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Dominique Fils-Aimé: Princess of Peace


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We can’t leave any group out in the process of moving forward. I want revolution to come with that peacefulness that I dream of and the healing that I feel is required to move us past the damage that has been done and is still being done.
—Dominique Fils-Aimé
Montreal's Dominique Fils-Aimé is two albums into a trilogy exploring African American music and culture. Stay Tuned! is a smooth-as-silk jazz vocal disc with broad appeal. It was shortlisted by the 2019 Polaris Music Prize selection committee, and named jazz album of the year at the ADISQ First Gala, a Quebec-based industry event.

Her debut, the blues-themed Nameless, opened the trilogy in 2018. Part three will dip into soul and rhythm and blues.

All About Jazz: There is a lot of work that goes into a trilogy.

Dominique Fils-Aimé: The three albums were thought out altogether. It feels like a really long time because it all started with Nameless, which is two years ago now. The concept was already thought of; I wanted it to happen as a kind of burst.

AAJ: That burst of energy is in sharp contrast to the coolness of Stay Tuned!.

DFA: It is. It's a mix of both. There are moments of intensity created, but they're short-lived. The whole album can be heard as a statement when it comes to my understanding of what jazz is.

For me, jazz is revolutionary in a way that is beyond people standing up. It's also a way of thinking about change and the freedom required to being free in your creation, to being free in what you do and not being held back by standards that were pre-established.

Generally speaking, revolution has been suggested in two ways—one that was extremely violent and one that was more peaceful. Compare for example Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. My personal view on it is that to create real long-term change, it must come from a place that is peaceful and from a place of love where everyone wants to move forward together. We can't leave any group out in the process of moving forward. I want revolution to come with that peacefulness that I dream of and the healing that I feel is required to move us past the damage that has been done and is still being done.

AAJ: Healing is a pretty revolutionary idea right now.

DFA: Healing is important. Beyond the physical act, people are starting to realize it mentally and communally speaking. Collective pain can sublimate in a community, or globally.

AAJ: Describe the arc of the trilogy.

DFA: To me, the trilogy is a way to retrace the main influences that created the music that we listen to today. It's also about how certain moments in history have created musical genres. Music is also a vector of emotion and a historical place where we can hear traces of how people felt. Aside from the facts, we also have the emotions behind all that.

The first album covers the heaviest period. We are in slavery, we are in one of our darkest times. It was a nighttime of human kind for me. Crossing the ocean. The blue of the nighttime, and the water. This period created blues and slave songs and this kind of sadness in music.

Then you had jazz that came with revolution—people freeing themselves. People allowing themselves to be, and to ask for their freedom. The same way the musicians went and just took their freedom to create in different ways. That was red. That's obviously fire and the presence of women. Red from seduction to blood.

The third album will retrace how a few freedoms were acquired. Not all, but enough to see a step forward made all together. Music got lighter and happier. The soul was allowed to free itself—from soul to disco and more.

AAJ: I've read the new album described as an exploration of African American culture. Do you see jazz as a purely African American art form?

DFA: It has taken on a more global reach. I do hope that it keeps doing so because the real essence of this is freedom. To me the real freedom cannot be complete if some people are being left out of the movement. It needs to integrate. There needs to be integration and equality. That's where we're at today. The challenge is to make sure we're moving forward united.

My intention is to express where I would like to see us move forward musically. There is a mix of what history created—where we are today—and where I'd love to see us go tomorrow.

AAJ: That's a lot to communicate in song. Do you ever feel limited by what you can express through music?

DFA: On the contrary, I sometimes feel limited by words. It feels to me like there is a mystical aspect that we don't completely understand that makes music a universal language. It allows people—whether they understand the lyrics or not—to receive all these frequencies that I'm putting out there. And whatever the words are not saying, I believe we're communicating through the music.

AAJ: What's been your experience growing up in Montreal as it relates to all of this?

DFA: Montreal has this very eclectic and multicultural aspect to it that does make me feel like it's a great place to dream of a future, more united and diverse world. It is proof that it can be done peacefully. That people can learn from one another without being afraid of one another's differences. That's what Canada represents for me. It's like I get to look at the world from a place of peace that I would want for others.

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