Story by Jessica Melnychuk.
Photo by Will Geier.
You’re on stage, ready to perform. Several bands have gone before you, and the crowd is eagerly awaiting your music. And then you experience every musician’s worst nightmare… technical difficulties.
That’s what happened to Yolanda Sargeant, one-half of the genre-busting local duo Sargeant & Comrade, at Local Drop’s first concert fundraiser, held in mid-October at Mikey’s Juke Joint & Eatery. Her computer malfunctioning, she was faced with the prospect of playing her set with no music. In this situation, many bands would panic, unsure how to carry on. But Sargeant made an on-stage decision to complete her entire set acapella.
“The show must go on,” she says. “People are coming to see you, so you’ve just got to figure out a way.”
Luckily, Sargeant has just the right kind of voice to handle an unexpected acapella set.
Influenced from an early age by jazz, soul, and calypso artists like Sparrow, Billie Holiday, and Lauryn Hill, Sargeant’s soulful, husky vocals can command any room, big or small. Born and raised in Calgary in a musical family of Caribbean descent, she always had music around her. Her uncle, Roland Prince, was a jazz guitarist and piano player who played with artists like the legendary Aretha Franklin.
“I always felt like I had to pick up the torch from where he left off,” Sargeant says. “Not only to fulfill my dream, but his dream as well. He was just a kid from a small island, and he was able to create so much music.”
Sargeant remembers the day her dad came home with a Mahalia Jackson record. She was about five-years-old at the time. “He had it in this brown paper record bag,” she says. “And he said to me, ‘If you try hard enough, you’ll be able to sing as good as she can sing.’ And that really inspired me.”
A few years later, Sargeant enrolled in Mount Royal’s Children’s Choir, where she further explored her vocal prowess and began experimenting with song composition. She remembers as a kid frequently driving past Calgary Folk Music Festival’s old office on Memorial Drive with her dad, thinking about what it would be like to perform at such an event one day.
Those dreams came to fruition this past summer, when she made her Calgary Folk Fest debut after playing the festival’s winter edition, Block Heater.
“It was a really inspiring experience,” she remembers. “It was really refreshing. I felt like I was on the right path. The organizers – Kerry Clark, Matt Olah, all of them – do such a great job taking care of the artists and making sure everything runs streamlined.”
“The whole thing was pretty surreal for the most part,” she continues. “I looked into the audience and there was different people there that I had known throughout my life, just from living in Calgary. I hadn’t necessarily told them that I was going to be performing, but they just happened to be there too. It was nice to be able to share that experience with them.”
And that’s what it comes down to at the end of the day for Sargeant: sharing her music with others. She is looking forward to releasing new music in 2018, both as Sargeant & Comrade and solo, and hopes to one day be able to expand her Canadian tour to places like Europe and Asia.
“I feel like – especially in this day and age – with all the technology and stuff like that, people don’t really have that human connection as much,” she says. “We’re connected with machines. But music touches people. Regardless of the language, people can always resonate with music.”
When asked if being in Calgary has an influence on the music she creates, Sargeant pauses. “Everything in life has an influence on the music I make,” she says. “As a musician, I feel it doesn’t matter where you are, because the music is always inside of you.”
“It’s nice to have a place like the National Music Centre here, but I could be in a jungle and still be making music. For me, it’s like breathing.”