Vancouver violinist pushing boundaries
Vancouver’s Kytami has a gift for combining swirling string orchestrations with washes of electronic dance beats, heavy bass, and hip hop styles. (PHOTO SUBMITTED)
Dubbed a “music revolutionary” and a “violin extremist” by critics and fans alike, Vancouver’s Kytami — perhaps best known for co-founding the world music group Delhi 2 Dublin — has a gift for combining swirling string orchestrations with washes of electronic dance beats, heavy bass, and hip-hop styles. The effect is a throbbing, energetic sound that defies labelling.
Currently on the festival circuit, I caught up with the down-to-earth, violin wunderkind by phone on her stopover in Portland. Kytami arrives in Vancouver this weekend to perform at both the Powell Street Festival (running Aug. 1-3) in the Downtown Eastside, followed by the Harmony Arts Festival (running Aug. 1-10) in West Vancouver along the waterfront.
“I have played at Harmony Arts Festival previously,” she said. “They were one of the very first festivals that booked me when I went solo in 2011 (following her departure from Delhi 2 Dublin – with whom she toured for five years). This will be my first time playing at Powell Street Festival, which is great. My father is Japanese Canadian, so I feel a closeness to that culture.”
Kyla LeBlanc (formerly Uyede), whose stage name is Kytami, has been playing music since she was four. She studied violin at the Vancouver Academy of Music until she was 17. Looking back, she felt the classical music training was too restrictive. Yet, she knew instinctively that she was cut out for experimentation with other styles of music.
“When I was 17, I got involved in the snowboarding culture and it blew open a lot of doors musically for me,” she said. “I started exploring hip hop and punk rock, and I started going to raves and listening to electronic music. There was an energy that I hadn’t ever experienced before.”
This infectious energy rekindled her love of performing. She recalls playing at an Irish pub in Whistler four hours a day – every day for about three years.
“[This gig] got my chops up and helped hone my free-styling skills,” she said. “I wanted to create my own sound. I remember wondering if one day I would play at festivals — if someday people would come to clubs to see me perform.”
Kytami dared to dream. Her 2012 self-titled solo album showcased her ability to fuse and blend elements of classical music and dubstep into a singular sound uniquely her own. In 2013, Kytami won the Electronic/Dance Recording of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards.
“It’s hard to describe your own sound,” she explained. “It’s really my own expression. It’s how I interpret my surroundings and my influences. I have always done what I wanted to do and what makes me feel good. I have tried to produce the sounds that I wanted to hear. It’s a work in progress – you have to keep on trying and refining your skills. It’s a crazy journey.”
A crazy journey that has seen Kytami steadily build an international reputation as “the live show of a lifetime.”
Kytami performs at Powell Street Festival on Aug. 2 and at Harmony Arts Festival on Aug. 5. For tickets and info: powellstreetfestival.com and harmonyarts.ca.
Laura Murray trained in classical ballet for more than 18 years and is the principal of Laura Murray PR, an arts and culture marketing agency in Vancouver.