Christie Smith’s career in the music industry has followed a long and winding road, but around every bend, the crafty songwriter has found opportunity.
First, it was trying her hand at writing music for her piano teacher in Merritt. Then it was a music degree from Douglas College in Metro Vancouver. Next came an opportunity working for Long and McQuade, during which she was commissioned to teach music.
Fast forward 25 years from when Smith left Merritt for Vancouver, and she is a music teacher, event co-ordinator for Long and McQuade, choir conductor, and one of the main collaborators on a new record by Vancouver-based Lebanese-Canadian singer Nadina Zarifeh.
“It’s a really cool life,” Smith said over the phone from her home in Vancouver. “It’s an interesting and well-rounded career life.”
Smith started writing music when she was in high school in Merritt, although it took years to build enough confidence in her craft before she’d show anybody.
“I wrote music for years and years and didn’t show a single soul,” the chatty, outgoing Smith said, adding she wrote it with the intention of recording it.
But it wasn’t until Smith was teaching her students songwriting that she learned to let go of the insecurity and play her music.
“When I started teaching music, I would play a bit of my work and I seemed to have no problem using it as a learning tool,” she laughed.
It was through teaching music that Smith met Zarifeh, her eventual collaborator on the genre-bending singer’s debut album, 2012’s In the Now. Smith was running a business that connected people seeking music lessons with teachers, and she referred Zarifeh through that service to another teacher.
“Years after the company went under, that teacher moved out of town and referred her back to me,” Smith said. “It was completely unintentional. Of course, it turned out to be that that was a very meaningful connection. She became my student and over time asked me to co-write her album.”
That process took several years as the women worked together to merge their musical influences to achieve a coherent sound. Smith grew up singing in a musical family (the family that ran Smitty’s bakery) and singing in choirs. She said her ability to harmonize has become a trademark of her songwriting career.
“My mom’s family could harmonize and I heard it all the time,” she said.
“I, eventually, was able to pick it up by ear, and being able to parlay it into a career is fantastic. Over here, it’s really hard to find people who can create interesting over-vocals. Who would’ve thought that from fooling around with the family, it would end up becoming a skill that not too many other people have?”
Since then, Smith said she’s dabbled in many genres of music, including country, Celtic, pop, and Middle Eastern-inspired tunes like the ones she belly dances to. It was that Middle Eastern connection that Smith said Zarifeh tuned into and led them to collaborate. With the help of Lebanon-based producer Michel Fadel, a B.C.-based Lebanese sound engineer, and Austrian-Canadian electronica artist Delerium, the project became an even bigger challenge in collaboration.
“As a songwriter, you get to dabble in lots of different people’s careers,” Smith said.
“That’s really rewarding and fun. I didn’t co-write her album with me in mind, I co-wrote her album with her in mind, so that’s a really interesting challenge for a songwriter. So I came in with all of my influences and then they came in with all of their history and, together, it created a different sound that none of us would’ve invented on our own.”
Smith got to see Zarifeh’s musical influences first hand in August, when she visited Lebanon for the singer’s wedding to Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden.
Smith said it’s a continuing process of refining that distinct sound as the group moves forward on Zarifeh’s next album and on the release of the Middle Eastern version of In the Now (which includes completely different tracks and vocals recorded in Egyptian, Lebanese and Arabic). But, in the meantime, Smith has plenty on the go to keep her busy, including working on some public speaking engagements.
“It’s one thing after another,” Smith said. “It’s certainly been a fun adventure.”