Described by Leonard Cohen as "brilliant, funny and stunningly skillful,” Winnipeg's Ael is the unlikely conjurer behind a mesmerizing catalog of alt folk. Ael started learning English in his late 20s, and launched his songwriting career in his 50s releasing a collection of 52 original songs in 2018. Drawing from his eclectic life that began in Poland and led to a doctorate degree, a Canadian championship in spoken word, a weekly CBC opinion column, and a love affair with the Canadian Shield, Ael plans to save our blue dot one haunting, hilarious, tragic, and brutally honest song at a time.
Most of all, Ael wanted to sing, but lost his voice at six. His stepfather’s mantra was: “Children and fish have no voice.” His stepfather meant what he said. Silence was enforced. Around the same time, Ael was an altar boy in Poland. One day, the priest asked him to join Marcin, the soloist singing hymns during Sunday mass. At the podium, Ael froze, and his voice tumbled and lodged in his throat like a rock slide. Marcin elbowed him to be quiet, and he stayed that way.
Ael grew and earned his keep. A hot-dog vendor, a black market money exchanger, a communist soldier, and a part-time revolutionary. After escaping Poland, he picked fruit and vegetables in Norway. Then a refugee in Germany, he worked random illegal jobs, occasionally lifting gourmet food items to indulge himself and his children. At twenty-seven he crossed the ocean.
In Canada, Ael began with an ESL course and a career as a dishwasher and later waiter at Red Lobster. That was enough to motivate him to go back to school and study very very hard. Four years later, he took home a medal for the highest graduating GPA in the Faculty of Science at Trent University, and a graduate scholarship offer from Harvard, which (a long story) he declined, and headed to Vancouver.
Grad school at Simon Fraser brought a whack of grants and scholarships, research projects, academic publications and conference presentations, breathtaking west coast nature, and finally a PhD. Throughout his schooling, Ael studied all the good stuff: continental philosophy, semiotics, developmental psychology, and medium theory.
Then Ael discovered the Vancouver spoken word scene, and his academic career slowly lost its battle with poetry. As a poet, he performed all over North America. Poetical highlights include two victories over the unbeatable (Vancouver Olympics opener) Shane Koyczan, being the subject of a full-length CBC documentary, and receiving several arts grants to create a spoken word CD. At the same time, Ael started a poetry slam series in Winnipeg, and founded the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, now Canada’s largest spoken word festival. After winning the title of 2003 Canadian Performance Poetry Individual Champion, Ael stopped performing poetry, picked up a guitar, and started writing songs.
During the slow, painful process of learning the basics of voice and rhythm guitar, Ael presented a weekly opinion column on CBC Radio, wrote a film script, created two Fringe Fest shows (winning Best of Fringe for one), hosted various arts events, toured with a radical marching band (The Flaming Trolleys), and flew his motorcycle up and down winding mountain roads. Ael also founded and ran Winnipeg’s infamous live music venue, the CYRK. Oh, and not to mention falling in love and becoming an instant father of another tribe of magical children.
All the while, Ael’s canoe has paddled to many wild places with some up close and personal animal encounters, including bears, moose, and orcas. He has also over the last decade and a half religiously sampled his weekly beer quota at Winnipeg’s famous Times Changed bar. These are some of the adventures that have helped Ael help others, in his 10 plus years practice as a psychologist. Phew!
All in all, half a century has crawled by, the continents have drifted further apart, and Ael has finally excavated enough of his long buried voice. Then he asked himself a question: Is it possible to start a songwriting career in one's 50s? To find the answer, he set up a live recording studio, figured out all the internet voodoo, convinced his wife Jessica Gonzalez to join the journey, and at age 52 started rehearsing some of the favorite songs he wrote over the previous few years.
To kick off his songwriting journey, starting on January 1, 2018, one song a week, Ael recorded and released demos of 52 original songs.
'Darek (Ael) is an artist of the truest definition. With his 52 songs project, he has demonstrated amazing growth and sincerity as a songwriter. His genuine lyrics and honest delivery is truly infectious. My recording partner Lloyd Peterson and I (Rusty Matyas) became instant fans upon hearing his music. We hear elements of Nick Drake, Peter Bjorn and John, Dan Reeder, Neutral Milk Hotel, and even Of Monsters and Men, as well as the playfulness of Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips. The only thing we feel his music lacks is any pretense or jaded attitude. This is such a refreshing thing to hear! We would be thrilled to have the chance to make a record with Darek'. - January 2019 - Rusty Matyas (Imaginary Cities & Producer @ Paintbox Recording)
‘Darek Dawda's audio file is brilliant, funny and stunningly skillful. I was greatly entertained and impressed. Please thank him. He's really good.’ – Leonard Cohen (April, 2009 in a private email after a friend sent Leonard a song I wrote for him inviting him to play at my Winnipeg venue the CYRK)
‘He’s so gifted with language and he’s so funny. He’s perspective is just so unconventional. … Here is this guy who’s not just learning to speak English, he’s inventing English! He treats the language almost like it was a paintbox. How often do you run across someone who speaks English in an entirely original way? … He pulls the audience in and he magnetizes them. That night he performed I was looking around, and everyone was just smitten by him.’ – Terry MacLeod, CBC Radio One, in Winnipeg Free Press (March 2007)
‘Darek Dawda is an artist that takes nothing for granted and in doing so with each of his poems and each of his songs provides with the opportunity for revelation.’ – RC Weslowski, President of the Vancouver Poetry House
‘Darek Dawda is a mouth-watering combination of powerful honesty, delightful rhythms, and brain-tickling metaphors.’ – David Silverberg, Producer of the 2006 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word
‘Awestruck by the Canadian Shield and other wonders, Dawda weaves surreal nature imagery – stars, clouds, sky, beaches, wind, rain – into his poems and songs. But there’s also love, fear, sex, death, ex-Catholicism and mosquitoes.’ – Alison Mayes, Winnipeg Free Press
‘The most prominent exponent of spoken word in Manitoba.’ – Maurice Mierau, Writer & President of the League of Canadian Poets, Winnipeg Free Press (February 25, 2007).
'Please just put down the guitar. Just for 5 minutes. Give me the guitar! Give it to me! No one will get hurt.' - Jessica Gonzalez, Best Friend and Wife (December 2018)