Interview: Isis Giraldo Poetry Project

Simon Millerd, Jane Chan, Isis Giraldo, Mike Bjella, Kai Basanta

Simon Millerd, Jane Chan, Isis Giraldo, Mike Bjella, Kai Basanta


Interview with Isis Giraldo discussing one of her musical collaborations, the Isis Giraldo Poetry Project.

Q: Who are you? Describe your band.

A: The Isis Giraldo Poetry Project is an ongoing creative process of self discovery and exploration.   Does that sound abstract enough for you?

I guess, the main thing that would describe who we are is the fact that I started this project about two years ago when I found a stack of my father’s poetry.  I hadn’t really been able to read his words, and the first time, I found it so hard to see his writing, and try to abstractly understand who he was and what he was writing about.

That led to me realizing that I wanted to work through this abstract relationship with my father in the medium I feel most comfortable in.  Composing.  So I got together with my closest friends, my family, the people in my community that I love and trust and wrote some music for us to try out. We did a small house show…. Kind of an invite only thing.  I didn’t really feel able to show this music to the outside yet.  And slowly, over these two years, I guess I’ve become a little more comfortable performing this music and letting other people in on what feels like the most personal project I’ve ever written for.

So….to answer the question more precisely. We are musicians, composers, a daughter that is getting to know her father through his poems, and most importantly we are a band of friends. Friends I trust to go on a journey of self-exploration with. They play my messy notes, and make music out of them.

Q: How would you position your musical style in relation to the broad term “jazz”?

A: Jazz. The word that will forever follow musicians that improvise I suppose.

I would say, jazz is a language that we learned.  That we listen to and admire, that we talk about both positively and negatively. There have been musicians that have devoted their careers to making music that we now classify as jazz.  I don’t know if this band is mature enough or has been around long enough to really be associated with any kind of genre.  We are learning through each other, we are exploring.   Our end goal is not “jazz”, it is communication of something  that cannot be put into words. It is a feeling, it is our voice, influenced by so many things. When improvising everyone brings to the table a part of who they are…. How can we put that into one word?  It’s impossible to do. I could list off our influences, but what’s the point?  Every song is different. We are students of communication through an art form.  Hopefully we can take our audience along for the ride.  What they call the ride is up to them.

Q: Discuss the creative process behind one specific composition.

A: There is a similar creative process behind most of the music so far.  I guess the main thing that it starts with is hearing a melody that goes through every phrase of the poetry.  From there I start to hear harmony that I want to accompany the words.  Oftentimes I hear voices…. Ha that sounds like the start  of a bad horror film…. But voices, like a choir.

I don’t really think about it in terms of time signatures, but mostly it’s about the natural rhythm of the phrase.  Often what ends up happening is that the rhythm of the phrase creates a pattern that I like and from there I hear some kind of repetitive line, or harmony.

In many pieces, I guess sometimes I find the words to be strong and so the music can reflect that.  In “Suplicio” there is a lot of improvising although there is an underlying bass line through it. In “Nos Acechan”, there is also a kind of juxtaposition of loud and almost out of control with a melody that is slow moving  and seems to sometimes drag behind the beat.   The end is supposed to release us a little bit, and let us soar into something we can groove on.

I think something that what I’m trying to work on is the idea of tension and release.  The idea of quiet intensity, as well as loud intensity.  They are both a part of life, I want them both to exist in the music.  It’s a hard balance though… and one that will probably take me a while to understand. Both in life and in music.

Q: Any non-musical elements that inspire your composition?

A: Anything.  I think humans are like sponges.  I mean… We are complex sponges.  But I guess I think we take so many things in, and we also release so many things.  I personally  feel so much, all the time (that’s something I’m trying to work on).  I feel so much but sometimes can’t really express what I feel except through emotion, or through composing.  It is my way of dealing with a lot of things.  With sadness, happiness, jealousy anger, regret, love and the list goes on.  Life inspires me as much as it depresses me.  A sunset, a kiss, a tear… haha…. Now I’m starting to sound like a redundant poet.   But I guess what I mean to say is that only with music do I feel like I can really express all the things that inspire me.

Q: What draws you to poetry? 

A: I won’t lie and say that I’ve been passionate about poetry. To be honest, poetry has always been something I think of as a beautiful art form but it was never something I spent time trying to develop. The reason that draws poetry to my music is mostly because it is made up of my fathers words. He was a poet, and his words never really got out of his notebooks. The first time I read them, it showed me a little more about who he was, and what he spent his life developing. So I made a decision to devote some of my time to putting music to his words, and sharing that with whoever wanted to listen.

Q: Is there a difference between working with lyrics and integrating poetry, not necessary written for music, into your compositions?

A: Ha…. yes it can be tricky.  There are so many things to think about.  First of all…. my own take on the poetry might not even be what my dad was referring to.  But since I don’t have the option of asking him… then I guess I just have to run with my gut instinct.  With what I know of him… the memories I have of him.  It’s a really personal process…. writing for this band.

Then, there’s the aspect of having the melodies make sense with the phrase of the poetry.  With the words I want to accentuate etc…

It’s funny…. breaking it down like this.  I guess sometimes I think the best things I write are the ones I don’t really think about.  The ones that just happen when I hear the words, the ones that just come out of the words.  When you start thinking about it too much…. it’s almost like it’s harder to write music, and you just start writing an exercise.

If I was to put it into some kind of best case scenario, I think I would say that hopefully I can get to a mental place where the music influences the words, while the words influence the music.  If it all comes together like that, then it’s quite easy.

Q: How is your music culturally influenced by living in both North and South America, or travels elsewhere?

A: Like I said before.  I think we are kind of like sponges.  This pertains to what influences us as well.  Has living in Colombia influenced the way I write?  yes…. has listening to Stravinsky, or Monk, Erykah Badu, or Bach influenced me?  yes.  They are all from completely different places, time periods, and genres… yet they are all artists I have learned from and will continue to.  So to say that one style has a bigger impact on me is just not the case.  It’s all the there.  Waiting to be used.  Waiting to be drawn upon. If I had to put it into a metaphor….  it’s like all of the styles we listen to are different colours.  The more we listen to them the stronger the colours become in our own paintings.

Q: Where can we listen to your music? Are you performing at Résonance in the near future?


I’m going to be in Banff writing a piece for choir and strings in January.  I think we will probably be premiering this piece at Resonance in early march.  You can also catch some of the musicians from the project and myself playing at the Mile End Poetry Festival, 6 April, with a show that recently got premiered, “Medusa Shaved.” It is a collaboration between myself, writer Klara du Plessis, and Nada Wood, dancer.  There will probably some combination of us collaborating and putting it up a Resonance in the near future too.

Q: What does the name Résonance evoke for you?

A: I’m going to limit my response to words that come up: community, growth, connection, family, belonging, creativity, warmth, delicious, charged,  real,  inspired.