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Juno nominee not afraid to experiment

Danny Michel has lived the ultimate fan fantasy.

The singer/songwriter was such a dedicated follower of The Garifuna Collective that he decided to approach the Afro-Amerindian cultural group from Belize to see if they could make a collaborative album together.

Michel, who plays on Wednesday at Red Deer’s Fratters Speakeasy, didn’t exactly show up on the Collective’s doorstep unannounced with his guitar (“I’m not crazy,” he said). He went through the appropriate channels by approaching the group’s management company, but the response was still the same.

“They thought, who the hell is this guy?” recalled Michel, with a chuckle.

With a couple of Juno Award nominations under his belt, the Ontario musician was bold enough to convince the musicians from Belize that they should work together and it would be great.

“I thought, what the heck? What’s the worst that can happen? They say ‘No.’ So I just went for it,” he said.

The Collective ended up saying ‘Yes,’ and resulting album, Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me, was recorded in Belize in 2012. It was released by Six Shooter Records in Canada, Cumbancha Records in the United States, and Stonetree Records in Belize.

“Nobody had any expectations,” recalled Michel.

“The idea was let’s experiment and if it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It will at least be an incredible experience.”

But the album became critically acclaimed, garnering a 2013 Juno Award nomination for world music album of the year — Michel’s third nod. It was also longlisted for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize.

“I wrote the basic songs and melodies,” said Michel and most of the instrumentation was contributed by members of The Garifuna Collective.

If some of the sounds from the release are unusual it’s because the instruments included turtle shells in the percussion section, along with native sugunda and primero drums, and an actual donkey’s jawbone that was scratched along the teeth.

“When I got there they started pulling out these donkey jaws, I remember thinking, oh my gosh, this is the real deal!” said Michel, who started an educational scholarship that’s raised $65,000 for a high school in Belize.

Alas, no animal parts will be played when he performs some songs from the album in Red Deer.

Michel said it will just be him and his guitar, although he promised to provide some “live, unique sounds in different ways,” suggesting he might have learned a trick or two while in Central America.

The musician also plans to test out some new songs that he wrote for his next album. Just like the last time, he’s winging it. The performer said he has no preconceived ideas of what the upcoming release will contain, or even whether it will have any kind of ethnic flavour.

One thing that’s mildly irked Michel is that suddenly, for the first time in his life, he’s being categorized by some people as a world music artist. “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I don’t want to be put into any category.”

The multi-instrumentalist, who has put out nine previous recordings, has been praised for writing unpreachy songs about topics like the environment, religion and karma. His quirky songs Who’s Gonna Miss You? and What Colour Are You? are often played on CBC and CKUA radio.

As for his three Juno nominations, Michel said “it’s flattering,” and will hopefully widen his audience.

Advance tickets for the show are on sale at Fratters, 53rd Street Music and The Soundhouse for $20. For more information, call 403-356-0033.



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