Sunday, December 9, 2018

Tweet THIS!

The audience wants freedom and convenience (along w/ your soul). The artists want to make a living and be heard. The corporation wants our cash and time, and the labels, media, and awards only add to this glut. Everyone playing the digital game is partially to blame... I know that we can all do better (and I'm not talking about statistics where only numbers matter). Happy year end y'all! VIN

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Sit... Listen... Feel...

Sit... Listen... Feel... 

Simple enough? Hmm...

I had a vision for the Light in the Attic Records re-release of composer/arranger Doug Randle’s 1970 CBC Songs For The New Industrial State LP back in 2007. It involved a listening session at the CBC featuring as many of the artists involved as possible (vocalists Laurie Bower and Tommy Ambrose and studio veteran Jack Zaza to start) and even some live interpretations of Doug's self described "bitter and twister Simon and Garfunkel songs." Doug was still w/ us then and in his early 80s, as sharp as a thumbtack, and an avid Lake Ontario swimmer, dispelling the rumour that one would glow like neon after taking even a quick dip in its polluted waters. With the maestro's humanistic perspective and so many thoughts and ideas about the world in which we live from a life fully lived (jamming w/ Duke Ellington in the 1940s, recording a crucial album in SFTNIS about the dominance of the corporation/profiteering over people/the destruction of the environment, overcoming alcohol addiction and crippling depression), I wanted to help raise awareness about Doug and his musical legacy any which way I could. This album could affect people in a positive way! Apart from some supportive friends like Robert Dayton and ShoMerde (Love Handle Events) my passion for SFTNIS mostly fell on indifference. Vice ended up not running a proposed interview (thanks again Robert!), but it was like pulling teeth to get it going w/ them. This was (and still is) about MUSIC, MESSAGES, PEOPLE, and LIFE... Is that not hip enough Mr. Checklist? “Remember, not everyone feels this is important,” said the CBC staffer as I tried to reserve a room within the CBC for our release party. Um, thanks for the honesty. Producers at CBC's Q radio program could not convince host Jian Ghomeshi that Doug’s album and story was worth covering, even after multiple attempts. I guess they were too busy showcasing the latest Hollywood BS or more pedestrian Canadian entertainment “news.” How could the CBC turn its back on one of its own (I’m not taking about Jian)? Doug was very active there in the live radio days in both Vancouver and Toronto and continued his work at the Corps over the decades... Another wasted opportunity to give back to those who made it all possible in the first place. In lieu of any external support, I reached out to Robert Dayton about hosting Doug’s release at our Moods DJ night at The Ossington. With no money or backing, it was all we could do (see above and below)... With great surprise, Laurie Bower joined us and re-connected w/ Doug, as did the man who linked Doug and I in the first place, Fergus Hambleton (The Sattalites). The Mighty Pope dropped in to raise a toast and Doug regaled the small yet attentive crowd w/ stories of sobriety and musical philosophy. So where is this all going? Mass media/music industry be DAMNED (unless you have the rare opportunity to spit some sh%t)!!! The rewards are WITHIN and come through CONNECTION (not corporations)!!! If you have a story to TELL, SHARE it!!! ENGAGE w/ the older people in your sphere, they KNOW!!! The tools are all HERE!!! Those who need to tune in WILL... PEACE

Saturday, November 3, 2018

MIRROR MOON | Malcolm Jack (OUT NOW)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

I looked into the mirror...

And saw a 43-year-old man w/ his hair held back in a ragtag ponytail...

Oh, shit!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Um, Canada...

