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Annie Sumi explains ‘solastalgia,’ and why she named her new album for it

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Photo by Liz Lott.

The term “solastalgia” is described as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home.” It’s also the title of singer-songwriter Annie Sumi’s new album and the backdrop for the songs contained within.

“[Solastalgia] was written in this book called Earth Emotions by Glenn Albrecht, who’s like an ecological philosopher,” she explains from her new tiny home in upstate New York. “He created this book essentially to help explain a lot of the emotions surrounding this age we live in, where people are becoming more and more awakened to how fragile our own existence in this ecosystem is.”

Reading the book had a profound effect on Annie.

“To have a language to put to some of the feelings I’d had was really powerful,” she said. “Maybe that’s silly. It was so powerful to just have a word to explain something. But to me, the word ‘solastalgia’ encapsulated [how] so many moments in my life had been holding me, had changed and suddenly you feel yourself with this longing for the way it once was. So that really just stuck with me.”

The songs on Solastalgia were written while Annie was at the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity through their Musicians-in-Residence program. The experience brought Annie in contact with fellow musicians from around the world. More importantly, it brought her in contact with Sleeping Buffalo Mountain.

“I would climb the mountain every day, and I remember feeling this insane sense of clarity coming down,” she said. “I would go into my little cabin, start playing, and it felt like I was churning something. Every single day I made some progress. It was a beautiful time to be collaborating with people but also creating.”

The songs Annie created were solo-written, but she was able to workshop them with her fellow musicians-in-residence.

“Emily Kaplan (of The Great Lakes Wind Symphony), who’s a flautist from the States, and Jessica Borroughs from England (The Moricosta String Trio), who plays cello, were my first experience of performing one of those songs. That was really special!” she said.

Working with producer Neil Whitford, Annie set about to realize her creative vision for the songs.

“I definitely had many concrete ideas,” she said. “But then with any great collaborative album, you get a bunch of amazing players in a room together, and suddenly it becomes larger than you could have imagined. That to me is the magic of being in a studio with people.”

Annie Sumi is an artist who is very connected to the landscape, and it’s on full display with the song: “Over The Hills.”

“I think of the songs as ‘mapping of landscape,’ so in my own spirit, the songs move through different landscapes in Canada I’ve been able to wander about. [‘Over The Hills’] really holds the spirit I find out in eastern Canada, being on those hills looking over the ocean.”

The song “Mother” holds a double meaning, with its relationship to a physical mother and to Mother Earth.

“I love the playfulness with the word that you could take it as one or the other,” said Annie. “Also my grandmother’s health has been deteriorating over the last couple of years. [I was] reflecting on what that looks like, you know. I’ve been witness to death before in my life. But thinking about the specific relationship between my mother and her mother, and then me and my mother and her mother. There’s a really special thing there and wanting to allow somebody to know you’re there to show up for them. Then taking that same metaphor and applying it to this earth and wanting to constantly reiterate that you’re there to show up for her too. It felt like a good way of holding both of those very similar stories in the same hand.”

Family is very important to Annie, who was strongly affected a few years ago when she and her family accompanied her Japanese grandfather to the Slocan Valley in British Columbia, where he was interned during the Second World War.

“He took us to some of these sites where he remembers fishing when they were in the internment camp,” she explained. “And it’s funny ’cause it segues into a collaborative project with Brian Kobayakawa (Creaking Tree) about this. We both have a similar family history on our Japanese side. His father and my grandfather were both interned in the Slocan Valley. It’s been on my mind and heart recently because Brian just went out there and took a whole bunch of footage [of where] our ancestors were interned. That’s been a really, really special journey, and I’m still unpacking some of the teachings that [were] there.”

Annie and Brian will be mounting a sound installation at the Japanese-Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto this February.

“That’s going to be another big release in the world!” she said.

Given Annie’s family history dealing with racism during the Second World War, she recognizes the disturbing parallels to today’s society, she said.

“We have a long way to go in Canada,” she said. “In a lot of ways on the global stage we kind of pump ourselves up about being very progressive. But when it comes down to it, there’s a lot of work to be done. What I’ve come to realize in the process of unravelling this content with Brian is, everyone has some story of oppression in their ancestry that’s a very interesting place to come from. In my Japanese ancestry, it wasn’t all sippin’ tea and doing nothing! There was a lot of pain caused by those people as well. Nobody is without some stain in their history. To me, looking at history is so important because it gives you the opportunity to face something and say, ‘We will not do that again.'”

The album Solastalgia was recorded in the Spring of 2020 with a release set for the fall of last year, but Annie held off.

“Life being what it was, it didn’t feel right,” she explained. “Now [with] it being out in the world, I do feel like some sort of creative catharsis. By releasing it, it’s out of my hands and now [it’s] on to the next creative endeavour.”

For more information on Annie Sumi and Solastalgia, go to anniesumi.com.

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