Lil'wat artist Russell Wallace releases groundbreaking new album in St'át'imc language

·2 min read

Lil'wat artist Russell Wallace's new album is not only a nod to his own personal history and his family's history, but it's a way of making the St'át'imc language more accessible.

"I can't watch Star Trek in my language ... Hearing Lady Gaga on the radio, she doesn't sing in our language. Putting out an album really, providing more resources," Wallace said.

Unceded Tongues combines pop, jazz and blues with Salish musical forms and is sung in the St'át'imc language. Wallace has been making music for more than 30 years, including a stint as the Indigenous Artist in Residence at the 2019 for the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Unceded Tongues, however, is his first album in St'át'imc.

"Unceded Tongues [is] referring to losing language. We didn't lose our language intentionally. Like unceded lands, they were never given away," Wallace said.

"We never gave permission to give our land away, we never gave permission to give our language away, or have it disappear. And you know my elders always talked about the relationship between the land and the language, and the land and the music."

Though Wallace is not completely fluent in St'át'imc, he relied on family to help with pronunciation and structure when needed.

Submitted by Russell Wallace
Submitted by Russell Wallace

One of the songs on the album, "Please Come Back To Me", is a song Wallace's mother used to sing.

"[It was] one that she learned from her aunt. Basically the lyrics are saying 'my heart really aches without you being here and please come back to me.' That's the extent of the lyrics of the song. It was created at a time, my mom tells the story, that her aunt would sing the song and cry," Wallace said.

Wallace says the song was written during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which hit the Lil'wat community particularly hard.

"In Lil'wat, there were a lot of Indigenous people that were dying from this. Look at the records from November 1918 and there were so many deaths within such a short period of time. And it was all related to that pandemic. So that one song tells that story, but me putting music to it in a different way is relating to what's happening now in our world in 2020 — 2021," he said.

Wallace says he hopes the album will appeal to a broader audience, and relying on his deep musical knowledge to blend pop, R&B, and jazz along with Salish-based musical forms.

"For me, it was important to put the language in different types of genres of music, because I think our music belongs everywhere."

Unceded Tongues is available on Bandcamp.