If Japan is a "difficult" nation," as described by Haruomi Hosono onstage at the Barbican last week, then Canada is a "problematic" one. Theft of land and genocide is much more than a notion, you see Surrounded by great, great lakes, rivers, prairie, and ocean, this country's constructed colonial borders control me as I answer my calling as a person of settler and immigrant heritage, yet I still call this land home and acknowledge it deep from within as a part of me. I was born here, as was my mother and father and brother. When I visit another part of the world, even the United States, there is a difference in feel that is ever so real. Why? Are we not children of the universe? Of mother nature? How far removed from the roots of the tree are we? That being said, complexity is certainly complex, as is history, and economy, and these thoughts and concepts and ideologies often float beyond my head like distant clouds, while burdened on the ground by the psychic weight of nationhood, a construct, while utilizing its civic construction and infrastructure daily, the roads, for example, on which city, suburban, and some rural folk travel on to work, rest, and play everyday. Reality. Let's leave technology out of this for now, ok? Protected by a passport and white privilege (don't worry, it won't always be this way...), I pay taxes on what little I make. I have a voice and I am using it here. Is that a mistake? To think? To speak? I am not a politician, academic or employee of the state. Great! I was raised to finish the food on my plate, but when I lay down on the street and look up, this is what I see (some might call is blasphemy)... O Canada, true (um...), north (ah...), strong (oh...), and free (not really)... PEACE

Monday, June 18, 2018


"Half the World Away" or almost half of my life away. Any which way, this was me at 22, a little-big-skinny-tall drummer boy, an Oasis fan (well, I leaned towards Blur a bit more, I think), a gin and beer drinker (not in the same drink, silly), sometime amphetamine taker (or was it antihistamine?), where ecstasy filled the air at the club(s) where smokes were still smoked and we danced forever and held each other tight. Hey, does this transport card still work?

London and Tokyo (Konnichiwa, Ichiro!) were my personal meccas during this era (has anything changed? Well, yes, slightly...) and I took my first trip to England during the same week as the Gallagher brother's biggest gigs to date in the summer of '96, two days at Knebworth where over 2 million people applied for 250,000 available tickets. I decided to pass. Was I already over it? I'm listening to "Rockin' Chair" as I type, the emotional b-side of "Roll With It," and it's making me teary eyed, the distance, the innocence, and the naivety, simply seeking out and grooving on the beat and the beats and even some of the better words, wherever they came from: Manchester, New York, Paris, Kingston or Toronto.

I had just started playing records out to the universe (soul, funk, and reggae mostly w/ a little 60s jazz and other assorted mod gear), my dear mother, rest her soul, was still alive, and I worked full-time as a music clerk/buyer at HMV #852 in Coquitlam Centre after graduating from SFU. The store was MASSIVE, with more music than a fully loaded jukebox or a 160 gigabyte iPod Classic. It was our very own Youtube before that even existed (imagine that, eh!?), a library of sound, that is to say, we had almost everything, a bastion of culture in suburbia heaven and hell where the dogs ran wild at night.

I was sick during that first journey across the Atlantic (*More on that later!) and to be totally honest, I could barely understand a word that anyone was saying to me upon my arrival in the UK, from the airport staff commuting from central London to the old Liverpudlian at the chip shop down the road. "Sorry, do you speak English?" It took two more trips in 2000 and 2004 to finally get the swing of it and I feel that I'm ready to be here now once more. This time, there's a bit more of a purpose to the motion, Light in the Attic Records' sweet 16 anniversary festivities, a label that I've helped to shape for over 14 years.

Does anyone actually read liner notes? Well, don't tell LITA! ; ) And please note, my best notes were written for the 2006 re-release of the mighty Noel Ellis (Summer Records, 1983). On this go round, I'm traveling alongside and in support of Willie Thrasher and his singing partner Linda Saddleback and I'm sad and somewhat frustrated to report that certain outlets in the Canadian mass media have ignored my requests to cover this historic event, but trust me friends (yes, we're still friends), THIS IS A BIG F%CKING DEAL!@#$%!!!

Willie, who's been at it for over 50 years and is still rocking harder than yer latest and momentarily greatest buzz band of twenty-somethings w/ crass managers and sly booking agents and flash photographers and stylish stylists and posing press people and a full season of government sponsored festival dates (no diss, we'll see how many of you are still at it at 69, like Willie! Grassroots or not...), a residential school survivor, a Grammy nominee (Native North America represent!), and SO much more... Did I mention that this is Willie's first trip off of Turtle Island, singing his Inuvialuit heartbeat songs with his beloved partner on the doorsteps of the colonizer in one of London's most respectable and professional concert venues?


So Canada, WAKE UP!!!

And in the meantime, London town, we're coming for YOU!!!


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Alanis Obomsawin - Bush Lady LP reissue

As a Canadian citizen and person of settler and immigrant heritage, I feel that it is my responsibility to learn more about the land that I was born on. During my Catholic and public school experiences in the 1970s/80s or even at Simon Fraser University in the early 1990s I was rarely taught about the true history of Canada nor was I conscious enough to seek it out beyond any surface awareness. I'm happy to report that this has changed. In my travels across Canada throughout the first decade of the 2000s,  I began to learn more about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit expression from a selection of hand-picked vintage vinyl records. I will never forget the kindness and generosity of the people who created these recordings, some of the most talented singers, songwriters, poets, artists, writers, and filmmakers that I've ever known. It made me happy to learn that many of these artists were still being celebrated in Native communities across Turtle Island (and beyond), yet for others, music took a back seat to the unfolding of life, as it so often does for independent artists, especially when facing a lack of opportunities to make any sort of sustainable living pursuing their craft or calling. Racism, systematic oppression, and white supremacy also played a part, but we must also remember that not all music is made for or aimed at the charts or social media statistics. Bar some longstanding and outspoken voices like Brian Wright-McLeod (The Encyclopedia of Native Music) who has been giving the necessary thanks and acknowledgements to these artists and their gifts for decades, I was appalled to realize how off-the-grid many of these songs were, though as a professional, non-academic, street level music researcher, writer, DJ, and reissue producer for many years, sadly not surprised.

For example, did you know that Mi'gmaq folk singer Willie Dunn wrote and released a devastating song about Chanie Wenjack called "Charlie" at the turn of the 1970s and was involved in a truly radical feature length film about the residential school system called Cold Journey, over forty years before Gord Downie's much talked about Secret Path project? With all due respect and love to Gord (RIP) for his immense contributions, it was maddening, disappointing, and offensive to see a virtual absence any meaningful recognition for Dunn, who passed on to the spirit world in 2013, during the Secret Path's colonial mass media storm. What gives? Do journalists no longer dig beyond press releases? Did they ever?  In 1971, Dunn released a masterpiece that should be known by every single Canadian living on stolen land. Land where acts of genocide are still being acted out on Indigenous peoples. Land that is being abused by the government for profit. Our media and music business professionals of all backgrounds need to step it up in 2018 and truly earn their keep and make it known. Yes, there will be mistakes along the journey and we all come to music when we do (no judgement there), but it's our responsibility as settlers and immigrants to make the meaningful effort. The bar has been set. We must catch up, now! Listen... Learn... And Share...

Released by Seattle and Los Angeles-based Light In The Attic Records in 2014, Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985 was my personal love letter to a selection of trailblazers who affected and continue to affect my life in a positive and meaningful way. The 24 artists and groups featured made me reach beyond my comfort zone, taught me things that I never learned in school, and gave me their blessing to work w/ their monumental creations, an honour that I will carry in my heart and soul for eternity. While preparing for the compilation's release, there was only one artist that we were unfortunately not able to collaborate with, Abenaki singer, songwriter, veteran Nation Film Board of Canada filmmaker, and force of nature, Alanis Obomsawin.  Five years into production and pressure mounting, her musical absence brought me to tears, but for no reason other than I understood the incredible feeling and weight of her poetry and songs as well as her deep connection to longtime friends and peers like Dunn, Shingoose, and Duke Redbird whom she supported over the years as curator of the Indigenous stages at the Mariposa Folk Festival and her work at the NFB. With plans of her own, the timing wasn't right for her involvement. I both understood and appreciated her honesty and integrity.

Needless to say, it was beyond humbling to work with Alanis (and her musical ally, Fred Savard) on the recent Native North America Gathering at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa (as part of the annual MEGAPHONO Festival). It was such an honour to hear her share her musical voice w/ an open and loving audience of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I was also thrilled to learn that Bush Lady was going to be re-released in its entirety via Montreal's stellar Constellation Records. I can't recommend this album enough...

To celebrate Bush Lady's re-release, I've created a Spotify playlist for my original "vision" version of NNA V1 (designed to be listened to from beginning to end), with Alanis' "Of The Earth And Of The Sea" poem at the top and introspectively winding down with another of her original compositions, "Odana" at the tail, before the spiritual and hypnotic chant/drum/guitar beat of Willie Dunn and Jerry Saddleback's "Peruvian Dream (Part 2)." I still feel that this sequence is the best way to enjoy the album (preferably with friends and family).

