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ShoShona Kish. Photo provided by the NAC.

Canada Scene: Anishinabekwe celebrates Canada’s finest female Indigenous voices

By Chrissy Steinbock on July 21, 2017

On Saturday night, Canada Scene presents Anishinabekwe, a one-of-a-kind evening of music and storytelling showcasing some of the country’s best female Indigenous artists.

The lineup and concept for Anishinabekwe, Anishinaabemowin for woman, comes thanks to the curation of ShoShona Kish, who you may know as one half of the duo fronting the Digging Roots.

The evening will feature a stellar lineup of five female Indigenous artists including Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq, R&B trip hop artist Iskwé, Ottawa’s own Amanda Rheaume, trailblazer Sandy Scofield and soundscape vocalist Moe Clark. Digging Roots, the heavy hitting, Juno winning five-piece will be the house band for the evening. The band also features Shoshona’s guitar slinging husband Raven Kanetakta and their son Skye Polton on drums.

Though coming from diverse musical backgrounds, the five women share a respect for their Indigenous roots and a political outspokenness. “I don’t want to speak for them but from my perspective all the artists in the lineup are activists and artists who are bringing really strong and really positive voices to the conversation,” ShoShona says. “And that may have been part of the choices we made when we were curating it, just to have this really honest and kind conversation about really tough things that are going on right now.”

ShoShona Kish. Photo by Ratul Debnath.

ShoShona Kish. Photo by Ratul Debnath.

Apt613 got in touch with ShoShona Kish and Amanda Rheaume to learn more about Anishinabekwe, roots, and why they make music. Here is an excerpt from our conversation.

Apt613: What was the inspiration for Anishinabekwe and how did it come together?

Shoshona Kish: The inspiration really came from wanting to take a moment, step back and celebrate Indigenous women and bring our voices together as a community. I think there’s so much going on across Canada in terms of discussions and discourse about the Inquiry that’s happening and the rising awareness around some of the issues that Indigenous women face in this country and also this beautiful strength rising from so many corners of the country. We’ll only have representation of some of the enormous talent that’s out there but there’s this surge of creativity and talent coming forward right now so we wanted to put a spotlight on that and celebrate it.

Apt613: It’s such an excellent bill. How did you choose the featured artists?

ShoShona Kish: I know all of the artists on the bill personally and professionally. It’s a small community and I think those of us who are working hard and building careers and traveling, we find each other together often. It’s hard to represent such a beautiful and diverse community geographically and in terms of the nations. It was a matter of finding that right alchemy where we could represent and showcase the best of Indigenous voices and have a cross section at the same time. There was a little bit of serendipity too because we’re at the height of touring season right now so we were putting a little bit of tobacco down and just praying that the artists that we wanted were available.

Amanda Rheaume. Photo by Jen Squires.

Amanda Rheaume. Photo by Jen Squires.

Apt613: Is this show much different from the ones you usually play? Does it mean something different to be part of a lineup like this and part of a festival like Canada Scene?

Amanda Rheaume: It means a lot that Shoshona and her team asked me to play this show. It’s also really special to see all these women who are friends and colleagues all in the same place at the same time and to share the stage. It feels like a true honor. This show is really going to be an authentic experience for the audience. We’ve never been on stage together and I think there’s so much energy in that so it does feel very special.

Apt613: Neither of you are shy about sharing political views in your music. Shoshona, your band Digging Roots have the song “AK47”, a comment on gun violence and “HWY17, a response to the injustice of missing and murdered Indigenous women and Amanda, you wrote “Red Dress.” I was wondering if you feel that this show is political because it is a showcase of Indigenous women’s voices?

ShoShona Kish: I think that being an Indigenous women is inherently political. We don’t really have an option to not be political. How we choose to deal with that is, of course, very personal. I feel like it would be a missed opportunity if we didn’t open a conversation and deepen our relationship to the larger community and talk about things now that there’s new space to talk right now and I feel like if we don’t occupy that space it will contract again. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone. It certainly feels that way for me. It feels like an opportunity to step forward and have new conversations.

