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The growth of Kaia Kater

The Toronto-based clawhammer banjo star, making her local debut, has big plans for the future.

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POLINA MOURZINA
  • Polina Mourzina

Kaia Kater
w/Meaghan Blanchard, Camille Delean, Leanne Hoffman
Friday, January 19
The Carleton, 1685 Argyle Street, ​7:30pm
$15 adv/$25 door

w/Rose Cousins
Good Robot Brewing Co., 2736 Robie Street
Saturday, January 20, 7-8pm
Sold Out

When Kaia Kater plays a pair of shows at In the Dead of Winter this weekend, one will be next to the musician who gave Kater her first taste of performing in front of people.

The clawhammer banjo player, currently living in Toronto, first met singer-songwriter Rose Cousins when she was 15 years old and Cousins was staying at her house, a hotbed for folk music.

"I grew up going to folk festivals," says Kater, whose mother ran festivals in Ottawa and Winnipeg and credits them as one of the reasons she became a folk musician. Kater and Cousins will reunite for a song circle on Saturday, where they plan to do a couple songs together.

"I was just a teenager, a solemn pre-teen, and Rose pulled me out of my shell," says Kater. "And we ended up playing a few songs together on the piano and that sort of evolved into playing together on stage."

On Friday, Kater headlines the Carleton for her first official Halifax show, where she'll perform as a duo with upright bass player Andrew Ryan.

Along with the folk music sensibilities nurtured at home, Kater propelled her immersion into the genre further by formally studying Appalachian music in West Virginia at Davis & Elkins College. Her sophomore album Nine Pin combines her traditional training with masterfully written songs influenced by her experiences as an African-Canadian woman.

"When I started writing for Nine Pin, I think this came out almost subconsciously," she says. "I think mostly I'm trying to uncover poetry and prose that's strong, lyrics that can grab the listeners ear. And I take that work very seriously."

The record is about coming of age, written by Kater when she was 21, as she started to look outside of herself and deal with the issues of adulthood. Now she views the songs in more of a retrospective. "I was trying to grapple with larger themes than I ever had before and when I sing what I'm singing, I realize I'm still grappling with those issues," she says. "And they're still relevant right now, even though maybe I have a different way of interacting with them now. It's a good record and it's a cathartic record and it will always be that way."

For her next album, set for release in 2019, Kater will take an even closer look at her own history when she goes to Grenada in March to write for a month. Her father illegally immigrated to Canada when he was 15 years old, after the United States invaded the Caribbean country in 1983. She'll explore the themes of trauma that surround such an event, using the tools she's learned from songwriting groups.

"In that way I'm just trying to doggedly improve myself as much as possible and I hope that the record will show growth and maturity," she says. "And a growth in writing more than anything and I'll be able to connect with people even more."


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