Kenna with the keys

Burima blends Bowie and Black Sabbath on solo album

Kenna Burima has been bringing music to Calgary stages for nearly a decade. You’ve probably seen her in bands like Woodpigeon Beaver Squadron (formerly Brenda Vaqueros) and The Pygmies or playing ’90s dance-hits in Mega-Dance Explosion. She’s the one on the keys (sometimes keytar) with an amazing voice and lots of energy.

Seeing her rocking out you might not know that she was trained at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music and then did her artistic diploma here in Calgary (starting at Mount Royal and finishing at the University of Calgary). She started playing classical piano at the age of seven and has been in love with it ever since. She admits to having “obsess[ed] over the music of dead white guys for more than 20 years” and although her music is fresh and cool for audiences today she still can’t help notating a lot of what she does on 12-stave manuscript paper.

How did a classically trained pianist come to write such cool contemporary music full of character and thoughtfulness? In the early years after finishing university she felt shadowed in the high standard of the music she studied and saw “no possible way [she] would endeavour to even begin to think of writing [her] own music.” Even though she still experiences a human dose of self-doubt writing her own songs “ceased to be so out of reach after a while.”

Her classical training has given her another curious love. She finds herself asking how “a masterpiece like Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is any different than Beethoven’s Fifth in regards to its status in our culture.” So she loves to cover albums in their entirety like David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars the soundtrack of Pretty In Pink and of course Black Sabbath. She calls herself a student of music and whether it’s a guy who’s been dead for some 250 years or more contemporary geniuses she’s fascinated by it and has no doubt let it influence the music she pens.

The result reflects her personal story. Styles of classical jazz folk garage-rock and even metal sneak into the music. Working at the Calgary Folk Music Festival doing a jazzy morning radio show on CJSW playing in rock bands and devoting herself to music have certainly played a part on her new self-titled album. Her songwriting also holds a key to her past. “In terms of aversion therapy I found that if I was obsessing over something — a part of my past an addiction a nightmare — it would find its way into a song and then cease to hold sway over me” she says.

She’s been working on the album since 2011 but the story of its creation goes back further. “Joining Woodpigeon and Brenda Vaqueros simultaneously was probably one of the most important steps that led me down the path to here” she says.

The result is astounding. She “collected musicians whose skill would make it possible to direct them easily… but also trust that they were bringing their own thing to the process.” The musicians on the album are jazz drummer Jon May (Black Coffee Cowboys Scotty Hills Jason Spooner Sinistrio Gerry Hebert Quartet The Polyjesters) bassist Simon Fisk (Michael Kaeshammer Jerry Granelli Gordon Grdina Chris Gestrin) guitarist Colin Mitchell (Günther Thomp! Faebles) bass clarinetist/saxophonist Mark DeJong and Foon Yap (Foon Yap and the Roar Woodpigeon) who create “an engaging surprising and somewhat unsettling show.”

After years perhaps even a lifetime of playing other composers’ music Kenna has taken the brave step of sharing her own.

“I mean every note every word every sound that’s on that album” she says. “I’m not trying to be anything but the messy weird person I think I am. I guess the comforting thing in thinking about what other people are going to hear in my music is that everyone is probably as messed up and weirded out as I am.”