Desirée Dawson spreads the love

The Vancouver indie-soul singer has a fresh recording and positivity to provide to the Mainland Concert Series.

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Desirée Dawson is celebrating her old songs in a new format, recasting her 2016 debut Wild Heart as a new recording released last week, Wild Heart - Live From Blue Light Sessions.

“There were…business partnerships gone wrong, that was a moment that was sad for me,” says Dawson over the phone from Vancouver. “But I’ve been singing these songs for years and they had a new life to them. The desire to hear the songs is still there for the audience, and the desire for me to play the songs is still there.”

The baritone ukulele and stunning voice Dawson played on the original LP are still front and centre on the new versions, with the added appeal of live intimacy—it’s as if you’re in the room with her. Like everyone, Dawson has had to adapt to the idea of playing to a silent audience over the past few months. Gone is the energy of the room, the chatter, the applause. But she’s grown to enjoy it.

“It’s definitely a lot to get used to. It’s a lot of staying grounded—okay, if no one is clapping, you love your music,” she says. “And they [the audience] are there.”

Since the pandemic messed up her summer festival season—“the writing, the jamming, the connecting with community, which sometimes feels like the fuel that helps feed the fall and winter,” she notes—Dawson has taken to livestreaming in a variety of ways. She’s played her own shows, shows with friends, hosted creative workshops, and she conducts an online musical yoga class every Sunday with Alysha Brilla, “a musical meditation kind of space.”

This Sunday she’ll be pulling double duty as she performs in the Mainland Concert Series on Side Door. Proceeds from the show will go to a pair of non-profits dear to her heart. The first is the Hogan’s Alley Society: “It’s a non-profit advocating for Black Vancouverites that have been erased from the historical narrative of this city,” says Dawson. “I am a Black Vancouverite, and I didn’t have that language for most of my life—I felt it but I didn’t know how to talk about it. They want racialized and marginalized communities to participate in city-building. I think that’s so important.”

The other is Urban Native Youth Association (UNYA), which supports Indigenous youth by celebrating and amplifying their voices. “When I learned how UNYA responds to youth in a trauma-informed way, harm reduction, person-centred care—I said Yes!” she says. “To me that’s everything the world needs to heal and thrive. It’s beautiful they’re doing that. And it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach…it’s a human to human connection.”

Dawson, whose official bio proudly calls her a “love-spreading human,” says it can be tough to keep her positivity out in front during these complicated times, but she’s trying. “I feel like my natural state is wanting to bring joy, and encourage others to be their best selves,” she says. “It’s definitely hard. I’m being realistic that there is space to be like, ‘This really, really sucks.’ But that’s okay—in order to improve things, there has to be space to say ‘This is not working.’ It’s been a really challenging time to be existing.”

About the Mainland Concert Series Supported by Rogers
A Side Door initiative supported by Rogers, the Mainland series features a diverse selection of rising talent in a variety of genres; including soul, indie classical, and folk. All ticket proceeds go directly to charities of the artists’ choosing, while Rogers supports the artists with performance fees, fostering a meaningful connection between art and community.

Mainland Concert Series Show Dates
August 6: Buckman Coe - Moose Hide Campaign
August 9: Desirée Dawson - Hogan’s Alley Society & UNYA
August 13: Khari Wendell McClelland - ArtsStarts in Schools
August 16: Tariq - Alzheimer’s Society of BC  
August 20: Krystle Dos Santos - Black Lives Matter Vancouver
August 23: Gordon Grdina - Black Lives Matter Vancouver
August 27: Amanda Sum with Jamie Lee - National Congress of Black Women Foundation - BC


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Written by Tara Thorne

Tara Thorne is a writer, editor, and pop culture critic in Halifax.