SOCAN Foundation holds its first-ever Indigenous Song Camp
Story by Howard Druckman | September 29, 2022
Left to right: Charlie Wall-Andrews, Kim Wheatley, Ila Barker, Nimkish
The SOCAN Foundation was pleased and proud to hold its first-ever Indigenous Song Camp, at the downtown Tkaronto/Toronto creative hub Kilometre House, Sept. 19-22, 2022, during the inaugural edition of Song & Score Week.
Over the course of a four-day creative journey, 18 Indigenous and non-Indigenous songwriters, artists, and producers came together to explore new writing styles, develop new working relationships, and create a positive community experience. Organized by Alan Greyeyes and the sākihiwē festival, the camp allowed participants to expand their networks, while creating new songs in an inspiring setting, and presenting their work at an industry listening session.
Greyeyes, SOCAN Foundation Executive Director Charlie Wall-Andrews, and Rodney Murphy of Kilometre Music Group had planned the camp to take place in 2019 or 2020, but it was postponed due to health restrictions imposed to cope with the pandemic. “It was magical to finally see it made possible,” said Wall-Andrews.
The selected participants came from across the country, and represented a wide variety of musical styles. This cohort included:
“Attending the Indigenous Song Camp was such an uplifting experience,” said Ila Barker. “I genuinely felt like I left that camp a different person, a different artist. It pushed me outside of my comfort zone as a writer, taught me a lot about my abilities, and helped me set new goals. I’m leaving the experience feeling super-crystal-clear on the direction I’ll be taking my art in the future, with a few more songs in my catalogue, and with many lifelong friendships.”
“I feel like we spend a lot of time on business training for Indigenous artists in Canada and not enough on strengthening the art, which is the real driving force behind careers in the music industry,” says Aklan Greyeyes. “I’m super-excited to see what this group does next, because they’re definitely connected to more talent and motivation now.”
The song camp was presented by RBC Emerging Artists, in partnership with the City of Toronto, the SOCAN Foundation, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the sākihiwē Festival. Special Thanks to Kim Wheatley, Anishinaabe Ojibway Grandmother from the Shawanaga First Nations Reserve, who agreed to perform a smudge ceremony to open the camp.
Photo by courtesy / courtoisie
Reconciliation and The Rise of Willie Dunn
Story by Nancy Dutra | September 29, 2022
With the 2021 release of Creation Never Sleeps, Creation Never Dies: The Willie Dunn Anthology, more listeners are getting hip to the late First Nations singer-songwriter’s music. Dunn, who was of mixed Mi’kmaq and Scottish/Irish heritage, passed away in 2013 at the age of 71, after a decades-long career as a musician, poet, activist, politician, and filmmaker. (Not to mention serving in the Canadian Armed Forces.) His 10-minute film The Ballad of Crowfoot, released in 1968, is arguably Canada’s first music video. With such a pioneering achievement, and a prolific career, why isn’t Dunn more well-known?
That his music isn’t broadly recognized has been a profound loss to Canada’s musical culture. But make no mistake: Dunn’s oeuvre continues to highly influence Indigenous and non-Indigenous musicians alike. Thankfully, for those who’ve yet to experience the breadth of Dunn’s artistic output, there’s an impressive body of work to explore. But how can we rectify the exclusion of the legendary Willie Dunn – who deserves to be recognized as an icon on par with any of Canada’s greatest folk singer-songwriters? Is reconciliation the answer?
Anishinaabe musician Raven Kanatakta, one-half of folk-rock duo Digging Roots, says that “reconciliation is borne out of the idea that the oppressor is supposed to make amends.” Even for Canadians who believe it was their ancestors and not themselves who were the oppressors, there is something to learn. “A lot of it is about how you deal with privilege,” Kanatakta says. “Most Canadians don’t know that there are more children being taken away today than at the height of the residential school system.” He says Dunn “wanted people to understand the history of Canada – the true history, not the kind of false colonial history they teach in schools, but the history that is actually real.”
These difficult truths were relayed in Dunn’s songs, and performed with kindness, and his compassion for all audiences. “Willie shared his music because he wanted the humanity in people to understand,” Kanatakta says. “He didn’t want to scold people, or reprimand people in any kind of way. He just wanted to sing the truth, and tell the truth, and let people with their own minds decide how they felt about those things.” Kanatakta says that another reason for Dunn’s compassion is that he tried to understand the mind of racists – as evidenced in his lyrics for “I Pity the Country.”
