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George Elliott Clarke, Chris White and Shelley Hamilton performing at The Sonic Temple in Halifax. Photo provided.

Album review: The Afro-Métis Nation creates a musical manifesto with Constitution

By Joyce MacPhee on October 1, 2019




Canada, meet the Afro-Métis Nation. According to accomplished poet and novelist Dr. George Elliott Clarke, the Afro-Métis Nation consists of folks of African descent whose ancestors include Indigenous and/or Métis people (and sometimes Europeans as well). It’s also the name of a musical group whose first album, Constitution, celebrates the Afro-Métis Nation of Nova Scotia, with its mingled musical influences including Celtic, Acadian and African (what Clarke calls Africadian), and Indigenous. The cover of the album is graced with an intriguing photo of a group of Mi’kmaq and Black people living together in rural Nova Scotia in 1891.

Clarke joined up with four talented cousins to create and perform an acoustic album with a kaleidoscopic cultural vision. His cousin-collaborators are Sugar Plum Croxen, Shelley Hamilton, Russ Kelley, and Chris White. Each of them has Afro-Métis ancestry and brings their own perspective and musical bent.

Some of the most powerful statements on the album are made by Clarke. His searing, spiritual spoken-word “For the Murdered and the Missing” explores the plight of missing and murdered Aboriginal women. He also penned the lyrics for “Hymn to Portia White,” the tale of his great-aunt, the first Black Canadian classical singer to earn an international reputation, as well as a musing on the divine entitled “Ain’t You Scared of the Sacred?”

White is a performing songwriter who co-founded the Ottawa Folk Festival in 1994 and is host of the long-running CKCU-FM folk music show Canadian Spaces. “I found it fascinating and personally very meaningful to explore the blend of Black and Indigenous cultures that goes back many years in this country, but is not documented in any history book. Giving that cultural blend a name and sharing its stories and songs are important ways to acknowledge and celebrate that reality,” White says.

“I found it fascinating and personally very meaningful to explore the blend of Black and Indigenous cultures that goes back many years in this country.”

White’s tracks on the album include the poetic song “The Garlic and the Rose,” which praises diversity, and two historical songs about distinguished Black Nova Scotians. The first is an upbeat, gospel-tinged song about entrepreneur and civil rights pioneer Viola Desmond, whose image is featured on the Canadian ten-dollar bill. The second is “William Andrew,” the story of his grandfather, William Andrew White (1874-1936) who was born to parents freed from slavery in Virginia and went on to lead a Baptist church in Halifax.

The album opens with Shelley Hamilton’s wistful a cappella song “Skin,” to which Clarke contributes a punchy spoken-word outro. This is followed by a reimagined version of “O Canada!” that consists of a fiery spoken-word version by Clarke followed by a melodious version sung by Hamilton, who also contributed some bluesy ballads and a spoken-word track.

The wonderfully named Sugar Plum Croxon contributed self-penned rootsy tunes including the lively “Bannock and Beans” and “People are People,” while in his songs, Russ Kelley sings expressively of escaping slavery and pleads for a lot more love in this world. Both are also solo performing songwriters.

You can listen to Constitution for free online or order a copy here.