WEST COAST — The passion Paul Pike has for his culture is immortalized in his new album, Echoes of our Ancestors. Released this past July, Echoes of our Ancestors was entirely composed by Pike, who also played each of the featured instruments.
The one heard the most is the Native American Flute, traditionally known as a pipukwaqn, making this album the first Native American flute CD released in Newfoundland and Labrador. Pike, originally from Corner Brook, was no stranger to music growing up.
“I grew up in a musical family. There was always singing, guitars, you know. I played music professionally since I was about 13 or 14 years old. I played in rock bands for a long time,” said Pike. “Most of my family all come from the Bay St. George area, even all the way out to Codroy Valley. We have family all along the West coast here.”
The transition to playing the Native American Flute happened in the mid nineties while Pike was living in Anchorage, Alaska.
“There was a musician that came through the town by the name of Bill Miller . He is actually a Mohican musician who grew up in the Wisconsin area. His songs were amazing. He was an amazing person and he played this flute, and it was like time stood still when you would hear it. I just knew I had to try playing it. It was such a beautiful instrument.”
Pike, who is also the singer/songwriter for the award-winning First Nations rock band Medicine Dream, said the pipukwaqn can be heard featured on each of the three albums they released as well.
“It wasn’t until a while later that I actually learned that Mik’maq culture actually has a flute tradition. That made me even more interested and made me want to learn more. I am still learning more. I barely know anything as it is,” said Pike.
"There were old recordings of elders talking about these stories of Mi'kmuesu. Mi’kmuesu is described like a spirit of the woods. So these stories are kind of taught to young people to keep them from wandering too far into the woods, because you would hear this beautiful music and you’d want to go explore and see where it is coming from, and you could end up wandering too far. They would say he is like a wizard who could turn you into things, like a deer, these kinds of stories.”
The pipukwaqn is unlike the traditional classical musical instrument which shares the same name.
“This instrument is more like singing than it is playing a flute. When people think of a flute, they think of the classical metal flute, and it’s totally different. The only thing that is similar is that it involves breath, and that’s about it,” explained Pike.
When he started Medicine Dream, Pike would be called to perform the pipukwaqn at special events to honour people.
“I would go into schools. I had been doing cultural education for many years, of course. The kids loved the sound of the flute. I would bring that as a way to bring out conversations and get their attention to get them to talk about their culture,” said Pike. “I’ve also done online flute lessons to help people get a little more interested in playing the flute, so I know there is a lot of interest out there.”
Pike said when he plays the flute, its sound really earns people’s attention.
“It’s almost like whatever is going on around in their world, it comes to a halt, and they are focused on the sound of that flute. Sometimes you’ll see tears come out, the emotions are just very powerful for people, and that’s one of the things I loved about the flute. When I recognized the positive impact it was having, I knew I needed to do more of this.”
Releasing an album completely focused on the Native American flute was something Pike had been thinking about for a long time. The titles of the songs hold special significance as well. Pike said a lot of the titles on the songs for this album are his way of preserving the original names for regions in the area.
“I’d been thinking about doing an album like this for 10 or 15 years really. I’ve had a couple of ideas put to the side and thought, after I had enough accumulated, I would put something together in an album. When the pandemic and everything hit, I thought this is a loose end in my life and I have to get this done. The big question mark was I didn’t know how it would be received in Newfoundland, so I wanted to see how it would be received and see where it goes from there.”
So far the reception has been wonderful.
“I’ve even been invited to perform for the royal family and at all kinds of venues that you could imagine,” shared Pike. “For the royal family, it was an important event, and I always tell people it wasn’t a performance per se for the royal family as much as it was to hopefully open their minds and hearts to hear the difficult things they were needing to hear around truth and reconciliation and all the things that had happened.”
Pike said music is definitely a passion for him and he has no plans to stop anytime in the near future.
“As a musician, I have so many interests surrounding music in general. I just love sharing it and exploring because you just never know what is going to speak to you.”
Echoes of our Ancestors can be found digitally on any streaming platform and is also available in CD format at limited retailers in Corner Brook and Stephenville. For more information about Pike's music, visit: paulpike.herenow.com,.
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News