A Juno-nominated musician from Attawapiskat, Ont., is leaning into his Cree culture and language in some new music and an upcoming book.
Adrian Sutherland, an Omushkegowuk Cree singer-songwriter, released a new song on Aug 11, called Notawe, meaning, "father." The term is also often used to describe "Creator."
Sutherland wants in his work to focus on what makes him unique.
"This was actually the first time I wrote a full song in Cree," said Sutherland in an interview with Dorothy Stewart on CBC North's Cree-language radio.
"Being Cree, being Indigenous, being from the far north and coming from the bush makes me different," said Sutherland.
Writing and singing in Cree is more challenging than in English, said Sutherland.
Sutherland is a longtime frontman for Midnight Shine, a roots-rock band that's recorded three albums since 2013.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sutherland built a recording studio in his home community out of a shipping container, and decided to focus on music as a solo artist.
Notawe is the first single off an upcoming album, his second solo album, which is set to be released in March 2024. There will be two all-Cree songs on the album.
Reflecting the beauty of Attawapiskat in his music is important for Sutherland. Despite hardships, Sutherland takes pride in being from the northern community.
"Although there are lots of challenges and there's a lot of very tough things that we're dealing with, but there's also lots of good things and lots of beauty," said Sutherland.
During the pandemic, a shipping container was donated for Sutherland to build a recording studio in his backyard. (Submitted by Adrian Sutherland)
With growing awareness around truth and reconciliation, Sutherland hopes for Canadians to walk together in love, respect and better understanding of one another.
"I grew up there my whole life and I've been grinding it out. I think no one has ever heard the story coming from somebody [...] who's lived there, who's been on the ground." said Sutherland.
Mental health, politics, family relationships and what it means to be from the north are the lyrical inspirations behind the music he's writing.
Notawe pays tribute to the role of fathers, and also uncles and grandfathers. Sutherland's father, David Shapiro, died when Sutherland was a young child.
"The last message in the song was 'love your parents [...] and listen to your parents', give them that obedience [...] because their life goes by so quickly," said Sutherland.
"When I look at my kids, I always see my father and that kind of keeps me going."
Sutherland is focused on his solo work and on bringing his culture and language into his music. (submitted by Judy Sutherland)
Sutherland's last album and first solo project, When the Magic Hits, did really well. The album was nominated for a Juno in 2022.
Music is not the only writing he's been doing.
Sutherland is writing a book and is enjoying being able to explore some of the same themes in his music in a deeper way.
"Through that lens of mainstream media, [...] they show you the worst of everything, they don't show you the good things about where I come from," said Sutherland.
He hopes to finish the first draft of his book by December, which will later be published through Penguin Random House Canada.
"My experience growing up there and having really nothing, living in a log cabin with my grandparents and my family — the culture is one of the things I get to talk about [and] being in the bush and not having access to clean drinking water," said Sutherland.