A Q&A with Canadian Juno Nominated Composer Brigitte Dajczer

  1. Congratulations! You’ve had two documentary releases this spring that we would love to learn more about. One of them was “The Day I Had to Grow Up”, which premiered at the Kennedy Center and is now available on Amazon Prime. Can you tell us about your collaborative process with the filmmakers behind this call-to-action film?

    I had just delivered two cues for a feature-length film that directors Stefano da Fre and Laura Pelegrini were working on, when they sent me a picture lock of “The Day I Had to Grow Up” and asked me for feedback.

    I remember watching it and being struck by the strong sense of self, demonstrated by these six young adults. Ranging from the ages of 17- to 19-years old, they recounted stories about losing friends to gun violence in school, how social media has shaped their generation, and their outlook on the future vis à vis climate change. From my studio in Montreal, I witnessed their call to action. I was blown away.

    I immediately called Stefano and told him I loved it. He asked me if I’d be interested in writing some music for the documentary. I said yes.

    We agreed that the music had to remain ambient; it must support the dialogue-driven documentary. This was a change from the feature film we were currently working on, which relied on orchestral scoring to encapsulate the characters’ lives, emotions, and existential moments on screen.

    For “The Day I Had to Grow Up”, we went with electronic instrumentation, opting for layers of analog synths, sequencers, and strings. I crafted most of the tracks using my Arturia Mini Brute 2, along with touches of the Teenage Engineering OP1 Synth and some string pads. I thought of Steve Reich’s use of tape loops to create phasing patterns. Through multiple layering of different impulses from the Mini Brute, I created a landscape that would come in and out of phasing patterns. It was subdued enough that once the tracks were imported into the film, they wouldn’t take away from the dialogue. But if the music was heard on its own, the listener would be able to enjoy the intricate details, especially with headphones. You can listen to one of the tracks here.

  2. In celebration of the International Women’s Day (March 8th, 2022), you also scored In Full Voice (FR: À Pleine Voix), released by The National Film Board of Canada. It is an intimate perspective on the journey of six women, who have a common desire to share their visions of Islam. Tell us about your creative process and sound palette! How did you bring each of these women together musically?

    Back in December of 2020, film director & journalist, Saïda Ouchaou-Ozarowski, was looking for a composer to score music to her feature-length documentary, “In Full Voice”. I had just released my fifth studio album “Territoire”, under the artist’s name of Briga. Saïda heard it on CBC radio, and being Algerian-Canadian, she immediately recognized North African percussions accompanying the melodies. It was the sound palette that she was looking for. We did a couple of interviews to see if it was a good fit, and I was very fortunate to be invited onboard.

    Regarding the musical direction, I was given carte blanche.

    I acquired a current cut of the film and watched it a few times. With each wave of familiarity, I sketched out a leitmotif for each woman. It was important to honour her individuality, to showcase the complexities inherent to her personality. I wanted to outline her humanity. After all, don’t we all have the power of humanity within us?

    Once everyone had her own theme, I proceeded to the next question: How do I bring these six women together musically? What is the common driving factor that brings any of us together? I concluded: Voice, and rhythm.

    We are born crying and gasping for air. We hear our mother’s voice, we learn to speak and once grown up, we hope to speak out and be heard. I asked solo vocalist Lamia Yared to add her magic to the soundtrack, and sometimes I joined her as back vocalist.

    For rhythm: I went with the North African rhythms that you often hear percussionist Tacfarinas Kichou play in any of the Briga albums. The percussive instruments range from Guellal to Darbouka, to Bindir and Karkabou. Google them: they’re amazing instruments! It’s just the kind of rhythm that gets you up and dancing. As Shakira once put it: “Hips don’t lie”. And may I add, “if the music makes your hips move, the music doesn’t lie either”.

    Through these discoveries, Saïda and I found our collaborative groove. Our workflow and communication were clear, concise, and joyfully symbiotic. Music and image fell into place effortlessly. Here’s a track from the film.

  3. Knowing that you have extensive specialty in folk music from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, we would love to know more about your journey in world music! What sparked your interest? What artists did you get to collaborate with and learn from?

