A native Montrealer from the West Island, Valerie Khayat has slowly but surely become a staple in Montreal’s spoken word and poetry scene, recently publishing her latest work, The Road to Vesper. On Oct. 13th, she is launching her official foray onto the Montreal music scene with the release of her album Resonance in blue. Siafu met up with 24-year-old Khayat at Café Shaika in NDG, where she has been carrying out an internship with the NDG community council.
SIAFU: Much of your music is very personal, and seems to come from a place of deep reflection, but others are very tangibly political. How do you find a balance between speaking about your personal experiences but in a way that is relevant to others?
KHAYAT: For the first part of your question, when I started off writing it was very, very personal. It was less about social commentary for me when I started off. When I moved to that, I think it reflected where I was in my life: moving towards being more active, reading up on social issues and understanding them. So I think everything reflects the space your in. But finding the balance – I do think that, for me, the personal is political. Your political interests are reflected in your actions every day. So somebody may have the possibility to volunteer, to go overseas and actually go to Third World countries and do their part that way, but I think that when you talk about social and political action, it’s all in your way of thinking. I think that it’s really all in your mind and the way that you perceive things. So if we move ourselves to understand a different reality, we can have a broader perspective on things. I think it’s all tied in; you have to understand yourself to understand and relate to other people. And for me it’s about compassion, because mostly for me it’s about evoking that feeling of compassion in people, seeing yourself in somebody else; that’s how I approach the political pieces write. I have many songs that have been inspired by specific documentaries. It’s from this tension or struggle inside of me, or, you know, not being able to really make sense of what I saw, so putting it into words helps.
S: Can you talk about one specific documentary that had this effect on you?
K: One song that’s on the album that’s called Jacob was taken from ‘Invisible Children,’ on child soldiers in Uganda. There’s this scene in the movie where there’s this little boy from Uganda named Jacob and he just started weeping. It was just this really haunting sound and I just got really troubled by it. It was just one of those songs that came out really, really fast; it was just feelings. I don’t think it is even thinking at that point, it’s just feeling it and letting it travel through you and it’s just coming out in words. Feeling what you see. There’s kind of no distinction, well not distinction, but you’re kind of feeling that other person’s pain, or just absorbing what you’re seeing.
S: Do you think artists have a specific role to play in bringing social issues to the forefont?
K: I do believe we have a big responsibility as artists, but I also realize that it’s not necessarily everybody that’s moved or drawn to speak about these issues. I think that a song about everyday things can be just as innovative or open people’s minds that way too. It depends. If I want to write about, comment about something my music’s pretty direct. Another song on the album is Stray Cats and I wrote it right after watching the MTV music awards and I was just like: this is what I feel and so it’s very direct. But I do believe that we have a responsibility just because… art is so powerful and art puts you in touch with your emotions and shows you sides of yourself that you may not see otherwise. I think it’s about putting questions out there and then you can’t control the way that people are going to receive it or what they’re going to think. But hopefully you can get people to think about their own lives, to think about their own existence and that they’re part of the bigger picture. Not everyone is going to tackle those issues, but I do believe we have a role, particularly because we live in a part of the world that is privileged and we have that privilege of getting up on a stage or booking a venue and putting on a show.
S: Do you think this awareness is present in the Montreal artistic community?
K: I think we’re lucky in Montreal that we have a scene that’s alternative, that there’s alternative art and underground culture, and that there is an activist link too. I think we’re lucky in that sense. Like any other hub, though, you have a whole spectrum of art. I do think it is reflected, but I think it also becomes that you know which artists do that kind of thing. I don’t think it’s a majority, but there are a lot of artists out there in Montreal that are very active and bringing up a lot of important social issues and working towards them. A lot of artists are also working in the sectors that they’re talking about in their work, that are involved everyday. That’s also a different thing. You can go up on stage and talk about it, and not be directly involved, or you can be directly involved and talk about it. Yeah, I think there are aware artists, but I definitely think that there could be more.
S: There’s often a lot of discussion around independent music and what it means to be ‘independent.’ Have you thought about whether you’d ever been interested in signing with a big label?
K: I’ve been approached, not by bigger labels. I think in the end it’s about following your gut and I think it’s all about vision, because you need to define your vision from the beginning. And it’s also about being flexible. Not changing your vision, but you grow, you evolve, so your vision is going to evolve, but there’s still going to be that core value in that vision. So for me, I don’t want to compromise so much of my art. It also depends what you do. If you have more of a social or a political message, or if you’re out there to share things and make people question, that’s a different intention than entertainment. I don’t see myself as a performer or an entertainer. I may take you some other place, but I don’t see myself like that. So in the end it depends how much you want to compromise, and the more you place in that or the more you decide to devote yourself to that career the more you might have to compromise. I can’t say what I will do or not, but I like to keep control on my beliefs and I’m very conscious of the image and the manipulating that people want to do, especially as a woman performer.
Valerie Khayat releases Resonance in blue on Oct. 13th at Le Cagibi, 5490 St-Laurent, 9pm,$6-$10 including free copy of the album. More info & to buy the album: http://www.myspace.com/valeriekhayat and http://www.cdbaby.com.