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ShoShona Kish. Photo provided by the NAC.

Concert review: Anishinabekwe showcases impressive talent

By Jared Davidson on July 25, 2017


Another night, another National Arts Centre (NAC) stage crammed with talent. Canada Scene closed on Sunday, but on Saturday the festival treated the Babs Asper Theatre audience to Anishinabekwe, a night featuring five outstanding performances from five outstanding female Indigenous artists, all backed by Barrie’s Digging Roots.

The lineup featured ShoShona Kish, who hosted the night and performed with her band Digging Roots; Tanya Tagaq, whose influence is being felt internationally; Amanda Rheaume, the Ottawa native who picked up a Juno nomination; Sandy Scofield, a multiple award winner and legendary performer; Iskwé, the purveyor of a new style of triphop fused with Cree/Dene and Irish traditions; and Moe Clark, a dynamic performer with an incredible voice.

The only downside of having a lineup so rich is the sad fact that all that talent has to be squeezed into 2.5 hours. Similarly, there’s not enough space in this review to give each performer their due. To condense: every artist brought their best to the stage on Saturday. They celebrated each as the audience celebrated them, and the mutual admiration was palpable. Between each performance Kish kept the message positive, hopeful, and politically defiant.

To condense: every artist brought their best to the stage on Saturday.

Moe Clark started the show on a high note, and while it was sometimes apparent that Digging Roots hadn’t had quite enough time to rehearse with her, they were able to find an excellent groove. It was the kind of music you’d usually dance to, and if NAC audiences did that, they would have done it here. Later, Kish attempted to organize a dancing circle only to be rebuffed by the seating layout of the Babs Asper Theatre. I like sitting as much as the next person, but this isn’t quite the music for it.

Clark was followed by Iskwé, who brought the intensity level way up. Then, ShoShona Kish took the stage next to her husband to complete the Digging Roots ensemble for a few of their songs. She had changed her costume and was fully fringed-out in a white and blue leather dress. Her stage presence and experience showed clearly, and the band looked happy to be playing their own songs.

Sandy Scofield took the stage next, played an excellent set that drew on a deep folk sound, and Digging Roots was back to backing. It must be said that the band, and especially Raven Kanetakta on guitar, did a marvelous job backing every performer. It was especially evident here as the sound took a swerve toward the acoustic and the band followed suit.

Amanda Rheaume came on next and performed a few of her older song, which pleased a hometown crowd. She had great chemistry with the backing band, and really brought the night to a peak. But it would be the next performer that everyone would be talking about upon leaving the theatre.

Tanya Tagaq is hard to describe. People often introduce her, as Kish did, by using vague adjectives like “dynamic” and “intense.” We music writers often use comparisons to give people an idea of a sound, but I can’t do that here. She seems to purposefully defy convention, even going so far as to say that what she does is “not throat singing” before she began performing.

“Throat singing is a traditional practice that involves two people,” she said. “This is not that.”

She then launched into a 20-30 minute long improvised performance that to even begin to describe would cheapen it utterly. Tagaq is a performer that should be experienced in person. There are elements to her performance that are visual, dance, and storytelling, and watching her jam live was incredible. She uses her entire body as an instrument, allowing her to convey emotion in a direct, visceral way.

The result is absolutely mindblowing. After the dust settled, and Tagaq stopped doing what she does, her enormous stage presence left a vacuum. The audience had been carried with her through this jam/journey and were now somehow sitting in an NAC concert hall, contemplating the traffic in the parking garage.

Anishinabekwe took place Saturday July 22 at the National Arts Centre’s Barb Asper Theatre as part of Canada Scene