What is your background?
I was born in the Saguenay area in the province of Quebec, Canada.
Where you always into music?
My dream when I was younger was to be a pianist. My mother gave me the gift of piano lessons, and it changed my life. I knew that I would always be involved in music; it was just inside of me. When I heard music, my heart would beat faster! My mother was a dancer for Latin dance, so we heard a lot of Latin music in the house.
This must have paved the way for the work that you now do with Inti Illimani.
I think so. I have always had a passion for Latin music. I sang in Spanish and Italian when I was younger. The language has always been very attractive to me. I also studied piano and singing as well. I then lived in France for four years and I sang rhythm and blues in a cabaret.
Who would you say were your musical influences?
I loved Edith Piaf, and also Janis Joplin. They were my idols.
You gained international acclaim when you became part of the legendary Cirque Du Soleil’s show, Alegria. Let’s talk about that.
When I arrived in the Circus, it was a very bad circumstance for me. My father had died and I was very sad. One of my friends told me about the auditions for Cirque Du Soleil, and I saw that they needed not only a singer, but someone who could act as well. I went with my sister to the audition because she had studied art and I felt more comfortable with her. After I sang, they offered me the part. They told me that they had auditioned over 200 singers before me.
Was it difficult for you to perform the songs in Alegria while you were mourning your father’s passing?
I felt in some way, my father had given me the gift of being in Alegria. It represented the way I felt inside. The message of Alegria was one of peace, love and hope. It was very near to me, and it made me happy to sing those songs.
What happened after you left Cirque Du Soleil?
I fell in love for the first time at the age of 39. Three months after I left Cirque Du Soleil, I met the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I met him through one of the people from the circus. We fell in love immediately. At the time, he had a nine year-old daughter. I became very close with his daughter and since I didn’t have children of my own, it was like a dream for me.
And simultaneously, your career also took off.
I made 2 CD’s and then after a while, I met my manager, Laurelle. She wanted me to hear this group, called Inti Illimani. I fell in love with the music almost instantly. It spoke from the heart and the soul. It had virtuosity and beautiful arrangements. It was exactly what I liked, which was a mix of cultures.
It brought you back to your roots of listening to Spanish music as a child.
I believe that you have a direction to follow, and when you believe in your destiny, it will arrive. It was a big, big gift for me. I sang with Inti Illimani in Chile and we knew we had to continue it. We had a lot of success, and we decided to record songs from Cirque Du Soleil and Chilean music as well. We mixed it together to make it what it is today.
In the midst of great creative energy, you suffered a major tragedy.
Yes, we lost our house in a fire. We lost everything. My life changed because of that. I decided to go to Chile to live with my new family and it was a good compensation. I realized that the material things are not important. I have my voice and I can continue. I stayed in Chile for four months and during that time, I learned to speak Spanish. The project became even better because I was able to communicate freely with the group.
What is going on today with you and Inti Illimani?
We are on tour now. In autumn, we will release the new CD and then the tour will begin again. It is an exciting time for us.
And it’s also exciting because you’re going to become a grandmother!
Yes, my step-daughter is having her first baby! She took after me; she studied in the circus, too! She is an acrobat. This was not the hope of her father, of course. He wanted her to study science, but she didn’t like it. [laughs] When we were in Chile, she called us to let us know that we were going to be an abuelo (grandfather) and abuela (grandmother)! We are so excited.
It’s so nice that you have a great relationship with her.
The relationship I have with her is very important to me. I wanted to be sure that we were friends; I respect her mother and didn’t want to try to replace her. My step-daughter knew that we all loved her, and when a child sees their parents happy, then she will be happy, too. I came from separated parents, and I remember missing my father very much growing up. She needed to feel that we were all there for her, and we were.
Children are very important to me. I once wrote a song about how important it is for children to dream. Children have to believe in their dreams and we have to help them to realize those dreams. When children’s dreams come true, the world changes for the better.
For more information on Francesca, please visit www.francescagagnon.com.