I dedicate this playlist to Alanis and to the Indigenous artists who have strengthened their people and have made this world a better place for everyone... Thank you!

Order Bush Lady HERE


Thursday, June 7, 2018

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


*R(est)I(n)P(OWER)!!! PEACE

Saturday, May 26, 2018

CBC Radio: Unreserved (Indigenous trailblazers: legendary musicians, up and coming acts carving a path in the arts)

Re-post from CBC Radio: Unreserved

Earlier this year, Rosanna was invited to the MEGAPHONO Festival in Ottawa, to host a panel called Indigenous Trailblazers: Carving Paths Through Tradition at the National Arts Centre. 

On the panel, legends like Willy Mitchell, Alanis Obomsawin, Dr. Duke Redbird, and Leland Bell, sat alongside up and coming musicians like Jeremy Dutcher, Leanne Simpson, Cody Coyote, and Melody McKiver. 

They were there to talk about music, the arts, politics, and issues facing Indigenous communities today. 

Many of the artists later performed onstage at the National Arts Centre, as part of the Native North America Gathering concert, which was a collaboration with music historian Kevin Howes, who in 2014 released the compilation, Native North America (Vol. 1)

This week on Unreserved, we bring you their stories and music. 


*Photo by Kevin Howes (aka Sipreano, Voluntary In Nature)

New Chance - It Says New Chance

Monday, May 7, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Willie Thrasher - Little Town in Saskatchewan (Humboldt Broncos Tribute)

Upon hearing about the tragic news coming out of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, Willie Thrasher's mind raced back to his residential school days in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, as a fast skating and high scoring player for the Grollier Hall junior hockey team. He had to write a song in tribute and support of the friends from Humboldt that he never knew. "Little Town in Saskatchewan" is Willie's heartfelt effort. Please listen...

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Elisapie - Wolves Don't Live by the Rules (Willie Thrasher)

The Light in the Attic re-release of Inuvialuit singer-songwriter Willie Thrasher's Spirit Child album (originally issued by the CBC in 1981), along with the Grammy-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1984 compilation from 2014 has seen Willie's music reach a new global audience. The expanded awareness has lead to concerts all over Turtle Island for the veteran performer, who currently sings with his partner Linda Saddleback and is writing some the best songs of his life, like the soon to be released "The Sacred Fire Of Peace."

Producing these reissue projects and working directly with Willie has been such a gift and for that I give thanks. There have been so many incredible moments along the way, but hearing from various First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples about their experiences with these powerful songs, as well as from the artists themselves, has been the most meaningful, especially as a person of settler heritage. Willie's music, and that of his peers like the late great Willie Dunn and the Sikumiut band, were embraced and celebrated by Indigenous peoples across the land during their time of release and continue to hold a precious place for those lucky enough to have heard them. They have the potential to create community and change lives through positive connection.

One person who was blessed to be raised with Spirit Child from an early age was Inuk folk-pop singer and songwriter Elisapie Isaac from Salluit, Nunavik, who performs under the name Elisapie and is related to the Sugluk band's George Kakayuk (also featured on Native North America). It was so exciting to hear Elisapie speak of her interaction with Willie Thrasher's music growing up in a northern community and what it meant to her personally. Going one step beyond in her inspiration, Elisapie recorded two of Willie's songs for her most recent project. Generations, (northern) cultures, and eras of technology coming together. Today, Elisapie's interpretation of "Wolves Don't Live by the Rules" (Featuring Joe Grass) has been released into the world. If you're not in the loop, now is the time!!!



