For Juno-award winning artist G.R. Gritt, 2020 was about coming home.
Born in Warren, Gritt (who uses they/them pronouns) recently moved back to Sudbury after years on the road and living in different provinces and territories so that they could return here to reconnect with family and culture – a culture Gritt was aching for.
Gritt also says that community and foundation is what has helped them through their journey to understanding their own identity.
Gritt is not only a Two-Spirit, Transgender, Francophone, Anishinaabe/Métis artist, but one that explores the “emotional and cultural core of their heritage as a non-binary, queer, Indigenous artist” and hopes to create space for others to do the same.
It’s not only because Gritt is still learning their culture, but because there are lessons to be learned for all. Racism, internalized racism, and intolerance.
When these moments of judgement, of ignorance or even maliciousness are handed to someone “a pebble gets put in your backpack,” said Gritt. “Just a tiny pebble. Individually, those pebbles don't really matter. They don't weigh anything. They don't really impact your day. But when you have 1,000 of them in your backpack at the end of the day, that has an impact.”
And that is just the daily aggressions.
“Every barrier you rub up against, every misgendering, every little thing, put a pebble in that backpack and at the end of the day, you're carrying something like 1,000 pounds,” they said.
“You're looking around and everyone else just gets to move so freely, so weightless, no barriers and so many are having to walk around with this 1,000-pound backpack that needs to be emptied out at the end of the day. It's invisible to everyone. And then you hope that there's nothing still in that backpack when you start off your next day.”
But Gritt has music. A free expression of the complex, nuanced parts of themselves, but also one they are still trying to reclaim.
Thanks to colonialism’s reach, Gritt couldn’t claim their culture as a young person. But now, thanks to their grandmother’s violin, Gritt’s new full-length album, Ancestors, set to be released April 16, 2021 on Coax Records, is giving them that opportunity.
You can check out one of Gritt’s singles from the upcoming album, Quiet Years, below:
“The album is about my grandmother, my Nana from Shebahonaning (the Anishinaabe place name for Killarney). I inherited a violin from her that was in disrepair,” says Gritt. “No one really knows where it's from, how she got it.”
While Gritt now knows it from the 1920s and it was made in a factory in Germany, they also know it is quite a common piece. “You'll see a lot of these violins around,” said Gritt. “They'll have a tag on it that says Stradivarius. Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” they said with a laugh.
She was a woman who loved to perform, Gritt soon learned, and in addition to the “tickle trunk” of costumes she kept around for playing with grandchildren and the piano she learned to play from ear, was this violin. “It was in my Nana's living room, and on a shelf in the corner, for years, and I think I'm the only person who ever noticed it.”
When she passed, it was given to Gritt. Gritt made an album with it.
“The goal was, I'm going to take some violin lessons, I want to write some songs about my grandmother, I want to use the violin on these songs. And I want to try and connect to language in the community.
Gritt spent the next years not only learning the violin but learning their culture and language as well as recording new work.
“An amazing singer, songwriter and producer, I worked with Rae (Rae Spoon, a non-binary artist and the force behind Coax Records) to produce some songs about my family history and then also about the impacts of colonization on our family, on our culture and our heritage, and then also kind of zooming out to see the macro impacts of colonization as well.”
For Gritt, the year 2020 has meant not just coming home, but staying home.
“Most years, we (Gritt along with their partner/manager) would be home for a maximum of two weeks at a time,” said Gritt. “When COVID hit in March, we were grounded, and everything got cancelled.”
Before the pandemic, Gritt says they would be booking shows “six months to a year in advance.” Now, the work feels dried up as the desert, or flooded when the rains come.
“In January, I had nothing going on,” said Gritt. “And then I said yes to a bunch of stuff in February and I’m like, ‘what did I do!’”
For many artists, the pandemic is either a time of great inspiration, or a time when nothing can be created, no matter how you try. Existential dread has a way of doing that.
Gritt says they felt that latter was true of their work, but at the same time, it has allowed them to pursue other goals and try to work with new skills.
“I’m doing a bunch of other types of work,” said Gritt. “I feel like there is a different part of me, part of my skills, that are being fed right now.”
Gritt is working on mixing jobs, editing and mixing for podcasts and they worked with artist and friend, Leela Gilday, Dene-Canadian singer-songwriter based in Yellowknife who recently received two Juno nominations.
It was even, in very 2020 style, recorded virtually. “She not only gives a great solo performance,” says Gritt, “but she has a really great band.”
Gilday had each member of her band record a version of her track, then she herself recorded and sent everything to Gritt.
While Gritt is also doing shows, there is also time for practicing. “I'm practicing and I'm coming up with different guitar patches, different sounds for each song, things like that, with creativity built into it,” says Gritt. “But I can't say that I've written a song.”
However, Gritt feels they have a handle on certain aspects of the “industry,” as it were.
In addition to a belief in a foundation and knowledge of a craft, rather than fame, Gritt raises an idea espoused by people like Rosina Kazi of LAL, also signed to Coax Records, the label that releases Gritt’s work.
“Art should be an ecosystem, not an industry,” said Gritt. “If you’re engaged in creating new art, having a good message, using your platform for good, investing in strong relationships, connections with people and being part of a community or ecosystem, you might actually find more joy, and it doesn’t matter what accolades you get.”
While the album release has had some bumps, both pandemic-related and through Gritt’s choice to hold back the album to keep the light shining on the Black Lives Matter movement, there are now two singles to be enjoyed – Doubt It and Quiet Years - and soon, an album.
You can hear it all at www.grgritt.com.
Len Gillis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sudbury.com