2013 Canadian Folk Music Award Nominee – love affair with Rome

Diem Lafortune’s hard-won wisdom was eloquently showcased on her first CD, Beauty and Hard Times, a compelling and passionate work of art. The beauty – the richness and lushness of melody and arrangement, was powerfully combined with lyrics that probed deeply into Hard Times. Some of the themes Lafortune tackled with unflinching honesty in B&HT included: incremental fascism (“If They Take Us In The Morning”), the need for reparations for victimized Indigenous peoples and mother earth ( the searing “And On The Evidence”), the unconsidered effects of alcohol abuse (the haunting “Minuet For The Staircase Children”), stolen childhoods (“Where Are All The Children?”), and corporate greed (“Mr. Businessman’s Blues”). That latter song, a rousing blues-rocker, was written for her hard-working adoptive father Amedee who died within months of his retirement.
With the state of the world as it is now, Lafortune muses sadly: “I wish these songs weren’t timeless; I wish the world was where I’m at personally – healing, beauty, love… but sexism, racism all those things are rampant and I have to write with purpose and relevance about the not so great, damned rotten stuff too – that’s what artist’s do – we don’t get to pick and choose – no one else who is honest and feeling gets to pick and choose. I do it so I don’t blow up inside and hopefully it helps other people not blow up inside and keep loving and hoping too. The Occupy movement has never been so relevant”.
Lafortune continues to cover a wide swath of stylistic terrain – Acadian and Métis fiddle tunes, Nova Scotian pipes, prairie Cree drums, and the accordion and string-fuelled tunes of the Jews and Romany in Eastern Europe have all been integrated into Diem’s cosmopolitan sound. Her music is “quintessentially Canadian. It is hyphenated music. Everything is there. It doesn’t disappear, it combines. I feel my work represents an idealized version of what we think Canada should be about. My music reflects my identity. I’m an adoptee – my identity is a garden – I have bio-seeds deep in my blood and bones and the people who raised me had their deep blood-bone seeds and their seeds fell on me too. All these seeds can, and in my case did, receive water and sun from all their familiars and grew in my identity garden. I’d like to think we can honour and respect all the seeds that make us human. Leonard Peltier says we are all ordinary – I think he’s amazing. We are all ordinary and we are all capable of extraordinary things if we can love ourselves through all the stuff that tells us how we shouldn’t love ourselves.”
As a lyricist, Lafortune’s approach is “to write from the scar, not the wound. I journal in the morning and that comes from the wound. It is my therapy. But anything that will go out there, I write from the scar.” There is genuine poetry in Diem’s songs. For example, from the thirteen minute opera like epic “Mad Bastards’ Requiem and Resurrection Waltz”: “dysfunctionality’s just not passed on, like a carcinogenic it accumulates harm”; to “Sacred Love”‘s: “But if the winds, strong from the sea, should trash an cast us distant, and dash us ‘gainst the waves of time, for nothing I would miss this” ; and the silly yet political “Hot Kisses” – “I’ve got no need for fancy trends, I’ve got me some special friends, my fantasies are very clear – get your sweet lips over here!” Partner these lyrics with walls of voices, cellos, bagpipes, violins, trumpet/electric guitar-led melodies and expectantly, the results will be simply sublime.
Lafortune was raised in Toronto by an Acadian/Mi’kmaq man and Celtic woman. A long and painful search for her birth mother was a defining process in Diem’s life. After twenty-seven years on the Adoption Disclosure Registry’s waiting list, she learned her mother, Alice, had died of a drug overdose in 1973. Trained as a constitutional appellate lawyer, Lafortune used those skills to open adoption records. She put the arguments before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2008. “I’m on an orphan’s journey. Those of us who survive are very strong as we have to invent ourselves,” she explains. Lafortune won the war but lost her own personal battle – “but I know who my father is and have met him – he’s basically a sperm donor, so the idea that the state or any person should prohibit me from ever being able to look into the face of either of parent’s no longer haunts and outrages me. I’m also in the process of biting the bullet and paying to have get my own birth name back. It sucks and is a big contradiction but it’s an important step in taking back my power – not letting those who mock human dignity hold it over me any longer. I still bite the occasional nail and spit rust but will at some point fix this adoption law for once and for all”.
February of 2015 marked another defining moment for Lafortune when she was invited to teach at Centennial College. This provided her with an opportunity to leave the law behind and support her music and art with teaching – something she had always wanted to do. Here she was also able to bring her radical roots and passion for critical thinking and social justice together. Citing Noam Chomsky, Diem say: “Democracy requires an educated public – I’ve Indigenized my Global Citizenship course because that’s how I know/see things. I teach the Medicine Wheel – spiritual, emotional, physical and mental intelligence – they need to be in balance – in this world that can be hard.” Lafortune compares teaching critical thinking and living the “examined life” to singing and the breath-work that singing requires: “When I do breath-work with people I tell them to watch a baby breathe – they breathe with their whole body. Sadly, we live in a world where we get the breath punched out of us a lot – it can be hard to get it back.” Diem’s breath was knocked out in the 50s scoop – the first decade provincial child protection services were given the power over Indigenous communities.
Diem is excited to start working on her next CD – RED SOUL. She’s t4amed up with old and dear friend Bryant Didier as Technical Producer, and new friend and musical virtuoso, Thomas Hamilton as artistic producer. She will again sit in the executive producer chair. Tom and DM are working on the arrangements now and Diem is returning to working with the piano – she stopped her formal studies at the grade ten level just before her twelfth birthday. They are aiming for a September 2017 release. This CD will lay claim to her reputation as a soul singer – something that made her an understandably difficult fit in the “folk” category. She will continue to address the social issues bringing her critical edge to everything from violence against women to the “great Mystery” to some powerful songs and views on love, commitment, loyalty and magic. All of this wrapped in DM’s prophetic story-telling style.
See Bryant Didier @