Good ReadsBella Cat Ready to Ignite the FUSE!

Bella Cat Ready to Ignite the FUSE!

Bella Cat Ready to Ignite the FUSE!

All photos by Andre Gagne.

In recent years Bella Cat has been on the prowl around the Ottawa music scene, shocking audiences with the intensity of her performances. When the petite 24-year-old with golden hair steps up to the microphone people often don’t expect what comes next. With the soul power of Aretha Franklin and the rock wail of Janis Joplin, this cat can howl! Now she’s ready to set fire to the Westboro FUSE Festival.

Bella grew up in the little town of Chelsea, Quebec. She was greatly influenced by the nature that surrounded her. Summer days would be spent jumping off the rock behind the local grocery store to cool off in the Gatineau River and she could often be found painting in her backyard. As a Chelsea kid, she liked to dance and recalls coming into an appreciation for music only in her early teens. Singing wasn’t necessarily her first choice. In fact, some might say she was quite literally driven into it.

“My mother picked me up from school when I was 12 and told me she signed me up for classes,” Bella tells Ottawa Life. “She was always pushing me to grow, not always willingly, but today I am very thankful.”

Bella Cat (21 of 33)

Since then, once a week, every week, she’s been taking lessons at Rob’s Music. Early on, she remembers her confidence levels being fairly low. She would put herself down, didn’t feel her voice was good enough. Shows would turn into fights with those around her, the singer lashing out to cover up for her stage fright. A chance meeting with her idol –Toronto, now Nashville, country singer Lindi Ortega– when Bella was 19 invigorated the young singer.

“Lindi told me that I have to be happy playing no matter where I am. I realized then I could not continue singing the way I was. I decided from that day on I would dedicate my time to writing my own songs. If I could just help one person every time I sing on stage and that one person can find peace in whatever they are battling then I have done my job.”

Bella Cat (2 of 33)A few moments into any Bella Cat song, you can tell the work has paid off. Despite the early reluctance to embrace her voice, when she really put the work into it she realized it was something she was made to do, something she wanted to continue doing for the rest of her life. She started publicly performing more at small festivals and cites her music teacher, Rob Clarot, for recognizing her talent and taking care of her first bookings in local piano bars.

Clarot would train the singer in a theatre jazz style, teaching her pieces from musicals like Chicago. This led her to the blues and inspiration from vocalists like Etta James and Billie Holiday. Her first boyfriend was also an influence. He showed Bella rock and roll.

“He was that classic cute boy with long hair, light blue 70's jeans, and a band shirt. It was his positive and happy energy when he danced to this music that rocked something inside of me,” she says, adding that the two are still friends today.

Bella Cat (33 of 33)
Bella Cat owns the stage at a recent performance at Zaphod's.

Growing up she was given the nickname “Cat”. An email from her cousin one day which read “I love you, Bella” would provide the missing piece to a stage name she has continued with throughout her career. For her, it is more than a simple pseudonym; it’s also a persona, but one not far from who she is in her regular day to day life.

“I do tend to step into character when I hit the stage. It’s my raw energy and honest performances that I think people are most attracted to, though. Today I find people –including myself– want to hide who we are when really we are just covering up our originality and beauty. It is important for me to stay as real as possible.”

Bella Cat (27 of 33)Bella released her first album, Corrupted, in 2014 to much acclaim. The Revue said she had “the most enthralling, soulful voice in the area.” Not too shabby for a vocalist who, only a few years before, had little confidence in her own talents.

Take “Shy Woman” from her debut. In the first minute the singer moves from smooth and, within the same breath, twists her vocals inward to release a sound that could be coming from a totally different performer. You can hear it on the title track or on tunes like “Swampy Water”. There’s this grunge to her voice, like she put Tom Waits, Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nick Cave’s voices inside a blender and hit the mix button. She moves effortlessly from silk to sandpaper and back again.

The singer plans to release her 2nd album in 2016. Recorded in Wakefield, Ottawa and Chicago and taking on a more soulful edge than Corrupted, the album features work by three-time Grammy nominee Billy Branch and James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield.

Bella Cat (15 of 33)

Bella looks back on her performance at the International Jazz Festival in Haiti as one of her favourites. She sang her opening line and 5,000 people went ballistic. “Bella! Bella!” they chanted. What can you expect from her coming 7 p.m. Westboro FUSE performance on Friday June 10?

“My shows are never a disappointment, they are full of high energy and can be extremely emotional. People get overwhelmed and generally rise for a standing ovation, they see the hard work and talent my band has put on for an incredible performance,” Bella says. “Audiences are compelled to enter my world as I write songs about truth, love, hurt, and just all around everyday life experiences. People can expect a Tina Turner performance with vocals that sound like Eartha Kitt and Janis Joplin.”

FC3Ottawa Life’s Festival City Series will provide a unique look at some of your favourite summer events.We’ll go beyond the music with artist interviews, volunteer profiles, concert reviews and spotlights on the tastes, sights and sounds of the festival season. Your city! Your festivals! Your summer! Like a good sunscreen, Ottawa Life has you covered.

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