Winona Wilde: Canadian Folk/Country Musician Profile
Noosa Al-Sarraj (also known as Winona Wilde) is a country/folk singer who writes songs that give space to voices not often heard. She tells stories that aren’t often told. In an interview this week, we discussed her career, how she creates, and her thoughts on the folk/roots music scene in Canada.
Music always seemed to be an organic part of Noosa’s life. She says, “I do not come from a musical family, but opportunities for making music always came into my life at the right time. As a little tiny baby, I used to sing my mother’s lullabies back to her, and as a toddler, I was really good at clapping back rhythms and freakishly repeating back entire verses from the Koran, so my mother suspected there was something at play there.”
She adds, “My mother always longed for a piano in the sitting room, mostly for its aesthetic quality. When I was three years old, a piano store opened randomly in the plaza my father's pharmacy was in, the piano was purchased and the store then mysteriously disappeared.”
There have been many musical strands in her life that have exerted their influence on the music she makes now. Noosa explains, “I grew up on classical music. My faves were the moody, dense composers like Beethoven and Schumann. I spent hours every day alone with the piano, deciphering the language. To this day, I can still recognize a composer from just a few bars of music. Nobody generally cares when it happens, but it always feels like a little bit of a fist-pump moment.”
As she grew older, her musical tastes continued to evolve. She says, “When I hit my teens I got all the way into older blues artists like Ray Charles and Nat King Cole and then started to experiment with the edgier stuff like Tool and Nine Inch Nails. I loved the melodic metal my younger brother Sim listened to, he got me into Opeth, Dream Theatre and stuff like that. The heaviness of my lyrical content might have something to do with that.”
Her transformation into a country/folk artist is something for which Noosa has an interesting explanation. She says, “My parents both worked a ton so we had a nanny whom we affectionately called Nana. She may have had country music radio on all day, so my young brain had the country music of the 80’s hammered into it without my even noticing. When I eventually heard John Prine and Loretta Lynn as an adult, all of this country music came pouring out of me.”
She started writing songs when she was 11 years old and hasn’t stopped. Noosa points out, “I almost always get something popping into my head as if from a ghost or spirit in the air. It’s like it’s from someone else's brain and they can't hear it, or like picking up waves with an antenna. I refine that big ole blob of a song, rearrange it into a standard song structure, and play it over and over and over (and over) until it feels perfect, until it feels right. I have not been adventurous yet with structure, but I find that having a traditional structure gives me more room to say more outlandish things.”
Noosa has no illusions about the difficulties that a musician can face in life. She says, “It kind of feels like I have had nothing but challenges in my life as a musician. Somehow I keep following the little clues that tell me I am on the right path. Things like trauma, poverty and homelessness make for good material, but in reality it is very hard living.”
She’s full of praise for the way in which the folk/roots music scene has evolved. Noosa explains, “Since commercial radio is getting increasingly monocultural, I think that independent musicians are getting a lot more wiggle room to speak up and out about the things that they believe in. Folk/roots is great ‘cause everyone is so lovey about it.
If I had known all of these people and festivals existed when I started law school, I probably would have quit instead of suffering through it. The sense of community I have felt from the folkies is unlike anything on this earth. It has made me a better person.”
One achievement of which Noosa is proud is winning the 2017 Kerrville New Folk songwriting competition in Texas. She elaborates, “That's pretty cool because I am one of the few Canadians to ever win this 40-year competition, as well as being a person of Iraqi heritage winning an Americana thing, which is kind of funny to me! I've been hustling every day for the last four years, so this event has helped me get enough attention that people in the business are finally returning my calls. It’s very sweet!”
In the immediate future, she’s going to be releasing her album Wasted Time on October 6th. After that, Noosa says, “I’m going on a grand epic tour in November with Nashville songwriter Ben De La Cour, and doing a huge loop of North America. Our Canadian dates will be November 23rd - Dec 2nd and you can check our website for those details.”
There are four essential elements for her when it comes to recharging her creative batteries. Noosa says that she needs, “Nature, gardening, sleeping and fizzy water. Lots of fizzy water.”