When Canadian singer-songwriter Laila Biali returns to the Markham stage this month, she’ll be bringing the world with her.
The Toronto-based artist’s trio will perform at the Flato Markham Theatre, April 19, on the heels of an international tour.
Biali is performing a series of shows in Scandinavia and the United States this month, and will head off to Borneo in May.
Beyond being a boon to her career, Biali also said her sound improves when she has the chance to engage with different types of audiences.
“We’re definitely becoming an increasingly international act, which is really exciting,” she said. “It makes us a little more exotic and interesting—especially for folks who either have never heard of us or have come out to lots of shows. It’s interesting for them to hear how the music has developed and changed after months of touring and playing the music in different environments.”
Biali played a season preview event in Markham last year, and also performed at the theatre in 2013. Markhamites will be happy to know she counts it among her favourite venues.
“Markham feels like a home in some ways. It was really one of the best experiences I’ve had at a live show,” she said of her 2013 concert. “Some shows just stay—they stick in your memory. Something magical happens every now and then.”
She chalked it up to the theatre’s size and acoustics—as well as the work of its sound manager. Though a large component of every show is the audience itself, she said—particularly with the jazz genre, which most closely resembles her own sound.
“We don’t even know what will happen on any given night. And that again is a key component of jazz that we will always preserve in our live shows,” she said. “There’s this spontaneity piece, and it has to do with what we ate that day, how we felt in soundcheck, how the space is feeling, the energy of the audience. All these unique ingredients will bring about a very original and fresh experience for us, and also for the audience.”
While Biali’s roots are in jazz, she pointed out that her own career—and the music industry itself—has moved away from specific labels. She tries to focus simply on making music that connects with her band and her audience—wherever the influences come from.
“I embrace all the genres—whatever category people want to put me in. I actually think it’s fun to let folks decide for themselves what they want to decide about my sound. And to give them the freedom,” she said. “The jazz is there, so I’d never want to deny that. It’s something that I embrace with great pride, but then I also feel like it’s important to acknowledge that there are other influences that are equally present and intermingling with the jazz to create something that we hope is unique.”
On this tour, Biali is joined by her husband, Ben Wittman, on drums, filling in for her normal drummer, Larnell Lewis, who is touring with the Grammy-winning Snarky Puppy.
Wittman has toured with Biali before, which she says creates an entirely new experience for band and audience alike.
“It’s a unique dynamic with me, (bassist) George (Koller) and Ben. There’s something very special in the connection that exists between the three of us.”