Indigenous musician trying to kickstart his career

A Lethbridge Indigenous singer is hoping to kickstart his music career.

Willy Big Bull is the lead singer for his band Wintercount. He works with a revolving list of musicians and tours all over southern Alberta.

Although Big Bull never had professional training, he says he was inspired by his father who would often sing.

"I always loved how his voice sounds, since I was a kid, I think was my first inspiration," said Big Bull.

When Big Bull was in sixth grade his father encouraged him to join a lip syncing contest at school. Everyone from his hometown came to his elementary school to watch the performances and he ended up winning the contest.

This experience sparked his love for performing and soon after he joined a drumming group, which toured around Western Canada.

"I joined a traditional drum group. We were called the Singing Eagles and it was me and seven other kids. We learned how to sing a bunch of songs with some of the elders on my reserve and we got to tour around a little bit too. We went played shows with our group and we had some some dancers that came with us," said Big Bull.

When Big Bull was 22, his father gifted him a guitar for his birthday and just like almost any other musician he started playing for his friends and family.

"when I finally got enough chords down to start playing some tunes, I started singing some songs at just little parties and gatherings. You know, your first audience is your friends and family," said Big Bull.

Word spread quickly about his talent in his small town and before he knew it, he was performing at funerals.

Big Bull says that although singing at funerals of people he loved was hard, it made him the musician he is today.

"It was a real blessing. I'm very thankful for that experience. It's a real part of my story because I wrote a song from it called Sad Songs, which kind of just reflects on what it was like being a funeral singer for a little while," said Big Bull.

Big Bull started singing with a band about two years ago. He chose the name Wintercount because in Indigenous culture a Wintercount is used to tell someone's journey through pictographs, however, you often have to ask the person who drew the pictures to understand the full meaning.

Big Bull says Wintercount represents the songs he writes and how they often have deeper meanings.

"When I'm talking about my music and storytelling, it's really hard for me to tell these stories without going into the details of where they come from. On the surface, the idea is to make something appeasing and valuable to people that they can sing along to. But lyrically, like little pictographs, which is within the story, you have to ask questions. You can't really just look at it and understand everything," said Big Bull.

When Big Bull is not touring, he is a father to three children and runs a music mentorship program in a studio in his basement for Indigenous youth. Big Bull also runs a food truck called Penny's, in which he sells fry-bread from a recipe passed down from his grandmother.

Big Bull is hoping to release his first EP later this summer and will be performing at Whoop-Up Days in August.

For more information about his music Big Bull can be reached by email at will.bigbull@gmail.com

Alexandra Noad, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald