International Guitar Night 2012: Canada’s Joel Fafard

Acclaimed Canadian finger-style guitarist Joel Fafard journeys to South Africa for the summer International Guitar Night 2012, also featuring South African Canadian Natasha Meister and veteran six-stringer Tony Cox.

Canadian finger-style guitarist Joel Fafard plays in South Africa

This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 11/25.

On the day of our interview, British Columbia may be “gloomy and overcast” as Joel Fafard reports, but the man is certainly not. The award-winning guitarist plays acoustic instrumental guitar, interprets Southern roots and blues, and is billed as “the soul of a purist and the showmanship of a seasoned entertainer” and “singing with the sexy, sandpapered-sounding vocal style of the new-generation bluesman; telling his hilarious between-song stories with the confidence of a late show host delivering his monologue; and when he lets rip a solo on his resonator guitar, it’s easy to hear how he once earned both a Juno nomination and a Western Canadian Music Award for his skills on the axe”. Perhaps more importantly, he’s a musician who has truly found his musical voice.
It comes out in his answer to the last question – does the 44 year old veteran (his birthday is today, 18 November) have any advice for aspirant musicians? “I do have some, actually, but it’s a bit of a story,” he says, “It’s about the turning point in my career. I was going to retire in 2001. I was fed up with banging my head against the wall, but I decided to make one more record. My wife encouraged me, saying, ‘If you make one last one; make it who you truly are’. I had always wanted to make a purely instrumental record, but I never thought that would sell. The other records I had made didn’t do that great. I thought, ‘She’s right; I’m not going to worry a damn thing about what other people might want.’ The funny thing was, when you follow your heart, and show it – that’s when other people get into it.”
What people “got into”, first in Canada and then as far afield as Europe and New Zealand, was the combination of Fafard’s performances and tales – and his skill as a finger-style guitar player. “What defines fingerstyle from regular guitar playing,” he explains, “Is that you can accompany a lot of the parts with bass parts at the same time. You’re using both hands to play, so there are always two things going on at the same time; sometimes three, if you’re doing something percussive with the guitar body. The first time I heard someone play like that, I was about seventeen years old. I don’t remember who the player was, but I remember hearing it and thinking, ‘Wow. That’s what I want to be able to do’.”
‘You’re using both hands to play, so there are always two things going on at the same time.
Sometimes three, if you’re doing something percussive with the guitar body.’
   – Joel Fafard on fingerstyle guitar playing technique
Fafard is also a Canadian-renowned slide guitarist and his album “Three Hens Escape Oblivion” was nominated for a Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent of our South African Music Award), with the same release winning the Western Canadian Music Awards “Outstanding Instrumental Recording”. He studied music at Capilano College in British Columbia, then studied guitar under Jack Semple, played with the Manitoba-based band Scruj MacDuhk, and has recorded both vocal and instrumental albums. His other award nominations include for the Canadian Folk Music Awards and the International Acoustic Music Awards. His music has been featured in television shows and he co-scored a series (“Middle of Somewhere”), as well as being commissioned by the Regina Globe Theatre to write a one-man show of “tunes with tales”.
Although Canada is known for its folk festivals and a healthy circuit of performance venues, asked about the instrumental, folk and acoustic music scene in Canada, Fafard responds with a quip. “You can live a pretty peaceful life in Canada as an instrumentalist, even after a few awards. You can still get out of your door and go to buy groceries.” He notes that there is Canadian government support for musicians, but that it is regionally-based. “Where I happen to live, there isn’t any support, but I guess I’m fine with that. I moved from an area that had decent support. I’m fortunate to not be at the beginning of my career, and I didn’t like jumping through all the departmental hoops anyway.”
Fafard comes to South Africa to co-headline the summer 2012 edition of the International Guitar Night, the brainchild of local award-winning fingerstyle hero, Tony Cox. The two players met in Canada, and Fafard has nothing but praise for his troubadour colleague. “We shared a common touring agent in Eastern Canada,” the Canadian explains. “They decided it was a bright idea for us to do the same tour one time, although we didn’t know one another before. We played about twelve shows together, and you get to know a person that way. I’ll say this about Tony Cox: never once before have I attended every show that someone on a tour has played. You hear the warm-up, you see some of the show… But with Tony, I could not miss a single moment of his music and his playing. I watched every show.”
Fafard didn’t know fellow Canadian-born guitarist and singer Natasha Meister before the International Guitar Night booking, but says, simply: “I’ve had a listen to her now and, wow! What a fantastic musician. I can’t wait to hear her live. I don’t know much about South Africa, to be honest, and part of what I’m most excited about is getting to know the place, and finding all the mysterious things that I’m sure are there. I always hoped that music would take me around the world, and I’m very fortunate that it has.”
This article by Evan Milton first appeared in the Cape Argus “Good Weekend” of 2012/ 11/25.
Joel Fafard plays the summer 2012 International Guitar Night South Africa with Tony Cox and Natasha Meister  (Friday (8pm), Saturday (6pm, 9pm)  and Sunday (6.30pm) from 30 November to 1 December and from 7 December to 9 December at the Olympia Bakery, Kalk Bay. Tickets R185 from Also at Die Boer, Durbanville (11 December,  021 979 1911); Dorp Street Theatre, Stellenbosch (11 December,  021 889 9158); George Museum, George (14 December,  072 762 6003); Pezula, Knysna, without Natasha Meister (15 December,  083 629 2969); Overstrand Municipal Auditorium, Hermanus (16 December) – shows 8pm; tickets R100 – R165 More on and

3 responses to “International Guitar Night 2012: Canada’s Joel Fafard

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