’s popular Belle et Bum weekly program.
“My songs are not about everyday life. I don’t see myself as a storyteller.”
In an incredible stroke of luck, Ribera was presented with opportunities to pay tribute not once, but twice, to the great Lhasa de Sela following the artist’s untimely death in 2010, first at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal, and later as part of a touring multi-disciplinary production called Danse Lhasa Danse.
Comparisons have been drawn between the two passionate performers with unique signatures. Ribera gratefully accepts this, if with a tinge of embarrassment. “Lhasa had a special place in my life,” she says. “There is a connection, that’s for sure. I have so much respect for her!”
Alejandra also had the good fortune of meeting a member of Lhasa’s inner circle, producer Jean Massicotte, whom she calls the reason she moved to Montreal. “Jean is a true artist. Your songs are his babies. As a songwriter, you’re attached to each of them like children, and entrusting them to someone like Jean is like sending them to the best university.” Massicotte, in her mind, has been a mentor and teacher who was able to take her much farther along her creative path than she ever thought possible.
In spite of industry pressure, Ribera took her time preparing her new album, if for no other reason than she finds it impossible to write on cue, calling herself a dilettante who finds nothing wrong with taking three years to come back to a song idea scribbled on an old scrap of paper. “When everything else is telling you to go one way, and your inner voice is telling you something else, that’s what you should be doing,” the instinctive songwriter suggests.
Ribera finds inspiration in images, myths, historical figures and the like. La Boca’s title song was inspired by an article she read on Lake Vostok, an Antarctic wonder discovered by Russian scientists. “It got me thinking about underwater creatures, bioluminescence and the unreal light that filters down to the bottom of the sea.
“My songs are not about everyday life. I don’t see myself as a storyteller,” she admits. “I couldn’t be talking about a love affair that turns sour after a few years. Others are better equipped than I am to write those kinds of stories. I prefer hinting at things and allowing listeners to use their own imaginations.”
Besides its inherent beauty and sound, the use of the Spanish language for some songs affords Ribera a modicum of protection when dealing with subjects she considers too personal. “I still don’t feel as comfortable writing in Spanish as I do in English,” she explains, “but it gives me more space when the topic is hard to address.”
Alejandra Ribera now hopes to take La Boca to the rest of the world. She performed some of her new pieces in New York City recently as part of an industry event, and is eager to present them to Quebec audiences and as part of a European tour. And, while she’s there, why not consider a billing at Barcelona’s Palau de la Música, her ultimate dream? La Boca is certainly a step in the right direction.