    It’s really an upbringing thing. My father emigrated here from Poland, and he used to play the piano after he put the kids to sleep. I remember listening to a music you didn’t hear on the radio. There was Klezmer, Jewish songs, songs from Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. It wasn’t until my adult life that I put two and two together. By reliving his musical nostalgia on the piano, my father had inadvertently passed it on to us.

    After finishing my Master’s degree, I longed to learn to play on the violin my father’s folk songs from the Old Country. By then, my father had passed away, so I started The Briga Project and “jammed” with local Montreal musicians from the Polish, ex-Yugoslavian, Romanian and Bulgarian diaspora. Throughout the years, I continued my studies while touring through Germany, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Tunisia, and Turkey. I collaborated with musicians specializing in these folk styles such as:

    Czech avant-garde violinist, singer, and composer Iva Bittova. Now based in New York, USA, Iva gained international success with her ground-breaking, creative compositions and performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkuLyXUj4DY

    Algerian born singer-songwriter Enrico Macias. Now living in France, Mr. Macias flies to Montreal from time to time to perform for the Sephardi community. I am the concert master of l’Orchestre Sépharade Andalous de Montréal, and we have the honour of accompanying him during these concerts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbvY5YXGxTQ

    Kanun (Turkish zither) virtuoso and composer Didem Basar. After completing her studies at the Istanbul University State Conservatory and obtaining a master’s degree at the Marmara University, Didem relocated to Montreal and now tours the world performing traditional music, as well as her own compositions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNHIo7kF0eI

  4. An awesome thing about a lot of our members is that they wear many hats in music – and so do you! What was it like being a touring artist and what doors did it open for you in the scoring / recording scenes?

    After finishing my studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music, I paid my way through university by being a sideman in different projects: sitting in orchestras, playing folk music, rock and roll, jazz, fusion, global roots, etc.

    I was touring and doing a lot of studio work. During this period, I started composing my own music under the name Briga. I released and toured four albums, earning a Juno nomination in 2018 along the way.

    Word got out that I had good sight-reading and improvisational skills, and this brought me gigs as a violinist playing in classical orchestras, recording for feature-length films, and as a soloist for game composers.

    My first video game credit was playing violin on Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent (2006). Because of my extensive knowledge in folk music from Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Turkish Classical music, I was hired to play violin in the Arabic Maqam system for the shooter scenes in the desert.

    After Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent game, I continued freelancing and worked on many more AAA Video Games (Resident Evil 7 & 8, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, League of Legends). During that time, I wore many hats: musician, composer, recording engineer, writing string arrangements and orchestration.

    After 5 years developing my production skills, the time was right, and I opened my own studio. As lead composer, I delivered music for features and documentaries (The Slippers, Food 3.0), television (Texas Metal – MotorTrend HD network) advertising (BBDO, Fred & Farid Group, Golin) and of course, video games (Fracter, Into the Echo).

  5. Having such a unique background, I can’t help but wonder what kind of music you love writing when you have time to create for yourself?

    Composing commissioned works for a client is technical work. You can’t wait for inspiration to hit; you deliver a perfect mock-up as a demo, and you deliver it on time no matter what.

    Regarding writing music for myself, I consider it a form of creative self-care, an act of self-nurturing. The music that I create then is far removed from the pressures of the commercial realm. There’s nothing technical about it, it’s purely an emotional and mysterious state of being. It happens when it wants to happen. I find that this state of inspiration often comes when I have more free time, for example when I’m in between projects. At that moment I can let go of the perfectionist and obsessive professional I am when delivering content in the music/entertainment industry. I can start taking time to re-connect with my true self, my family, friends, and my community.

  6. Lastly, what are in the works now? Any projects you’re currently working on that you can talk about?

    I’m presently working on a couple of video games and I absolutely love it! Not only are there cinematics and main themes to be scored, but writing non-linear dynamic music is always a refreshing change.

    I’ve also started writing the next Briga album.

    Check out Brigitte’s profile in our AWFC directory.

    Interview by Esin Aydingoz

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