And don't forget to spread the word... PEACE

Monday, March 26, 2018

Am I Supposed To Let It By

*I will write about this album in the not too distant future, a landmark... Props to Ty for the turn-on!@#$%!!! PEACE

Monday, March 12, 2018

Nardwuar The Human Serviette Presents... Episode March 2, 2018



Pete Schofield - Do Something Nice Today
Gord Hayman & Jack McDonald - Mendoza
Riverson - Winter Garden
Fraser & Debolt - Don't Let Me Down
Redbone - Alcatraz
Paul Hoffort - Growing Up
Frank Hunter - Pulse
Unknown - Spoken word
Toronto Liturgical Music Collective - Advent Antiphon
Plastic Cloud - Face Behind The Sun
Morrow Men - Life Is A Drag
Black Savage - Kothibiro
Seekers International - Gunshot Riddim

*BIG ups to Ace!!! PEACE

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Jennifer Castle - Angels of Death (Coming soon!)

Jennifer Castle Angels of Death

The fictional concept of death rears its head in so many of my songs, always on the periphery, or as a side note, or a reminder, a punchline or the bottom line, always sniffing around like a death dog. For once I wanted to try to put it in my center vision. In order to talk about death, I armed myself with the only antidote I know: writing. Is this a record about death or a record about writing? Hard to tell in the end. I began to think of poetry as time travel. I tried to write messages to the future.
– Jennifer Castle

*More details here!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Native North America Gathering in Ottawa

Greetings good peoples,

It's been a while... For those who don't know me, I'd like to introduce myself properly. My name is Kevin Howes and I am Canadian citizen of settler/immigrant heritage, humbly and respectfully working out of the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. I am a 43 year-old artist, musician, DJ, writer, journalist, filmmaker, photographer, producer, promoter, and connector of people, listening, learning, and sharing under the Voluntary In Nature umbrella since 2006.

I've recently returned from another journey to the east, landing to rare winter conditions here on the coast after a spell in Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. Since November of 2014, I have been on (and off) the road helping to raise awareness about the artists featured on the Grammy-nominated Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1984 compilation. These important songs and stories have motivated this labour of love, an honest attempt to bridge cultures, generations, and eras of technology. This is not a marketing exercise or cash grab, but a organic extension of my passion (and that of the artists who I collaborate w/).

With extensive experience in music and event production, it was clear to me from the outset that NNA V1 was going to be much more than an album in the shops. It had to be. This history hadn't vanished. It was alive and breathing and still thriving! Duke Redbird is an active poet and educator while Willie Thrasher can be found busking on the waterfront in the town of Nanaimo, an ambassador for his community. Why not assist in organizing a gathering so that audiences could celebrate these trailblazing Indigenous artists through their songs, stories, films, and poetry? In fact, I felt it was my responsibility to push beyond record retail. The first Native North America gathering was held in Toronto's Kensington Market at Double Double Land on November 28, 2014, with Duke Redbird and a 16 mm print screening of Willie Dunn's essential 1968 film, The Ballad of Crowfoot. The past, present, and future rolled into one that evening with a healthy audience of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. A like-minded event on December 11 at Vancouver's The Lido with Willie Thrasher and his current singing partner Linda Saddleback drew so much attention that we had to host two separate gatherings on the same night.

Since these humble beginnings, there have been up to 15 NNA-related gatherings from coast-to-coast and into northern communities. Each has provided a stage for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists to share. They have taken a variety of configurations (the largest being the grassroots Trinity-St Paul's edition with performances from ten artists featured on NNA V1 in addition to Dakota/Anishinaabe MC/host and legendary broadcaster/author Brian Wright-McLeod), but have carried the same positive spirit of Indigenous expression, awareness, love, and support. Apart from a small yet helpful Canada Council travel grant to assist w/ the Winnipeg Folk Festival in 2016, these events have received no direct grant funding for myself or the artists. I would like to shame Music BC for rejecting a $2,000.00 CDN grant application for myself and Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback (all B.C. residents) in the fall of 2017 for our travels to Sackville, New Brunswick, and Toronto for two NNA-related showcase events. Please tell me how full, appreciative audiences with people of all ages and backgrounds, a national CBC recording and broadcast, and a glowing review by the world's most respected newspaper constitute a "poor marketing plan." It's 2018 and this is what we are up against. Has anything changed?

Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback backstage at the Native North America Gathering (Colin Medley photo)

Ultimately, I must thank the artists whose open participation has made any of this possible as well as the co-organizers (and their sponsors), venues, and audiences who have come together to make history with us. Each trip requires months of preparation at VIN HQ, extensive communication, securing media, promotion, and the production itself. Transcending any backend challenges, the Ottawa Native North America Gathering, held at the Babs Asper Theatre in the National Arts Centre on February 9th, was a significant moment of connection for the artists and those in attendance, even in the face of total devastation. Meaningful reconciliation was achieved. I do not use these words lightly. As I briefly mentioned from the stage, I want to thank MEGAPHONO for making this collaboration possible alongside everyone at the NAC, the National Film Board of Canada for letting us license the public usage of their films, but most importantly to Alanis Obomsawin (OC, GOQ), Elder Dr. Duke Redbird, Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback, Willy Mitchell, Eric Landry, Leland Bell, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Nick Ferrio, Ansley Simpson, the late, great Willie Dunn, and Rosanna Deerchild. All of the artists came together from different regions and it was exciting to see everyone reunite and in some cases, connect for the first time (the Ottawa gathering included artists not featured on the compilation itself: Alanis Obomsawin, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Nick Ferrio, and Ansley Simpson, an honour). It was also an honour to meet Willy Mitchell and Leland Bell's partners, Nancy Wolfe, as well as Fred Savard who works closely w/ Alanis. Both myself and Lawrence Dunn had met Fred in Montreal this past December while conducting research on the upcoming Willie Dunn Anthology, set for release by Light in the Attic Records in 2019.

Held annually, MEGAPHONO is a music showcase and industry festival who host a very ambitious schedule of concerts, panel discussions, and networking opportunities for artists, delegates, and audiences from around the world, though emphasizing local talent. Upon arrival, I was whisked into a conference room to be interviewed by journalist and author Michael Barclay (Macleans, Polaris) w/ an aim to "dig into" my methodology and how I have "helped to bring the work of artists previously overlooked by the music industry into the limelight, and how these projects have built community." I'd like to thank Michael and MEGAPHONO's Jon Bartlett and Rachel Weldon for this opportunity to speak my mind about my experience and my views on the business I find myself working in (*just the tip of the iceberg). The JUNOS, which are being held in Vancouver this year, are caught sleeping once again on so many levels. Zzz...

Kevin Howes (aka Sipreano) MEGAPHONO interview (Ming Wu photo)

Next on the busy agenda was as trip to the CBC (or Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for our International readers, Canada's national broadcaster) for a live drive-home show interview w/ Duke and Willie Thrasher to help raise awareness about the upcoming NAC events. With so much to talk about there is never enough time, but Willie injected a little comedy (as usual) into the proceedings w/ an unexpected shout out to his dog Fluffy back home in Nanaimo. The following day was even busier, a public discussion in the afternoon with Alanis, Duke, Willy, and Leland, and the Native North America Gathering in the evening. Indigenous Trailblazers: Carving Paths Through Tradition was a mid-day panel moderated by Rosanna Deerchild (host of CBC's Unreserved) which also featured Cody Coyote, Melody McKiver, Jeremy Dutcher, and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, representing a variety of distinct heritages. The talk was personal and illuminating for those assembled in the stylish foyer of the NAC, expressing thoughts about Indigeneity, creation, progress, non-Native interest, and the business of music and culture itself.

Duke Redbird and Willie Thrasher at CBC Ottawa (Chris Gergley photo)

After a much needed meal and some rest,  it was time to focus on the gathering itself, some six months in the making. The energy backstage was palpable as the eclectic audience came together in unison and in great numbers. The Babs Asper Theatre is a special venue with helpful professional staff and organization. They made sure that each and every participant was made to feel welcome and comfortable on stage. Thank you. Elder Annie Smith St-Georges greeted everyone to the region and commented that "This is history coming back alive, imagine!" a compliment to the positive energy of the evening.

Elders Annie Smith St-Georges (with microphone) and Jim Dumont opening the Native North America Gathering (Scott Doubt photo)

And then the screen lowered... "Always... It's on!!!" read the VIN Instagram (VINstagram?) post, letting the electronic universe know that The Ballad of Crowfoot was being screened. And yet again, we were extremely blessed to have some of Willie's family in attendance. Their support and presence is so meaningful.

