Backpackers often use a symbol of our national identity — the Canadian Flag — as a way of fostering goodwill. Similarly, supporters of the LGBTQ community fly the rainbow flag as a way of promoting inclusiveness, diversity and a sense of Pride in society.
Three local lesbian singer/songwriters combined these two powerful symbols to market their music on their recent tour of Germany — the Queerly Canadian tour — featuring cabaret-folk couple Auto Jansz and Andrea June and poignant alt-country-pop-rocker Kate Reid.
The ladies wanted to set their tour apart.
“Otherwise we’re just three women songwriters, what’s the hook?” says Reid, who lives on Bowen Island. “We wanted to see if we could draw more folks in if we up the curiosity piece a little …
“My music is queer-focused, it’s the lens I write through. Auto and Andrea and I talked about whether we wanted to market that piece and we all thought it was a good idea. We wanted to target the LGBTQ community in Germany.”
The tour took them to Kappeln, Hamburg, Berlin, Kiel, Husum and Norderstedt, playing seven shows in two weeks at pubs, cafes and cultural centres. Two of the stops were designated for women only, something that’s not very common in North America.
“Women’s centres used to be so big back in the day, and they’ve all since shut down,” says Jansz. “I remember everywhere we went, when you drive into town there would be a women’s centre, you knew there was somewhere you could go. Now it’s easier for people to go out and be where they want to be, but some of the older generation don’t want to hang out with guys, maybe they’ve had some bad experiences and have just shut the door.”
Reid’s common-law-spouse, Maike Engelbrecht, is a native of Germany and helped the ladies book the tour.
“I contacted about 100 venues across Germany,” says Engelbrecht. “But I didn’t get many responses. I did get one response right away from a gay and lesbian organization in Kiel and they suggested we use an agent. I don’t think normally this is something he would take on, but he helped us book two venues and also helped promote the tour.”
Overall, the ladies say their performances were met with a great response, even if most of the people didn’t understand what they were singing about most of the time.
Reid, whose performances are very conversational, had Engelbrecht translate her introduction to each song so the audience would at least know the subject matter, even if they didn’t get all the jokes and double-entendres. And even though it seems Germans are reluctant dancers, the trio agree the scene was pretty similar to here at home.
“In Victoria, we tend to play in places like Caffe Fantastic on Kings, Orange Hall, Spiral cafe — smaller venues. Most of the places we played in Germany had stages, lighting, the big sound,” says June.
“Visually, it all pretty much looks the same,” says Jansz. “You’ve got your bull dykes, your tom boys, your femmes, it seemed like it was all pretty much the same style, at least.”
They did notice a big difference in LGBTQ representation in German advertising, with prominently placed anti-homophobia ads and gay men in beer ads throughout the larger centres.
“It’s not like the streets are paved with gold over there, they don’t have legally sanctioned same-sex marriage, and there’s a lot of other legal stuff that we have that they don’t,” says June.
The Queerly Canadian tour poster features a red and white Volkswagen van emblazoned with a beaver decal driving through the Rocky Mountains — a concept designed by Reid’s creative director Bronwin Parks (of Feisty Entertainment in Vancouver) that clearly (and quite humourously) says lesbian Canadians in Germany.
“Slap a beaver on a Volkswagen and call her done,” says Jansz about the poster.
“It’s pretty white/straight out there,” says Reid. “We wanted to market it as a queer tour. Because we’re all lesbians, we wanted to make sure it was part of the name.”
After discussing a few ideas, they left Parks to conceptualize the poster and the overall theme of the tour.
“We were trying to come up with something that said queer and Canadian because people don’t know who we are. We figured we’d exploit this Canadian thing — what ever they think that is. As long as they’re interested in it, we’ll use it,” says June. “We came up with all these ideas and we narrowed it down, but the poster designer told Kate our ideas were lame and that we should just call it Queerly Canadian, so we went with it.”
“To me, ‘Queerly Canadian’ is a lot about exploiting our national identity to get people to the shows. After all, nobody in Germany had ever heard of us, but they have heard of Canada … But I don’t think self-consciously about my nationality very often. I prefer not to try and ‘make sense’ of it — pin it down and identify how my Canadianess is expressed and all that. I think as soon as you try to pin down the meaning, to define it, you start shaping it into a simplified, narrow version of itself. The same with ‘queerness.’ I could talk about how I express my ‘queerness’, but I would prefer to leave it complicated for myself. I don’t need to articulate it. That is not to say I’m not into labels or anything like that. I’m a lesbian, and that is not some vague thing. Everyone knows what that means, at least on the most basic level. But in terms of identity, that is a lot more complicated.” M
To pre-purchase a copy of Auto Jansz and Andrea June’s upcoming album, visit gofundme.com/9w29s