Ilene Barnes

CD 68.855 

„Measuring six foot two, I am sure you understand
my difficulty in remembering when I was a little girl“,
jokes Ilene Barnes…

Ilene Barnes / GuitarYet, given her history and the great part that her childhood plays in her songs, it is highly unlikely that she has forgotten. Ilene Barnes was born in Detroit, Michigan, of an unconventional Afro American family, tinged with the essences of Native American, East Indian and Irish Blood.

The colours and fragrances of the Amazon, more precisely Surinam, awakened her conscience where the family moved on assignment, her father being a tropical disease researcher for the United Nations.
Paramaribo, the capital of ex- Dutch Guyana, conjures up images in Ilene, of a family living with six aquariums, filled with mosquitoes for scientific research, a far cry away from the colourful tropical fish she dreamed of. Ilene’s first musical souvenirs, invariably, evokes the liberty felt in hearing tropical birds. The imitations learned from these feathered friends have been adapted and incorporated into her music. The giant iguanas and slothes, which regularly visited the backyard, became the scenarios and inspirations for her writings.

These moments, having moulded her sensitivity into songs, have since been chased from this Garden of Eden, into what is better known as, nostalgia.

Ilene BarnesAfter Surinam, her parents transferred to Barbados and then Jamaica, where the sun never sets without its vivid spiced colours. Knowing Ilene however, one would think it was not the tropical sun she searched, but the profound shadows it cast, in which the young girl took refuge and set her imagination free.

At ten years old, Ilene Barnes darkened the pages of her diary with stories that raised the hairs on her mother’s head, in particular, one of a little girl knocking on the wooden door of her coffin because she wanted her teddy bear. So sure was she of herself, at this young age, she confirmed to her father that she wanted to write and live in France. Her parents at a loss, placed her in a convent in the hands of a nun, who taught her the rudimentary basics of the guitar, an instrument that would become as indispensable as the pen for her.

It was not until later, by listening continuously to Leonard Cohen, James Taylor… that she started to acquire a style for writing. All this converged to form her into a person completely apart from the rest, starting from her first television appearances, where she interpreted Christmas songs at her parents’ numerous parties and where the likes of Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and the prime minister of Barbados Errol Barrow made appearances.

Ilene Barnes / PortraitFrom this comfortable milieu, Ilene Barnes continued on to Boston University and Smith college studying Kakizome, (Japanese calligraphy) contemporary theatre with Jerzy Grotovsky and Len Berkman (founder of the Sun Dance Festival) and African dance with choreographer / anthropologist Dr Pearl Primus. Music however, remained her favourite pastime as she gave courses to children in a school created by Yehudi Menuhin. Ilene Barnes prides herself with having gone to the ”school of hard knocks”, referring to the Jazz clubs where it is do or die amidst the noise hubbub and thick curtain of smoke, where one must make do, and juggle with the unexpected.

One night for example, being scheduled as opening act for Nina Simone, and Ilene was obliged to not only open, but also sit in for the artist who failed to appear. Wages were modest, but her education was priceless.

On moving to Europe between London, Paris & Amsterdam, Ilene Barnes finally recorded her first album Set you free, but it was only after signing to IC Music inc., with the album Time in 2003, that her career was finally launched in the music industry. Her amazingly strong and fragile voice is carried along by a folk/rock style of story telling, written with a great finesse of detail, in which she constantly searches a response to her eternal questions, such as “how to face the fatality of times past”, or “how to reconcile with our other selves”. In Yesterday Comes, her new album, these same subjects haunt her, pushing her to a level of expression even finer & higher, obliging Ilene Barnes to get under the skin of her ills, to penetrate the fundamental strangeness of this beautiful chaotic world of ours.

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