"The Ballad of Crowfoot" (Courtesy of the NFB) (Chris Gergley photo)

After a brief introduction by Rosanna Deerchild, Duke Redbird was the first artist to take to the stage and set the tone w/ a lengthy poem that took listeners through his life of creation as well as a reflection of the changing times. It is always a pleasure (and honour) to hear what Duke has to share. He makes us think. He teaches. We learn. The next performer on the NAC's large stage was Eric Landry. Sitting on a stool with his "talking drum" guitar in tow, Eric delivered three songs including "Out Of The Blue," as featured on Native North America (Vol. 1) as well as music from his forthcoming album. Leland Bell followed with "Messenger," another standout from NNA V1, based on a "vision quest." Leland also sung original Anishinaabemowin language material, a treat for everyone. Willy Mitchell started his program with an animated live action story before performing a series of original tunes. He concluded w/ "Big Policeman,"  a musical account of his personal experience w/ police brutality as a teenager.

Duke Redbird at the NAC as part of the Native North America Gathering (Chris Gergley photo)

Leland Bell at the NAC as part of the Native North America Gathering (Chris Gergley photo)

Eric Landry at the NAC as part of the Native North America Gathering (Chris Gergley photo)

Willy Mitchell at the NAC as part of the Native North America Gathering (Chris Gergley photo)

As if things couldn't get any more real, Rosanna announced the incoming news of the Gerald Stanley acquittal in the Colten Boushie murder.  There was a rumble, then a spray of loud, pained words shouted from the crowd followed by complete silence, tears, anger, emptiness, and more pain. The moment seemed to stretch from seconds into long minutes. Young, old, Indigenous, non-Indigenous, we were all suspended by the weight of this horror together and will never forget what happened. "I just want everybody in this room to know how important it is for these kinds of gatherings to happen," said Rosanna with a steadfast conviction. "For these kinds of story tellers to tell their stories..." It speaks to the immense strength of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Ansley Simpson, and Nick Ferrio (as well as Rosanna) for centering the energy with a moment of silence, followed by meaningful words and song.

Rosanna Deerchild at the Native North America Gathering (Scott Doubt photo)

After a warm greeting, Leanne elaborated on the evening and its participants before a single note of music was played: "It's an honour to be sharing the stage with these fantastic elder artists, legends, who have given our communities so much. Who have given us hope and strength and joy and who have carried our hearts in heavy times like these. I'm so grateful and I'm so thankful for the people that have come before me and shared the stage with me tonight. I wouldn't exist as an Anishinaabe artist without their tremendous, tremendous, contribution."

Nick Ferrio, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Ansley Simpson at the Native North America Gathering (Chris Gergley photo)

"Road Salt" followed, a story/song/poem about the friendship between a crow and a deer. Its guitar interplay and voices spoken and sung washed over the still tender room with love. A song described by Leanne as an "eagle song" came next, culminating in an empathetic interpretation of "I Pity The Country" by Willie Dunn, a devastating number at the best of times, given an added dimension of poignancy considering the night's events and our proximity to the Parliament buildings. Now sitting in the audience, it brought me back in time...

I met Willie Dunn at the end of the winter of 2013, a handful of months before he passed on. Willie was living in Ottawa's Vanier neighbourhood and wasn't in the best of health. We had been speaking on the phone for a couple of years prior and it was such an honour to connect in person and for him to give me his blessing to work with his music and film. Willie knew all too well the crooked nature of the record business, but I like to think that he understood that I was (and still am) coming from a place of integrity. I know that I am trying my best. It's how I was taught by my family and friends and mentors like Ty Scammell as well as the artists themselves. I will champion your creations forever Willie!

In preparation for the release of Native North America (Vol. 1), I dug as deep as I could into source materials from the 1960s-80s wave of Indigenous cultural expression to supplement my extensive range of interviews. Vinyl records, books, newspapers such as the revolutionary Akwesasne Notes, and likeminded films such as Cold Journey, a feature length move about the residential school system, directed by Martin Defalco for the NFB in 1975. Through my research I had uncovered word of a movie called Amisk by Alanis Obomsawin that featured footage of Willie Dunn (as well as Duke Redbird and Sugluk Band) shot in the mid-1970s at a series of "Save James Bay" concerts held in Montreal. Long out of print, I was luckily able to procure a DVD copy from the film board directly.

