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NEeMA: An Interview

Interview With Leonard Cohen Protege NEeMA


neema lenoard cohen montreal singer songwriter
Photo © Lorca Cohen
You might have already heard about Montreal singer-songwriter NEeMA. If you haven't, then you've definitely heard of her mentor and friend, Leonard Cohen. On the road since her sophomore album Watching You Think was released in the summer of 2010, she's played the Montreal Jazz Festival, she's done POP Montreal, and she's wrapping up a North American tour this spring 2011.

Below is an interview I conducted with her that summer, one revealing a well-traveled past, including brushes with Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and a seven-year-old Egyptian delivery boy too busy supporting his family to go to school. But it was at home that she met the elusive legend who pushed her, and her sound, to go to depths she hadn't explored on her own.


June 28, 2010 - I've been inside the Maison du Festival several times before, but not from the vantage point I shared with Montreal singer-songwriter NEeMA by my side, in a "green room" on a top floor at the Montreal Jazz Fest headquarters overlooking the Place des festivals.

There's something unusually warm about NEeMA. She's radiant. She speaks using a calm, crystalline tone with a mild rasp to it, like her singing voice. We're about to begin our chat, but as per usual, I'm fumbling with my sound recorder, testing and retesting it lest I misquote whom I'm interviewing. "Sorry about this," I say, frowning, "I'm never ready, it seems."

"That's what Leonard said." NEeMA, born Nadine Neemeh, beams whenever she speaks of Leonard Cohen, her friend and mentor, an instrumental force in the production of her second album Watching You Think. "At some point," she says, "years ago, before he was preparing a show -- maybe it was the '93 tour, I'm not sure -- he was in his dressing room and a man came to the door. He said, 'Mr. Cohen, are you ready?'. Leonard looked at him and replied, 'no. I'm not'."

"And then the man looked back at Leonard and he said, 'we're never ready for the things we do in life. We're never ready to be born. We're never ready to get married. We're never ready to die'. We're never ready for the important things in life."

Then she looks at my necklace.

"Is that a moonstone?"

"Nah," I said. "It's Labradorite. From Labrador. It's not very expensive. Nothing fancy really."

"Beautiful. It's very beautiful."

"Thanks. Can you believe I prefer it to diamonds?"

Her bright doe eyes look down as she motions to a bracelet on her arm. "Actually, speaking of diamonds, I generally prefer that kind of thing too, like you. But my mother brought me back this diamond bracelet from Egypt, which is, like, crazy. I think because I don't have a husband, she keeps doing these kind of things! It's really cute. So now she bought me this bracelet and I'm touched, I understand the whole [sentiment], it's very sweet, dainty and beautiful but, yeah, it's the first time I ever had any diamond anything. "

It is a beautiful bracelet, diamonds or not. "I've never owned diamonds either," I admit. "Guess I'm a pretty simple girl. I don't even have my ears pierced. I just wear my little necklace with a little charm, like amber, that kind of thing ...." and then, I snap out of it, realizing I'm going on about myself. "Wait, this [interview] isn't about me. This is supposed to be about you!" I smile, slightly embarrassed.

She smiles back. It's a real smile. The kind that crinkles the eyes.

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