Lorraine Segato teams up with homeless street musicians on Songs From The Lowdown

"I understand what it is to be a wanderer. Everybody should have a safe, secure place to rest their head at night."

How did Lorraine Segato, of Toronto 80s dance-pop hit-makers the Parachute Club, get involved in the plight of homeless street musicians?

The way she tells it, it all started in 2007, when she was asked by the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee to put together an event “to help reframe the way people saw housing- and poverty-challenged people.”

She partnered with related charities Sistering and Sketch to find talented homeless street musicians who could play with the Parachute Club (as the house band) at the Berkeley Church, a concert that sold out and also fed the 300 homeless people who had been invited. 

Fast-forward to 2015, which saw the release of director Shelley Saywell’s TVO documentary Lowdown Tracks. Saywell had attended the Berkeley Church show and was so inspired by it that she spent several years getting the funding for the film and fine-tuning the concept.

Now we’re getting the CD soundtrack, Songs From The Lowdown, released to coincide with National Housing Day on November 22 to raise awareness about the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. Segato produced it, and all the songs are original, written and performed by street musicians. 

What is it about homelessness that means so much to Segato? 

“As a musician who’s toured for years, I understand what it is to be a wanderer,” she explains. “I believe everybody should have a safe, secure place to rest their head at night, especially in a country so affluent as ours. It should be a given. 

“There’s often talk of street people having mental health issues, but what is not talked about enough is that the constant stress of not knowing where they will sleep is devastating to a fragile mind and exacerbates the situation tenfold.”

Segato says the experience of producing the songs was a lesson in authenticity.

“There are so many different ways to be an authentic musician. The songwriters use their songs for strength and healing in their often unmanageable situations. The songs are raw and uncompromising in their expression of human loneliness, despair and hope. They’re the opposite of the Auto-Tune cut-and-paste pop culture that the music business thrives on today. 

“It’s an anthropological view into the world of the dispossessed and the left-behind, and we wanted to create the CD so they wouldn’t be forgotten. It’s their digital footprint.” 

All album proceeds go back to the musicians who took part. Songs From The Lowdown can be purchased at lowdowntracks4impact.com.      

carlag@nowtoronto.com | @carlagillis

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