Empire strikes back

Sapphire Empire bring Jazz Fusion to Manitoba Music’s New Music Wednesdays

The origin story of local jazz fusion group, Sapphire Empire, is so delightfully serendipitous that the main dames behind the project can't help but laugh through the telling of it.

“I used to stare at Selci on the bus on my way to school,” Gabriela Cardenas says of her bandmate, both singers in the University of Manitoba Women's Chorus. “She always looked so weird and interesting. One day we both ended up at a Jupiter Storm show...”

“…And we were dancing,” vocalist Selci pipes in. “And you told me you played guitar and I was like, 'cool, wanna join my band?'”

Despite being absolute strangers before the initial meeting two years ago, they got together to jam.

“It must've gone well, 'cause here we are,” Selci says.

Cardenas and Selci, the latter of which goes by one name, a lá Cher, slowly expanded to include drummer Ben Kidd, bassist Lucas Redekop, pianist Anatol Rennie and saxophonist Eric Bachman.

“It's been hard getting the right people but now, these are the right people,” Cardenas says.

“It's a unit now,” Selci adds.

All members study jazz at the University of Manitoba except for Selci, a classical faculty student, and Redekop, who is fresh out of high school.

“It's cool for me because it's helped bridge the gap onto the jazz side, which in school is really separate,” Selci says. “I had barely dabbled in jazz at all, I studied classical theory my whole life and I've been getting into electronic music and experimental stuff. I feel like I bring an experimental flavour to the band... it's a balance.”

While Cardenas and Selci are most often the ones coming up with lyrics and melodies, it is very much a collaborative effort.

“Jazz, being all improvisation, plays a huge part in our songwriting because that's where [the other members] come from, and I like to jam,” Selci laughs.

Improvisation also finds it's way into Sapphire Empire's live performance, where they keep jam sections open.

“You vibe off the energy that you're getting [from the audience], " Selci says. “And if there's more of a chill vibe, then you're going to keep it pretty chill.”

Sapphire Empire has the unique ability to absorb the traditionalist technique and theory learned in school and transform it into a very contemporary sound.

“You can mix creative process with the technical stuff,” Selci says. “Like trying to write a new section and nothing's coming, you start to think 'this chord progression would make sense here.' And sometimes little things you play just happen to sound great. There's this quote from Debussy: 'there is no theory, you merely have to listen.' And he obviously knows everything about theory.”

Cardenas simplifies their approach even further.

“It's like we go to school for music, but our band is like recess.”

Catch Sapphire Empire when they play Manitoba Music's New Music Wednesdays July 2 at Ozzy's and on July 7 at the Purple Room.

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