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Maku Music

Music is the only uni­ver­sal language,

the only one that is under­stood and spoken

in each of the 195 coun­tries on this planet.”

Tom­son Highway


Few peo­ple on the oth­er side of keechiga­maak, “the big water” as the Eey­ou call the Atlantic Ocean, are aware of the Indige­nous musi­cal effer­ves­cence in the Fran­coph­o­ne envi­ron­ment in Kana­ta (Cana­da). Ten First Nations occu­py the Kébeq (Que­bec). They are the Innu, Eey­ou, Atikamekw, Mi’q­makw, Waban A’kis, Wolas­to­qiyik, Anishnaabes/Algonquins, Naskapi, Kanien’ke: Akas and Wen­dats. In addi­tion to the 700,000 First Nations, there are 13,000 Inu­it from Nunavik in the North.


After con­tacts that led to ter­ri­to­r­i­al dis­pos­ses­sion and a qua­si-cul­tur­al geno­cide, this is an era of affir­ma­tion marked by polit­i­cal and insti­tu­tion­al changes. Through­out gath­er­ings in Indige­nous ter­ri­to­ries and on urban stages, a dynam­ic artis­tic uni­verse vibrates. Its roots, spread by tal­ent­ed Indige­nous musi­cians, cre­ate plan­e­tary nomads, mov­ing every­where on the back of Yän­di­aw­ish, the great tur­tle, Moth­er Earth.



Our musi­cians are Makusham mak­ers. Their sound vibra­tions have a wild ori­gin, asso­ci­at­ed with the one called (in Algo­nquin lan­guages) Maku, the bear. Hiber­nat­ing in the bow­els of Moth­er Earth, this mytho­log­i­cal ani­mal keeps in it the mem­o­ry of the land. It fol­lows bees and but­ter­flies to med­i­c­i­nal plants. Hav­ing trans­mit­ted to humans the dream of tak­ing off to play, sing and dance, in oth­er words, the impulse to nomadism and heal­ing. Maku sym­bol­izes the fusion of ani­mist breath with the con­tem­po­rary fes­tive, uni­fy­ing and ben­e­fi­cial musi­cal rhythms. More­over, the musi­cal essence of our spoken/sung lan­guages embod­ies an iden­ti­ty that links cul­tur­al move­ments to musi­cal trends. For many Indige­nous peo­ple, mul­ti­lin­gual­ism was an asset long before the arrival of colo­nial lan­guages. This lin­guis­tic ver­sa­til­i­ty rein­forces, with half of the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in cities, the role of musi­cians as spokesper­sons for the revi­tal­iza­tion of indige­nous lan­guages, rec­og­nized by UNESCO. Let us add their ease for mul­ti-instru­men­tal­ist, mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary and inter­na­tion­al col­lab­o­ra­tions, a phe­nom­e­non linked to musi­cal cre­ativ­i­ty in the vicin­i­ty of visu­al arts, the­atre and documentaries.


Com­mu­ni­ty affirmation


Thir­ty years of com­mu­ni­ty self-deter­mi­na­tion are com­ing to an end. In Kébeq, the Innu First Nation is the musi­cal leader and shines through­out all 54 reserves. Malioté­nam, a com­mu­ni­ty on the North Shore, is at the epi­cen­tre of this move­ment: it is the birth­place of the famous duo Kashtin (1989), home to the Innu Nika­mu Fes­ti­val (head­ing into its 36th annu­al edi­tion since 1984) and Flo­rent Vol­lan­t’s music pro­duc­tion stu­dio. In addi­tion, the Atikamekw-Mon­tag­nais Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Cor­po­ra­tion’s net­work of com­mu­ni­ty radio sta­tions con­tin­u­ous­ly broad­cast Indige­nous music on reserves. The “Pow Wow Trail” that extends to more than fif­teen com­mu­ni­ties is part of this musi­cal affir­ma­tion in Indige­nous ter­ri­to­ries. In addi­tion, the the excur­sions to the reserves of the Wapikoni Mobile video pro­duc­tion project with its Nikamowin branch (Nomadic Music) is stim­u­lat­ing the emer­gence of the next gen­er­a­tion. Final­ly, far from for­get­ting such pio­neers as Ala­nis Obom­saw­in, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Philippe Macken­zie, Rob­bie Robert­son and Kashtin (Flo­rent Vol­lant and Claude Macken­zie), they are being cel­e­brat­ed with doc­u­men­taries and awards.



These ele­ments reflect a strong, net­worked, rapid­ly devel­op­ing music in First Nations com­mu­ni­ties, con­nect­ed to the urban Indige­nous show­cas­es of the Teweikan Galas and the Mon­tre­al First People’s Fes­ti­val in Tiötià:ke/Montreal. This year, the Asso­ci­a­tion québé­coise de l’in­dus­trie du disque, du spec­ta­cle et de la vidéo (ADISQ) is open­ing one Indige­nous cat­e­go­ry at its high-pro­file Gala. Invi­ta­tions to the sāk­i­hi­wē fes­ti­val in Win­nipeg and the Inter­na­tion­al Indige­nous Music Sum­mit in New Orleans echo this inter­na­tion­al openness.


