http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainm ... story.html
Just found this story and pic of Neema in a Calgary Herald article--not sure if it was posted already...
There is nothing quite as romantic as being a restless spirit.
So it has obviously been a gift to Sony Music's publicity department that Montreal-born singer-songwriter NEeMA's backstory is filled with enough tales of travel and intrigue to fill five biographies. Whether it be working with street kids in Egypt, living with Tibetan monks in India, helping to manage a First Nations community in the wilds of the Northwest Territories or surfing in Australia, the 30-something songwriter's wanderlust has led to what she refers to as some "intense experiences."
Her spiritual curiosity caused her to seek out both the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa while backpacking in India - not bad names to have dropped into a bio.
Meanwhile, a "chance encounter" with the iconic Leonard Cohen five years ago led to a friendship and apprenticeship of sorts under the master songwriter and poet, which is a fact that has received more than a little attention from the press as NEeMA promotes her sophomore disc, Watching You Think.
"I've had this spiritual-seeking journey or whatever since I was very young," says NEeMA, on the phone from a tour stop in Winnipeg. "I started wondering about God and life after death since I was 10 or 11. That's always been a very deep interest of mine, or question. So, I think that was an influence on seeking out such people."
Her oddly capitalized one-word name, Egyptian and Lebanese descent and undeniable beauty all conspire to present the singer in a certain exotic and mysterious light. But in conversation, NEeMA is friendly, chatty, open and gracious about her career path, particularly when discussing how the Cohen association has helped her creatively. Cohen, alongside Sarah McLachlan producer Pierre Marchand, was an adviser during the recording of Watching You Think, part of a small inner circle of mostly Montreal musicians and producers who helped shape the folky leanings and poetic ambitions of the 12 songs.
But her relationship with the enigmatic Cohen, who also supplied the portrait of NEeMA for the cover art of Watching You Think, goes deeper than mere production advice.
"With the writing of these songs, he's been part of that process since the beginning," she says. "I started sharing my work with him. So he's been kind of a teacher or consultant, supporter, mentor - whatever you want to call it - good friend for the entire process of this album."
NEeMA says she met Cohen by chance roughly five years ago. They live in the same neighbourhood in Montreal and would run into each other at the cafe or in the park, where the two would eventually take her dog for a walk. Soon, he became "probably the biggest influence on my life in the past little while."
"When he was in town, we started to hang out and share ideas about all sorts of things," she says. "Eventually, I started to actually share songs with him. The friendship is what emerged first. After that, I started to share my music with him and my writing with him. He started drawing me. But that all came after."
You would have a difficult time finding any recent press about NEeMA that doesn't focus on the Cohen connection - which may have overwhelmed a lesser album. But Watching You Think is a strong sophomore effort that finds the artist chronicling both inner and outer turmoil in broad, poetic strokes. Perceptive and stripped-down backing was provided by musicians such as Arcade Fire bassist Tim Kingsbury, pianist and arranger Tom Mennier and tabla master Gurpreet Chana, who has played with Nelly Furtado, among others.
The result is a pristine album of folk music with some poppy world-beat shadings, none of which takes the focus off of NEeMA's dulcet vocals and poetic musings. She even makes "Romeo & Juliet," Dire Straits' underrated tale of romance, so convincingly her own that many have assumed she wrote it.
It's all pretty impressive for someone who had such a late start in songwriting and singing.
NEeMA was a poet, dancer and academic before turning her attention to music. She didn't seriously study voice and guitar until she was 25. Roughly 10 years ago, she managed the remote First Nations community of Wekweti in the Northwest Territories alongside tribal elders. Once a month, she would make the 200-kilometre trek from the remote town, which has a population of fewer than 150, to Yellowknife to play cover songs at open-mike nights.
Her stint in the North came after nearly a decade of world travel - everywhere from Egypt and India to Australia and Los Angeles. It wasn't until 2007 that she independently released her debut, Masi Cho. While it showcased both the First Nations and Tibetan influences she soaked up through her travels, NEeMA admits she largely turned over the reins of the project to more experienced musicians. Despite all the high-profile help, she was more confident with her abilities and vision this time around. Many of the 11 songs were written while on tour. "Lost in L.A.," a song about class division and the pursuit of material goods set in the city where the singer lives part-time, was actually massaged during a show at Calgary's Ironwood a few years back. By the time she hit the studio, all the songs had been fully road-tested.
"There was a handful of people that I shared the songs with, and, of course, the musicians in the studio," she says. "This one stayed very, very close to me. It was almost like a baby in the womb. I only sought opinions from people I had enormous trust in."
Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/entertainm ... z16dQgp0Ht