After four albums, the Algerian born singer Lynda Thalie, who settled in Quebec at the age of 16, finally perfected the mix of Middle Eastern sounds and socially conscious lyrics she was striving for, and she knows why: she did her homework. “It’s the time I spent getting in touch with my cultural roots on my first three albums – Le Sablier (The Hourglass), the self-titled album and La Rose des sables (Gypsum Flower) – that provided me with the confidence I needed to write Nomadia,” the 34-year-old artist explains.
Having learned piano scales, and taken part in school competitions and showcases from an early age in her country of origin, Thalie felt right at home in the student musical productions at her new Quebec high school. “It was more or less love at first sight,” she recalls. “When I visited Cégep Ahuntsic at one point in Montreal, there was a show being presented in the central square, and I immediately felt that this was where I was going to be some day. Later on, leaving the stage of the Cégeps en Spectacle competition where I had been a contestant, I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”
Thalie then began writing and composing, winning the 2000 Ma Première Place des Arts competition in the performer category and signing a record deal with GSI Musique, a company “that was looking after such prominent singer-songwriters as Jean-Pierre Ferland, Gilles Vigneault and Daniel Boucher,” she recalls with obvious gratitude for that promising introduction to the Quebec music world.
“The label hooked me up with some creators from whom I would increasingly learn the profession. I spent a year and a half with Nicolas Maranda from 2001, for instance, laboriously crafting my first album. It was wonderful to have this opportunity to get used to the daily routine in the studio. Since then, I ended up singing with people like Marie Denise Pelletier, Luc De Larochellières and Michel Rivard! All that on-the-spot training got me involved early on with the song-creating process, and provided me with the professional tools I needed to trust myself.”
A straight talker, Thalie has criticized radio broadcasters in the past for what she called their conservative and close-minded attitude towards sounds that they deemed “too different.” With today’s runaway radio success of “Dance Your Pain Away (La tête haute),” the single from her Nomadia album, however, things seem to have turned around somehow. So, who changed? Was it the artists or music programmers?
“Actually, I think it was both,” Thalie offers candidly. “Since I moved to Quebec, I really went out of my way to explain my music to people and have them accept it. I met my audience halfway, so to speak, and they’re the ones who made it happen through their support and word-of-mouth recommendations. But radio stations did their part, too. When you see what’s happening in the world with people like Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Shakira and other world music-sounding artists… When Sting came up with ‘Desert Rose,’ featuring Cheb Mami, I was ecstatic. I realized that if we were unable to get results with our efforts within Quebec, then change would come from without. That’s exactly what’s happened, and radio stations have now yielded to the world trend.”
Back to the topic of songwriting, Thalie admits that she learned how to force inspiration after giving up fighting the blank page syndrome. “If it happens again now, I simply concentrate on filling up my mind with images and phrases and things that I pick out of thin air or on the airwaves… I sort of grab them and file them away in my mind’s drawers. When it’s time to write, I do like Ferland did – I force inspiration. I sit down and make a mental appointment with it, then the floodgates open up. I don’t know where it all comes from. All you have to do is grab it.”
Occasionally, as she did before with Yann Perreau, Nicolas Maranda, Carlos Placeres and Nomadia producer Louis Côté, Thalie prefers group creation to solo inspiration. “I could have written the whole album by myself,“ she says, “but something very special happens when two artists decide to co-operate with their creative guards down – it’s like some golden umbilical cord growing and helping two worlds produce something that could never have been generated singlehandedly. Creating something new together with someone else is both wonderful and fulfilling.”
Increasingly active in the French-speaking world, Thalie understands the importance of expanding her market reach. And while competition is tougher in Europe for world music, she still manages to get noticed thanks to her Quebec roots.
“What’s fabulous is that wherever I am, people find me different,” she says. “When I’m performing in Quebec, this is a foregone conclusion, but I experience the same reaction everywhere, as if I people thought I arrived to their country with a trunk full of maple syrup! So wherever I go, I help people travel in their own minds. How fabulous is that?”