By Ross Currie (Host of Salvaged Sounds Tuesday 6:00-7:00PM)
From the opening lines of Willie Dunn’s “I Pity The Country” to the concluding cymbal crash of “Peruvian Dream” an hour an fifty two minutes later, the music that’s heard on Native North America: Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country from 1966-1985 represents a large cross section of indigenous expression, song-writing and artistic vision that was largely unheard until now. The 34 track compilation released on Seattle label Light in the Attic on November 25, 2014 is the first of its kind to take a comprehensive look at the diverse voices and sounds coming from Canada’s indigenous music community from the mid sixties to the mid eighties.
Five years ago, Vancouver-based DJ and record collector Kevin ‘Sipreano’ Howes approached the label with the idea and was given the go ahead to the start working on the project. Which came out of hearing the records and identifying a lack of information and documentation that existed for many of the artists. “I loved the music and I wanted to know more about these artists, who they were, how they recorded these songs,” says Howes. “First and foremost I wanted to thank them for their music; music that’s affected me in a positive way, music that I was wanting to share through my work with Light in the Attic.”
Through the process of putting out the compilation, Howes was able to reach out to the artists and document their contributions to Canadian music and cultural expression. Many of the artists lived in remote areas of Canada, as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far east as Nova Scotia, even stretching out west to Nightmute, Alaska. The compilation is a testament to the very distinct and diverse musical expression that spans the vast expanse of the Canadian landscape. Music on the compilation represents Cree, Ojibwa, Chippewa, Mi’kmaq, Sioux, Innu, Algonquin and Inuvialuit cultures respectively. “These artists are singing about struggle, the destruction of the environment, native rights and issues. Important things, that are very pertinent today,” says Howes. Despite being heavy in subject matter, the music represents indigenous culture and musical expression mixed within the traditional and contemporary music, and most importantly can teach us a great deal about our cultural heritage.
With liner notes complete with biographies for all the artists and bands featured, photographs, song lyrics and original album artwork, the 60 page LP booklet gives much needed context for listeners who are hearing from artists who were largely unknown within Canada, outside of their communities and record collecting culture. “The artists are know within indigenous music circles and regional communities across the country, but on a larger more pop-culture and Canadian culture landscape these stories just haven’t been told, and documented and shared,” says Howes. In the case of many songs that appeared on the compilation, a lack of distribution, and a lack of radio play outside of regional stations serviced by the CBC can be cited as some of the reasons why many of the artists didn’t gain the recognition they deserved upon their releases. Many of the records were pressed in very limited quantities and weren’t available for consumption by the general public. Given that master tapes deteriorate and the records were becoming scarcely available, the need to curate the collection of songs was something that was important, not only for Howes, but also for future Canadians who may have never heard the messages and songs that appear on the compilation. “If you don’t take the time to document this history, it might be lost forever,” says Howes. Through reissuing the songs, they can now reach a wider audience, ranging from younger generations of Canadians to an international audience through physical and digital distribution.
Native North America is a compilation that flows with creative energy, passion and artistic vision. You’ll hear songwriters, poets, activists and musicians, who all rightfully deserved to be recognized within the scope of Canada’s musical heritage, and more importantly within our national identity. The most important thing that can be learned from this collection of songs is ultimately up to the listener, but respect, understanding and awareness are central themes that one can hear through the music. “The issues raised in these songs; the vibrations, the feelings, the emotions are things we can learn from today. I want them to be celebrated as a collective cultural history,” says Howes. “I want this to be a positive thing, and I want this to be a celebration for everyone,” he adds. The compilation will be exposed new listeners across Canada and the world to songs and issues that are profoundly moving.