Article Via Adrian Chamberlain / Times Colonist
How long has Buffy Sainte-Marie lived incognito in Hawaii?
More than 40 years.
Post-baby-boomers may say, “Buffy who?” But if you were around in the 1960s, you likely remember Sainte-Marie’s Universal Soldier. She composed and originally recorded the famous antiwar anthem, although it was Donovan who scored the big hit with his 1965 version.
Today Sainte-Marie — who gives a free outdoor show Wednesday at the University of Victoria — divides her time between an isolated farm on the island of Kauai, and performing 150 international concerts annually.
Only a few confidants know her true identity on Kauai, where she lives under an assumed name. Sainte-Marie moved to the island decades ago at the height of her fame to live a quieter life.
“I’m very isolated. I’m kind of a hermit,” she said cheerfully from Hawaii this week. “I’ve lived here for almost 50 years. I live with 21 goats, a sweet little horse and a kitty cat.”
Sainte-Marie performs at UVic as part of a cultural component hosted by Congress 2013 (a.k.a. the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences). The university is hosting the annual congress, which is expected to draw 7,000 delegates and is Canada’s largest academic gathering.
The 72-year-old musician, educator and social activist will be joined by her band of First Nations musicians from Manitoba: Cree bassist Leroy Constant, Lakota/Ojibwe guitarist Jesse Green and Ojibwe drummer Mike Bruyere.
Sainte-Marie is of aboriginal descent, born on a Cree reservation in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley and later adopted and raised in Maine and Massachusetts.
Saint-Marie’s concert is a highlight in a week of free musical performances at Congress 2013. Also on the bill Wednesday at Celebration Concert Stage are Art Napoleon and Maureen Washington. The concert starts at 4:30 p.m.
As well as performing, Sainte-Marie will speak to conference delegates about her Cradleboard Teaching Project.
The initiative, which she founded in 1997, develops school curriculums intended to foster pride and self-identity within First Nations students. Essentially, Cradleboard — a high-profile venture endorsed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton — promotes the teaching of core subjects such as geography, science and history with an aboriginal slant.
Once limited to kindergarten to Grade 12, Cradleboard now focuses on post-secondary education. Says Sainte-Marie, who holds a PhD in fine arts: “I’m teaching universities how to do it themselves with regard to their own aboriginal population.”
She said the University of Saskatchewan now offers a First Nations-flavoured science course. Giving an example of how this might work, Sainte-Marie said sound can be studied using aboriginal instruments such as a drum.
“We don’t teach people how to play the drum. But we teach them why, [when] you hold a drum over a fire or a lightbulb, why the sound changes,” she said.
“Sound doesn’t have any ethnicity, so how come it’s always taught through a European perspective? … We learn that everything good was invented by the Greeks, including science, but that’s crazy. Because the Mayans were doing optics and acoustics and astronomy and math before the Greeks had even thought about it.”
Sainte-Marie’s show-business accomplishments aren’t limited to Universal Soldier. In 1982, she won an Academy Award for composing Up Where We Belong, a Jennifer Warnes/Joe Cocker duet featured in the film An Officer and a Gentleman. Her latest disc is Running for the Drum.
In Victoria, Sainte-Marie will perform new material as well as her best-known songs.
Recent concert tours have taken Sainte-Marie across Europe and Canada. The singer, whose first tour was in 1962, says her passion to perform burns as strongly as ever.
Sainte-Marie said the key to maintaining her zest has been to work on her own schedule, rather than bowing to the dictates of others.
“The drive for me comes from the creative spark itself. I’ve never felt obligated to be an artist. For me, it’s always been play.”
Where: University of Victoria, Celebration Concert Stage (at McPherson Library quadrangle)
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.