Review | Buffy Sainte-Marie

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Buffy Sainte-Marie @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 7 Aug

Still angry, still inspiring, at 71 years old Buffy Sainte-Marie owns her stage and as she stutter-struts Tina Turner style from one side to the other, if there were a battle for hearts and minds she knows she has surely won from the very first song.

A Canadian Cree, Buffy Sainte-Marie has spent her life writing songs that celebrate indigenous North American culture; that criticise and expose racism and injustices; that celebrate nature and condemn hate. In the past this has led to her being black-listed by White House incumbents Nixon and Lyndon B Johnson, and to being labelled as a folk singer – “I’m just a singer songwriter, but I never told anyone,” she quips tonight, remembering her European tours with the likes of Paul Simon. To prove her statement she performs her best known, and award winning, songs… mostly made famous by others. ‘Up Where We Belong’ which you may have heard bashing out of numerous wedding djs after featuring in An Officer and a Gentleman; the peace movement’s anthem ‘Universal Solider’, most recently a live favourite for First Aid Kit; ‘Until It’s Time For You To Go’ covered by pretty much everyone with an ear for a croon from Nancy Sinatra to Cher.

Sainte-Marie’s contemporary output veers more into rockabilly meets country in a scuzzy bar where they look at you funny when you ask for a white wine spritzer, please. It’s a mis-match to the venue: the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s genteel acoustics suffer to cope with the heavily layered rock guitar. Sainte-Marie’s soundwoman is at stage left and she wrestles with her desk to bring the warring levels in line. Sainte-Marie’s current repertoire retains her early campaigning spirit: she cautions respect for the environment and condemns the “greedy guts” monstrously consuming the Earth’s resources.

Her genius comes through most clearly in the quieter, introspective songs. ‘Cod’ine’ about the tragedy of addiction is heart-breaking. ‘Cripple Creek’ Sainte-Marie performs using one of the oldest musical instruments in the world, a mouth organ. She sings, speaks and laughs through the mouth bow, summing up her always playful, always insightful, indelibly innate and incredible talent.

Arike Oke

Photographed by Jeff G for the girls are.

Buffy Sainte-Marie was performing as part of the Southbank Centre and Antony’s Meltdown programme. She is one of the most covered artists of her generation. Which versions of her songs do you know? You have artists as diverse as Elvis and Neko Case, Streisand and Joe Cocker to pick from…

 

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