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Kimberly Sunstrum. Photo: Anna Odeh Photography.

Talking Albums: Kimberly Sunstrum

By John McDonald on April 12, 2020

So… What are you doing today?

Most of us are filling our days with books, art, the various online video streaming services and, of course, music. Self-isolation playlists are being curated, musicians are holding online concerts, and record shops are doing album flips for potential vinyl buyers.

We asked Ottawa musicians how they’ve been spending their days, and what they’ve been listening to.

Kimberly Sunstrum is an Ottawa-based Afro-Canadian singer-songwriter whose writing is deep, evocative, and powerful. Her music is an inspired blend of the South African pop hits, classic R&B, old-time country and Motown she listened to growing up. It’s been described as delightfully impossible to pin down. She writes about the world as she sees it with themes of mixed-race identity, feminism, love, family, and queerness. The Slow Sprint is Kimberly’s latest album release.

Apt613 asked Kimberly what she’s been doing music-wise, and discovered that she’s been quite active during our self-isolation period.

Kimberly Sunstrum:

Music, for me, has always been a lifeline. Performing and playing music for a living is something I wake up and feel grateful for every day. The idea of not being able to physically share music during this time of isolation was a devastating revelation for me.

I’m glad to be in a place of taking this pandemic seriously and putting measures into action to make sure everyone is safe and staying well. But a sinking feeling washed over me as gig after gig got cancelled. I knew I needed to do something to stay connected, so I started doing livestream concerts.

Chez Right Here concerts are a casual livestream music series where I play and sing tunes on my guitar. The songs I sing at Chez Right Here are ones that I love, great song requests from folks tuning in, songs that I’ve written, as well as some of those guilty pleasure tunes you’ll never admit to knowing every word of. My goal with these livestream concerts is to bring some music into your home and hopefully try to have some chats and laughs to lift some spirits during this strange new world we’re all in. Tips are also welcome and appreciated but never expected!

Kimberly Sunstrum. Photo: Anna Odeh Photography.

My vinyl collection is a mess and impossible to organize, but I like it that way.

Generally speaking, I often find it difficult to answer questions related to favourite artists or albums. I really do listen to a ridiculously eclectic variety of music. From Janis Joplin to Rihanna, Gladys Knight to Alanis Morissette, Common to Paul Simon, Erykah Badu to Phil Collins. My vinyl collection is a mess and impossible to organize, but I like it that way.

However, when you asked me to recommend albums to listen to during this time of isolation and confinement, two albums came to mind quickly and without hesitation.

The first would be Rumours by Fleetwood Mac I wish I could remember when I first heard it, but I can only assume it was an album my parents likely had in heavy rotation during my childhood. The amount of epic bops on this album is immense. I’m absolutely listening to it as I write this.

When you listen to an album, you usually find, quickly, that there are a few songs that you know you’re more often than not going to skip over. NOT here, folks! Top to bottom, it is a win and takes you on a journey! The way it’s recorded makes you feel like you’re physically moving through an adventure—with highs (“Go Your Own Way”), mellow vibes (“Songbird”), and classic sing-along-able jams (“Dreams”). And then you get to dance your face off in your living room to “Second Hand News”! It’s nonstop goodies. I always like to end my listening session of this album with the song “The Chain.” This involves me passionately singing along while imagining myself in an incredible music video with a wealthy budget for hair flip fans and pyrotechnics—fists clenched and passion pouring.

This entire album speaks every truth of love and heartbreak.

The second album I’d have to recommend from my living room to yours would be Sade’s Lovers Rock. I’m a hopeless romantic and proud of it! This whole entire friggin’ album yanks at my tender heartstrings. It starts off with my absolute favourite love song “By Your Side.” When I first heard this song, my heart swelled. You know that feeling when you’re listening to a great tune that just forces the feels out of you? That’s what this song did to me! This entire album speaks every truth of love and heartbreak. It flips casually between those two intense feelings with grace and poise.

I know this might not seem like a typical choice during this time of self-isolation and quarantine, but I love getting dragged into those deep, dark emotions.

I know this might not seem like a typical choice during this time of self-isolation and quarantine, but I love getting dragged into those deep, dark emotions. I can only hope in this time of confinement that perhaps you might be one of the lucky ones who’s trapped in a house with your boo—the love of your life, the one that makes you smile and laugh. That gets angry as heck and then back to loved again. This is the time to make special moments: make a date night in the kitchen, throw on Lovers Rock, and watch your person swoon over your perfect song choice for the mood (eyebrows, eyebrows). Perhaps you’ve now got the courage (and power of distance) to call that crush up and when they hear “King of Sorrow” playing in the background they’ll KNOW what’s up!

The most tantalizing part of this particular Sade album is how clearly you can hear her sing. Every. Single. Word. It’s as if she’s somehow reaching out from your listening device and singing directly to you. Sing it, Sade, sing it!

These two albums have something for every deep feeling that we’re all going through! Fleetwood Mac’s song “Never Going Back Again” eerily feels like an indication of the potentially lasting effects this pandemic will have on us all. And Sade finishes Lovers Rock with a song called “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through.”

Sade knows we may not be able to see, hug, kiss, or hold hands with each other the way we did, but we can still be loved and show love in this difficult time! Call your family, send a letter to your pals, FaceTime a lost connection.

Stay well everyone, and keep connecting.

About Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours

The eleventh studio album by the British-American band, Rumours was released in February 1977. It reached the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 and the U.K. Albums Chart, and became the band’s most successful release. The singles “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” “Don’t Stop,” and “You Make Loving Fun” all reached the U.S. Top 10. Mick Fleetwood called Rumours “the most important album we ever made” because its success allowed the group to continue recording for years to come. Pitchfork wrote that “Rumours is an easy pleasure. It was personal. Anyone could find a piece of themselves within these songs of love and loss. It was not exactly a game-changer, it was merely perfect.”

About Sade’s Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock, released in November 2000, was Sade’s fifth studio album. The title refers to a style of reggae, noted for its romantic sound and content, which Helen Folasade Adu listened to in her youth. The album, which earned Sade the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album in 2002, had two singles — “By Your Side” and “King of Sorrow.” Jazz Music Archives said of the album, “Like all of their material, this is music you can rely on to reassure that there are still modern groups on the planet that can consistently make mature, jazz-influenced music with a touch of genuine class”.

More from Kimberly Sunstrum

Listen to Kimberly Sunstrum’s The Slow Sprint on  Facebook, Bandcamp, Spotify, and Apple Music or visit her website.