Ben Caplan, performer of the year | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Ben Caplan, performer of the year

Halifax’s folk troubadour is taking his new album to the world.

Ben Caplan, performer of the year
Andrew Donovan

No matter the stage, the place or song, folk powerhouse Ben Caplan seeks to thoroughly entertain. "It's important to treat every show like an island," he says. "Every gig has to be its own unique moment and I strive to reinvent the show every night, even if it's the same set list, musicians and songs."

A consummate performer, Caplan has a distinct intensity, onstage and off. With his dedication to no-bullshit discourse, and devotion to questioning the happenings of humanity, he leaves listeners feeling philosophically enriched. His inspiration is two-fold: where are we and what's gone wrong?

A balladeer of love and social justice, Caplan's re-emergence into new musical territory with his sophomore album, Birds With Broken Wings, released in September, encourages listeners to interpret as they will. "This art has come out of my thinking and experiencing of the world, some of that is my emotional life, some is my political and philosophical life," he says. "But I never want to make didactic music. These songs were a struggle with how to articulate things troubling me and my yearnings for justice and the potential refections we all bear witness to without naming them, but still maintain poeticism."

In contrast to his first album, 2011's In The Time Of Great Remembering, Birds sought to explore what was possible to achieve in a studio, but isn't possible to achieve live. Admired for his dynamically entertaining stage presence, crafting his album presented challenges. Yet with a catalogue of 33 collaborations and engineers behind him, Caplan says he's grateful for the experience. "I don't think in 2015 anybody has a single genre on their iTunes or Spotify, I listen to a ton of music and a big sound that sets me apart is the Eastern European and Klezmer approaches," he says. "I wanted to find musicians and arrangers familiar with the accordion, clarinet, zimbalem and darbuka, so we could authentically dig into the sounds."

Caplan wrapped his 53-date North American tour last month. "Over the past two years, I've been getting that recognition and appreciation, " he says. "The Canadian shows made us feel like total rockstars and the American shows were frequently humbling."

The entrancing and almost haunting musicality laced throughout Birds pairs well with Caplan's electrifying howl. Authenticity also comes through as Caplan mingles in and delicate harmonies alongside his partner, Taryn Kawaja. Last month, Caplan played with Symphony Nova Scotia. He proposed to her during the finale.

Caplan now heads to Europe for a 15-week tour. For a man with seemingly no down time, it's easy to see just how much Caplan adores what he does—and we do too.

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