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Popular songstress plays Pender

Entertainer Joëlle Rabu was once a waitress in the family restaurant where she sang to late-night customers. Her proud brother changed all that.

Entertainer Joëlle Rabu was once a waitress in the family restaurant where she sang to late-night customers.

Her proud brother changed all that. He talked about his sister to a Vancouver City Stage director, saying he believed she had the voice of the legendary French songstress, Edith Piaf. The director just happened to have a script. Within a month, an incredulous Rabu was rehearsing for the stage show, Piaf, Her Songs, Her Loves. This first experience on stage in 1983 earned her two Jessie Awards, and the show ran for more than a year. Not bad for someone who had studied eight years of classical piano but had absolutely no voice training.

On Feb. 28, at 8 p.m., Rabu brings her talent to the Pender Harbour Music School in Madeira Park for a show The Time of Our Lives. Critics have raved over the power and purity of her voice, particularly during the delivery of her constantly touring hit show Tonight Piaf. Rabu says each song is a vignette. The songs are all about life and about people. They appeal to all ages. While on tour she noticed that the audiences represent not only aging Piaf fans but a whole new generation who is enjoying the music.

For her Pender gig, she will sing songs from her Piaf show, original material from her new CD, an African song and a "surprise medley of songs I'm not allowed to sing," she says. "It gives me a chance to let loose on different styles."Her lyrics are in both French and English. Singing in French comes easily. She was born in Winnipeg shortly after her parents arrived in Canada from Brittany, France. She also knows German, has acquired sign language to communicate with a deaf brother-in-law and is one of the few singers to use Esperanto in her European performances. Rabu points out that over 20 million people worldwide are able to speak the global language. Rabu now lives in Nanaimo, which she describes as a jazz mecca. She celebrates the release of her sixth CD entitled Hold Me: Songs from The Time of Our Lives. It includes Piaf favourites and original material she has developed as a songwriter, starting with the 1987 release of Passport, which earned her a Juno nomination for best female vocalist of the year. She will be performing with what she calls "family," composer and pianist J. Douglas Dodd, with whom she has collaborated on songwriting, and Charlie Knowles on fretless bass, cello and vocals. One of the challenges of Rabu's career is that it's difficult to categorize her music. Is it world music? Show tunes? The Pender Harbour Music Society's line up this year is eclectic - a conscious decision from the programmers.

"We try to offer lots of different kinds of music because we know the tastes on the Coast are varied," says the Society's Marg Penney. "We try to program for the whole Coast, not just Pender Harbour."

The neighbourhood is becoming synonymous with jazz, following the September Festival. And this year, the series has featured everything from a classical string quartet to local children's entertainer Graham Walker. The Arrogant Worms, the singing comedy team, come to the Harbour Community Hall on March 12. Alexander Tselyakov, a Russian born pianist, appears on April 18, and the season closes with the popular Circle of Voices, a blend of contemporary and traditional gospel. One of the most popular performers in the 20-year Music Society series has been classical pianist Robert Silverman who returns every two years or so to try out new ideas before going on the road.

Other popular acts who have made return visits include Sweet Papa Lowdown, A Touch of Brass, harpist Rita Costanzi, jazz guitarist Bill Coon and young pianist Michael Kaeshammer. Tickets for the Joëlle Rabu concert are $20, available at John Henry's, Harbour Insurance, Talewind Books and Coast Books, as well as at the door. For more information, call 604-883-2403.