Alexa Dirks, better known as indie-pop singer Begonia, has been a force on the Winnipeg music scene for almost 20 years – but she’s been obsessed with music since childhood.
“When I was a kid, I was always actively thinking about music,” Dirks says, even though no one in her family was very musical.
She sang in front of an audience for the first time in Grade 2, when she had a solo in the Christmas concert. “I was like, ‘this is my calling,’” she says.
Dirks grew up in a religious context, in a Mennonite family. As a teen, she sang as part of her high-school worship team.
“I have an interesting relationship with my past and my involvement in the church, and my relationship to that is not cut-and-dry. I have many fond memories, but I have a lot of hurt attached to some of those times,” Dirks says. “It has definitely shaped who I am, but I’m working through some of that stuff.”
She met guitarist Joey Landreth through playing worship music. “I met him at 15, 16, and he was already a superstar. I thought, ‘I’m too old. This is not my lane. He’s already so far. I’m a singer, not a guitar player,’” Dirks says. “If a teenager came up to me saying the same thing, I would say ‘that’s ridiculous. You can do whatever you want.’”
Her first paid music gig involved singing with worship leader Jon Buller at the Burton Cummings Theatre, with Landreth, as well as Meg Dolovich and Ryan Voth. Together, they transitioned into the secular music scene, forming Little Boy Boom in the late ’90s. They had a weekly gig at Hooligans Neighbourhood Pub (now The Handsome Daughter). They would play covers of blues and R&B songs. Covering other artists allowed Dirks to experiment and find her voice in a low-pressure environment.
Dirks would eventually leave Little Boy Boom to form Chic Gamine with Andrina Turenne, Annick Bremault, Alexandre Sacha Daoud, Benoit Morier and Ariane Jean in 2008. Leaving behind Little Boy Boom was a hard decision to make, but Dirks says “that prepared me for the career I have now in every way.”
Following Chic Gamine’s last album in 2015, Dirks conceptualized Begonia. Over the years, she had created a vault of music for herself to perform. Dirks put together an EP of her best material and sent it out into the world.
She knew her music was really connecting with people when she was at Rainbow Trout Music Festival and heard people singing the music at another campsite.
“I was like, ‘this is real,’” Dirks says. “‘I’m living the career I’ve been dreaming of.’”
Since then, Begonia released her album Fear in 2019, which became a Winnipeg favourite. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her tour was cancelled, but she was able to play two shows at the West End Cultural Centre in February.
“It felt huge for me then, but now, upon reflection, it is even more meaningful, because I don’t know when I’ll be on the stage again,” Dirks says.
Published in Volume 75, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 7, 2021)