I pity the country
I pity the state
And the mind of a man
Who thrives on hate
To try to understand one’s oppressor is no easy task, and it’s for this and other reasons that Lucie Idlout, a folk-rock singer-songwriter from Iqaluit, admires Dunn – whose music, she says, “speaks to people,” and whose example inspired her to believe she could also make music.
“He was a mentor for so many of us,” says Idlout. “The same way that Black people had soul music and they learned their way; we learned our way through Willie.” Idlout eventually became friends with Dunn. “He had such a gentleness about him, a kindness, and a love that he was willing to share with anyone, and he did that through his music too,” she says. She recalls his “wicked sense of humor” and laughs while remembering a live performance: “Once he was explaining how a particular song was written, and he demonstrated onstage how a bear moves.” Regarding his deep lyrics, she says, “As much as it could hurt, the music itself and the way he plays guitar is very playful.” This sentiment is shared by Kanatakta, who likens Dunn’s inimitable playing of the guitar – which Dunn regarded as his drum – to the sound of a train.
Unlike Kanatakta and Idlout, renowned singer-songwriter William Prince of Peguis First Nation never knew Dunn personally. Asked what word comes to mind when thinking of Dunn, Prince says “unsung,” before adding, “When you think of the definition of an unknown folk hero, I think of his music.” Prince admires Dunn for many reasons, including his perseverance, despite facing considerable obstacles as a First Nations songwriter. “To be successful,” Prince says, “it’s almost like you have to work twice as hard for the same, or less, recognition.” Reflecting on Dunn’s achievements, Prince says, “Knowing that he was out there gives me courage, gives me hope, and kind of allows me to carry the message forward.”
Prince wishes he had met Dunn, even if only once. “My closest knowledge of him is by proxy to my friend Raven Kanatakta,” says Prince. “If Raven was so affected by Willie, given the musician Raven is, Willie must have been an incredible person – because he rubbed off on Raven in a beautiful way.” One of the profound ways that Dunn influenced Kanatakta was by teaching him that music can be a powerful tool to deal with heavy issues. “When you’re playing music,” Kanatakta says, “you can’t have your ego involved, because it’s a roadblock. You have to be really open. Willie taught me that.” Kanatakta says it’s this openness that can facilitate personal transformation.
The opportunity for transformation is also available for the non-Indigenous, if Dunn’s music is listened to with open hearts and open minds, with egos cast aside. While it may be difficult, Dunn’s music can help listeners develop compassion (and not just empathy) by better understanding the brutal treatment of First Nations people. Only in facing the ugly truth of Canada’s history, and the systemic inequities which continue to exist, can privilege be recognized, and actions taken towards reconciliation. While it’s too late to make Dunn’s dream come true in his lifetime, Canadians can work together now for the sake of his legacy, the betterment of our musical culture, and by extension, Canada. Dunn, ever prescient, laid it all out in “Son of The Sun”:
I had a dream of my own accord We laid to rest the gun and the sword Buried the hatchet, buried the stake Bowed to each other, peace to make
Photo by Kaylee Smoke
Snotty Nose Rez Kids earn three honours at 2022 Western Canadian Music Awards
Story by Howard Druckman | September 29, 2022
Snotty Nose Rez Kids earned three honours at the the 2022 edition of the Western Canadian Music Awards (WCMAs) on Sept. 23, 2022: the duo won Rap & Hip Hop Artist, Indigenous Artist, and Recording of the Year (the latter for their Life After album).
Sam Lynch won the SOCAN-sponsored Songwriter of the Year Award (for his Keeping Time album), and Dorothy Chang received the Classical Composer of the Year Award (for her Soaring Spirits album).
The Garrys were chosen BreakOut Artist of the Year, Nuela Charles was the Pop Artist of thre Year, Sargeant X Comrade was the R&B Artist of the Year, and Sweet Alibi were the Roots Artist of the Year.
For a compete list of artistic award winners, click here. SOCAN congratulates all of our member nominees and winners at the 2022 WCMAs!