The NAC screen lowered once more and Willie appeared to those assembled, performing "Buffalo Song" with a power and grit rarely heard in folk music. Willie's tough vocals clashed against his aggressive strumming, his arm moving up and down with both eyes closed shut, tranced out, and intense. To have Alanis Obomsawin with us, to segue from her footage of Willie into her own set was a gift from the creator. At 85 years of age and with over fifty films under her belt (the most recent, Our People Will Be Healed, is a must see) Alanis has recently returned to singing onstage after a lengthy absence. Incredible.

At the National Arts Centre, Alanis shared three spine tingling songs and a letter written to her old friend Willie. It brought such joy to my heart to see her connect with friends old and new and share her gifts with us. The definition of inspiration and celebration. Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback were the final performers of the gathering and brought the house down with a new song called "The Sacred Fire Of Peace" featuring a call-and-response chant that shook the foundations of the venue and brought all of the artists on stage in song and dance.

Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback at the Native North America Gathering (Chris Gergley photo)

After a rousing standing ovation, the backstage was overflowing with thanks, thoughts, ideas, and hugs, representing the gamut of emotion. There were photos and more interviews as well (much thanks to Xavier and Rolf). We were thrilled to have many distinguished guests with us. Thank you for your presence.

Alanis Obomsawin and L. Bell backstage at the Native North America Gathering (Colin Medley photo)

Duke Redbird backstage at the Native North America Gathering (Colin Medley photo)

Native North America Gathering poster (Colin Medley photo)

The following day, the veteran artists assembled at the life-affirming Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Vanier, a few blocks from where I met w/ Willie Dunn back in 2013. A basket of beautifully crafted drums and rattles were brought out to play along to an spontaneous series of songs, stories, and poetry. A big thanks to Sylvie and everyone at the Centre. Willie Thrasher gifted everyone with his spirited version of Redbone's "Alcatraz," a personal favourite, that reaches deep into my soul each and every time. With chilli, butter, bread, and non-alcoholic beverages in hand, we filled the building's spacious boardroom for a full screening of Alanis's Amisk. To watch Duke watch his younger self deliver his landmark poem "Old Woman" with a fire so intense as to light the world on fire reminded me that he did just that, and continues to do so, creating real change in society through his open contributions, for example, with the Toronto District School Board. Music industry be damned! This is for the children! This is for the arts! This is for the spirit!

Willy Mitchell at the Wabano Centre (Kevin Howes photo)

Native North America Gathering and friends at the Wabano Centre (Chris Gergley photo)

The evening after the NAC gathering, I received a message from the original publisher of Akwesasne Notes, White Roots of Peace's Rarihokwats (Four Arrows),  a lifelong activist and member of the Mohawk Nation (Bear Clan):

"...the reason I am writing is because of the "White Roots of Peace" quality that the evening had. There was present an invisible spirit of unit, shared togetherness, which brought together a rather disparate group of people together who participated in the evening rather than being spectators to it. Wide range of age - lots of seniors, lots of youth; Indigenous and non-Indigenous. All of whom going home quite satisfied, inspired, renewed without even thinking about what was happening. Just happened. There was no message, but they got the message."

Native North America has evolved into much more than an archival music compilation. And it will mean different things to people of different backgrounds, but I am honoured to have played my small role in helping to make it known. Through their unparalleled music, words, art, and film, these trailblazing artists have taught me truths that I wasn't taught in school, to not only understand Canada's troubled history and current actions, but to see outside of my often narrow focus as a person of settler/immigrant heritage. To do that while celebrating the love and life of their peoples and watching much positivity being released into the world for everyone to share has been such a blessing. To quote Willie Dunn in his "Ballad of Crowfoot," I certainly hope that there is "a better tomorrow," and I promise to play my part with continued honour and respect.


*I'd like to send special thanks to NNA art director Chris Gergley for joining us on the road and taking such lovely photos (More to come!)

**If you would like to host a Native North America Gathering in your community, please be in touch w/ VIN or the artists directly...