Plan­e­tary nomads


In 2019 the stars are aligned. An essen­tial cre­ative crit­i­cal mass for Indige­nous music is tak­ing shape in Amer­i­ca. And it is undoubt­ed­ly the steady beat and increased inter­est in the rhythms of the drums and tra­di­tion­al songs that are the first vibra­tions. They can be heard through the updat­ing of tra­di­tion­al songs, folk, coun­try and rock, blues, jazz and opera, rap, reg­gae, slam, world music, elec­tro-pop to clas­si­cal music.


The pre­pon­der­ance of drums reminds us of the inalien­able place giv­en to the Ancients by per­pet­u­at­ing tra­di­tion­al rhythms and songs as the Innu Charles-Api Belle­fleur does with ardour. On urban stages, the social drums of musi­cians like Odaya and Moe Clark res­onate. On the Pow Wow trail, groups like the Black Bears Singers (Atikamekw) meta­mor­phose the large inter-trib­al drums into “sacred thunder”.



Spo­ken word poet­ry ensures the tran­si­tion between tra­di­tion and hyper­moder­ni­ty. This is the case with Kata­j­jait throat singing con­tests by Inu­it women includ­ing Tanya Tagaq and Elis­apie Isaac. The bear’s steps and drum vibra­tions are elec­tri­fied in folk, coun­try and rock styles through the Innu (Flo­rent Vol­lant - men­tor of the younger gen­er­a­tions and 2019 Teweikan Gala Award: Scott-Pien Picard, Matiu, Mat­en, Innutin) and Atikamekw (Sakay Ottawa, Lau­ra Niquay, Yvan Boivin-Fle­mand), and Anach­nid (Cree). There are sev­er­al inter­trib­al col­lab­o­ra­tions such as Nika­mu Mamuitun - Chan­sons rassem­bleuses.


They became rap with the Algo­nquin Sami­an, Naskapi group Vio­lent Ground, and the Miq’­makw Q052, reg­gae with the singer Innu Shauit, slam with the Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, blues and jazz with Wen­dat Andrée Kwe’­dokye’s Levesque Sioui, Anishin­abe Dig­ging Roots, Inu­it Quan­tum Tan­gle, Métis Kawan­dak and Miq’­makw Ray­mond Sewell and Back­tow­er Township/Corey Thomas. Through their use of turnta­bles and syn­the­siz­ers, DJs like Geron­i­mo Inutik, Ziibi­wan, and of course A Tribe Called Red are ready for the elec­tron­ic world’s festivalgoers.


Fur­ther­more, we can say that clas­si­cal music is becom­ing more Indige­nous! Just fol­low the fur­rows of Cree musi­cian Tom­son High­way sign­ing the musi­cal libret­to Tshakapesh played in four com­mu­ni­ties by the Mon­tre­al Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra and its con­duc­tor Kent Nagano. Or lis­ten to the tenor voice of artist Jere­my Dutch­er mix­ing piano, drum and record­ing tra­di­tion­al songs on the old beeswax rolls to sing the Wolas­tok (the Wolas­to­qiyik riv­er) in his lan­guage. Singer Andrée Kwe’­doky’es Levesque Sioui also drew inspi­ra­tion from such record­ings to cre­ate the piece Kwayaweh in Wen­dake with the Orchestre phi­lar­monique de Québec.


In the end, against the envi­ron­men­tal dam­age done to Moth­er Earth, Indige­nous women artists are the war­riors of this 21st cen­tu­ry, and among them, the Inu­it singer Élis­apie Isaac, win­ner of the Best Show Award at the 2019 Teweikan Gala. Her lat­est com­po­si­tion Nous avons marché was sung by thou­sands of chil­dren at school on the very day of the world’s major cli­mate march­es. She also men­tioned all these march­es for jus­tice for Indige­nous women. This piece car­ries the vibra­tions of hope of a frozen rev­o­lu­tion in north­east­ern Amer­i­ca. It is the one of wilder­ness through music to renew our rela­tion­ships. In oth­er words, Indige­nous musi­cians are ready to cross the oceans back­wards to decol­o­nize the scenes overseas.






Guy Sioui Durand


Guy Sioui Durand


Wendat (Huron), Guy Sioui Durand is a sociologist (PH.D.) and art critic, independent curator and speaker-performer. He looks at Aboriginal art and contemporary art. On the one hand, it emphasizes the decolonization of minds through the re-wilding of our imaginations and the renewal of relationships. On the other hand, he thinks that we must change the world through action art, and action art through living Aboriginal art as long as the spectacular is opposed to the show. Guy Sioui is the author of Riopelle's book L'Art comme alternative (1997), which teaches initiation to indigenous art at Kiuna and Uqam institutions. Indianity (2002), the Spirit of Objects (2013) and many articles including Decolonization of Art through Indigenous Art (Freedom, 2018). In 2018-2019, he was curator of the Toronto Creative Residency. Trialogue at the Labo in Toronto, the Indigenous Performance Art Internations Gathering (IPAA) in Wendake, the Tobacco and Sweetgrass exhibition. Where our dreams are at the Musée d'art de Joliette and the in situ event La Tente parlante as part of Art Manifesto 9 in Quebec City. www.siouidurand.org.

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