An 11-year-old girl from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, signed a five-
record deal with Sony Music. That announcement might strike dismay
in the hearts of those still trying to understand the huge
popularity of another youngster, Charlotte Church, who some say
sings like an opera diva in distress.
However, Aselin Debison is no Canadian Church clone by any means.
Crowds at Boston's Prudential Center Christmas tree lighting
ceremonies the past two years received a preview of Aselin's
charmingly direct folksy delivery.
She is a young girl who sounds like a young girl, with an
untrained freshness and natural communicativeness in both her high
and low notes. (As Aselin declares: "I get my high notes from my mom
and my low notes from my dad.")
Being aware of her roots is natural for Aselin. The tradition of
Celtic music is a strong one in Nova Scotia, involving the history
and culture of her beloved home. The wind-swept coastline, sunsets,
and mountain ranges of the province's Cape Breton Island have graced
many a tourist brochure.
But its natural beauty cannot entirely hide its social ills.
Aselin's great-grandfather was a miner, "working with the pit
ponies," she says. Last year, the final working coal mine in Nova
Scotia was closed, killing an industry that not long ago provided a
livelihood for thousands of workers and leaving the region prone to
unemployment and its attendant social problems.
Two years ago, at a rally for 1,000 protesting miners, Aselin
sang the folksy song "The Island" and reduced the crowd to tears
with the chorus, "We are a people as proud as there's been."
She has also sung at local hospitals, nursing homes, and a
benefit event encouraging foster parenting.
Her charity work undoubtedly helps her appreciate her roots,
resulting in a genuine fervor in the folk material she sings that
impresses local experts.
One devotee of what Canadians call "east coast music," Rachel
Jagt, says a traditional number like "Farewell to Nova Scotia" gains
a moving "deep melancholy" when sung by Aselin.
Her singing is "indeed representative of Cape Breton music in
particular and Nova Scotia culture in general," says Andrew David
Terris, executive director of the Nova Scotia Cultural Network. "Not
only does she sing the songs and ballads of Cape Breton, but she
also comes out of the longstanding Cape Breton tradition of young
people singing for friends and neighbors at ... kitchen parties and
Perhaps that's why the Sony recording deal was not even Aselin's
first. Warner Music had signed her to a previous contract, which
resulted in a Christmas album, "The Littlest Angel," produced by
award-winning Canadian folk performer Bruce Guthro. …