Barber, the Toronto-raised chanteuse who began a career in folk music before crossing into jazz, has always written her own songs.
Now based in Vancouver, she has spent the last few years learning French, after feeling embarrassed during an appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival that she couldn’t say anything beyond a few basic phrases.
Then a friend translated one of her own songs into French and she sang for the first time in the language of love.
“Something happened. I had a kind of revelation that night that I wanted to sing in this beautiful language, the language of our country and there is so many great French songs and they’re so romantic,” Barber said in an interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show.
She began to consider creating a French album and had to find songs she felt she could deliver in a personal way, she said. That got her thinking about how difficult it can be to interpret someone's else's songs and make them her own.
One of her choices was Sous le ciel de paris, a song made famous by Edith Piaf.
“I think Edith Piaf was the first French singer that I really listened to. I think that’s the case for many anglophones — she’s kind of the gateway chanteuse,” Barber said.
Though her next album will again be original material, Barber said she believes adding French songs to her repertoire has been a liberating experience.
“For me as a singer, there is almost a permission to sing more passionately” she said. “What comes across in the song is the passion, the romance and certainly the nostalgia.”
Barber performed two songs during her interview with Q.