Over 50 years after her death, Edith Piaf remains the epitome of passion in musical expression.
When she sang La Vie en Rose or Non, Je ne Regrette Rien, it was the sound of life itself spilling out onto the stage, and her recordings are a timeless reminder of a woman abandoned as a child but destined to become an eternal symbol of her native France.
Over the last year, Wolfville singer Ariana Nasr — half of the folk-jazz duo Andy and Ariana with singer-guitarist Andy Flinn — has been performing the songs of the singer known to fans as the Little Sparrow.
From the Halifax Jazz Festival to her hometown’s Deep Roots Music Festival, she’s been bringing her own touch to Piaf’s catalogue, and on Saturday she celebrates the French music icon’s 100th birthday with a pair of Ariana Nasr Chante Piaf shows in Halifax and Wolfville.
A 2 p.m. matinee at the Carleton Music Bar & Grill in Halifax will be followed by a show at Wolfville’s Al Whittle Theatre at 7:30 p.m. in honour of the occasion.
“You only turn 100 once! So we decided to do two shows in one day,” says Nasr, noting that 1915 was a good year for singers, with these shows coming one week after Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday and during a centenary year for the ultimate torch singer, Billie Holiday.
“And it was the same year as my grandfather, and we already had a 100th birthday celebration for him on Dec. 1, so it seems like a good month to turn 100 in.”
Nasr became a fan of Piaf, who died in 1963, when she was 19, working in a Toronto food kiosk with a Polish boss “who loved pickles and Piaf” and often played her music in the kitchen during the day.
She kept Piaf’s songs in mind while playing violin and saxophone with other musicians in Toronto but hadn’t thought about doing her material in earnest until just over a year ago.
“I was inspired by a performer from Quebec that I met who performed a song I recognized from Piaf’s repertoire,” she recalls.
“It jogged my memory, and I thought it was time that I learned some of her songs.
“The first one we tried was Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, which is absolutely one of her most famous songs, and when we’d play it at a pub or somewhere, people just would not stop clapping. So then I thought maybe I should learn another one.”
La Vie en Rose led to Milord, and soon she and Flinn had a full set put together, with the songs sung in French and Nasr discussing their origins and meaning.
“I borrow a lot from her, from watching videos of her and listening to the sound of her music and definitely the language, but to mimic someone precisely, that’s not exactly my intention,” she says of her approach.
“I’m not an actress; it’s more about the feeling of the music and this amazing repertoire of wonderful songs.
“She had a certain energy that you can feel through her recordings, through videos of her performances, even still today. I definitely try to tap into that energy, that feeling, for each performance. But it’s not about trying to become Piaf, it’s more of a musical thing.”
And although it takes a lot of commitment to give Piaf’s songs their due, Nasr’s not too concerned about doing two emotionally demanding performances in one day, with an hour-long drive in between.
“If anything, those performances give me more energy so I’m not worried. I’ll be fine, I can do it! And Andy can do it too.”