Amanda Rheaume: I agree. I think just based on the lineup that will be inevitable.

Apt613: May I ask what roots mean to you and how they figure into your music?

Amanda Rheaume: It started from my grandfather who was a big advocate for Indigenous rights and a politician in Canada. It really was born out storytelling. He would tell me all these stories about his mother who was the Ojibway woman in our family and where my bloodline comes form – stories about their time in the North, stories about living in the bush and what they went through as a half breed family, if you will, at a time when colonialism was rampant; it still is but it was really bad where they were living. Somehow I became interested and from there it’s been a matter of continual digging and searching and putting that into song.

Tanya Tagaq. Photo provided by National Arts Centre.

Tanya Tagaq. Photo provided by National Arts Centre.

ShoShona Kish: There are some more overt ways that we have explored like with Songlines which my great Auntie talked to me about how at one time, the inspiration for some songs was studying the contour of the horizon line so where’s there’s a mountain rising, the melody would rise and where the mountain dips, the melody would fall or over the course of the plain crests that would be the sound of the drone so a lot of traditional songs find their roots from a specific tradition of songwriting and also a specific site. When she talked to me about that it was like a lightbulb went off and a whole new light was cast on everything and I was really excited to develop a relationship to that idea so we’ve been doing that. But on the other hand it would be impossible for me to be honest as an artist and storyteller without my roots coming through because it’s who I am so I could extract it but that doesn’t seem natural. I have to speak my truth.

Apt613: At the end of the day, why do you make music?

ShoShona Kish: I don’t know that it’s a choice partly because it’s who I am as a human and also because it’s partly survival for me and gives me this place to move through the challenges of being who I am as an Indigenous woman and helps me find strength and gives me a way of speaking to my truth and feeling like I have something to offer the narrative. I think powerlessness is a nightmare state so I feel like music is a real blessing and I don’t know that I would ever give it up. It’s also ‘cause I never made a back-up plan (laughs).

Amanda Rheaume: A lot of that is true for me too. Music and being a communicator and an artist has been a healing journey for me. I’ve found a lot of healing through writing and through sharing songs and also healing through seeing other people heal from music and I really believe that every time I’m play on stage it’s an opportunity to say something, to provide a message that might help people or shine light on something. So, I also feel it’s not really a choice and what I’m meant to be doing.

Iskwé. Photo by Nat Caine.

Iskwé. Photo by Nat Caine.

ShoShona Kish: It’s an adventure. That might be part of it too. Traveling, making music, meeting people, building community and having these conversations.

Amanda Rheaume: It’s such a unique lens and you sacrifice a lot to do this kind of work but I gain so much as a human getting to see amazing parts of the world and meet people and be inspired and collect experiences and stories to shoot back out at people.

ShoShona Kish: Also the way it impacts my humanity I get to go all these places and meet people who are so different – different languages, different food, different land base, different spirituality and the thing that comes through the most from all of that is how the same we are. It’s pretty hard to be cynical when you have these experiences even when you’re broken down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

Amanda Rheaume: As you travel more and meet people, you realize we’re not all so different and it’s important to shorten those gaps and be able to sing songs that connect us.

ShoShona Kish: And it’s not it’s like a melting pot. The thing that’s so inspiring is we have so much to learn from each other so much to offer each other because of our differences and then all this amazing common ground to stand on when we figure that out. That is so life affirming. Things seem a little scary sometimes out there. Sometimes it feels like we’re spinning our wheels and not getting anywhere and then I have those experiences like on the Tundra in Norway with an elder who can’t speak English singing Song Lines to us because that is also part of his tradition. And that kind of thing happens all the time and it’s like oh, maybe we’re going to be ok.

Apt613: These moments of surprising connection: is that the kind of thing you’d hope audiences will take away from this?

ShoShona Kish: I think so. I think that’s one of the key enriching things I have in my life that I would want everyone to have.

Anishinabekwe is Saturday July 22 at the National Arts Centre’s Barb Asper Theatre. The show starts at 7:30pm and tickets are available online