Cree artists showcase their talent at Canadian Music Week

·5 min read

Several Cree artists will attend this year’s Canadian Music Week (CMW) June 7-10 in Toronto.

“Now that things are opening up, let’s bring the artists who may never get a chance like this,” explained David Hodges, the music programming director of inPath, which supports young Indigenous creators.

“We took it one step further to put on our own showcase event while we have all these amazing artists in one location. We’re inviting record companies, booking agents, people who have shown interest in some of our other artists like Mattmac.”

Funding is by N’we Jinan ArtWorks, the inPath program that originated in Eeyou Istchee in 2014 and has since supported over 900 young Indigenous musicians.

A $5 million federal grant or travel and conferences in March 2020 remained unspent after Covid shutdowns. Now they’ve decided to support all their music artists at Canada’s largest annual music industry event, paying for flights, hotels and conference fees while launching a showcase event June 9 at The Painted Lady.

This initiative originated with Siibii (aka Angel Baribeau), the Mistissini singer-songwriter who won the grand prize at Canada’s Walk of Fame RBC Emerging Musician Program last November. That led to a showcase performance at CMW along with $20,000 and other benefits.

The ArtWorks showcase is a celebration of the program’s entrepreneurial training and an opportunity to bring its artists together for the first time. They include Cree musicians Siibii, Cjay Griz (Christian-John Monias), Vangorian (Franklin Moar), Slice (Silas Katapatuk) and Jossée Bernier.

“I’ll have some new content I’ve been afraid to delve into in previous years,” revealed Siibii. “Watching how media has transformed within the past couple of years has inspired me to pursue a new aesthetic and attitude towards stage performance. I’m working on further developing my performance skills so I can’t wait to try everything out on the big stage.”

Siibii became the first former student inPath’s initial Mikw Chiyâm arts-education cohort to become an artist-in-residence. She was featured on N’we Jinan’s chart-topping 2014 compilation album, inspiring growth as an artist has paralleled that of the inPath organization.

“It feels like a loved one,” Siibii told the Nation. “This program received love, sweat and tears of all the cool human beings involved to make it what it is. To know that in a few weeks we’ll all be sharing space somewhere is totally wild. I’ll always be incredibly grateful.”

Ahead of their separate CMW showcase event June 8 at Cameron House and other summer gigs such as Pride Winnipeg, Siibii recently had a virtual mentorship session with Sarah McLaughlin as part of the Walk of Fame prize. The meeting was facilitated by George Stroumboulopoulos, who first interviewed Siibii after the N’we Jinan release nearly a decade ago.

“The biggest thing that makes me happy about winning the RBC Walk of Fame award is taking up space on the national platform,” said Siibii. “I’ve always wanted to go to Pride, being a Queer person, but just never made it to any parade. To know that the first Pride I’ll ever go to I’ll be performing at is pretty awesome.”

The Cree invitees will choose their own adventures at CMW, including industry panels, networking opportunities and shows around Toronto. As most never imagined they could build their lives around music, this enables them to fully assume the role of artists.

“Growing up, I couldn’t see anything musical happening,” shared Bernier. “That mentality stuck with me a long time. I finally feel ready to pursue music more professionally and independently. With the support behind me, now working on an album feels like something I can actually do.”

Bernier credits ArtWorks for helping her confidentially step up to a global stage. While the music may be ready, these artists are aiming to be more strategic in finding an audience – which could be expedited by making connections at CMW.

“When the audience is sitting like they’re watching a movie, I want them to give me energy like they’re in this movie,” asserted Moar. “There are Indigenous artists all over the country not getting the attention they deserve. You don’t want to just ask random people ‘check out my music’.”

An encounter with Hodges in high school introduced Moar to Mikw Chiyâm, which became such a haven for his creativity that he was reluctant to graduate. Fortunately, inPath’s expanding postsecondary programs enabled artists like Moar continue their development.

Moar’s involvement with inPath led to a friendship with fellow Chisasibi resident Monias, who watched Moar’s evolution from local DJ to renowned Electronic Dance Music (EDM) artist Vangorian. Following Moar’s remix of the hit song “Paradise” by Oji-Cree artist Mattmac, Moar and Monias shot a music video together in Winnipeg.

“It was the first time for him being out there doing artist things,” Monias said. “Doing a music video in Winnipeg was a big step for me. People kept telling me, ‘You got to be more visual, have more promo behind it’. I used to just drop music and hoped it took off, but you have to put work behind stuff you release, or it will fall flat on its face.”

Monias is delighted to participate in Canadian Music Week. While the raw talent was always there, inPath’s programs bow nurture a growing base of world-class artists ready for the spotlight.

“I hope their takeaway is there’s plenty of talent in the Cree Nation,” said Monias. “I know when we come back it will feel so unreal that we’ve accomplished this. Everybody out there who wants to be an artist, start a business or get into any type of field they dream of, it’s totally possible now because things are so much accessible.”

Patrick Quinn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation

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