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23 indigenous musicians who are finally getting some long overdue Grammy recognition
By
Kiah Welsh

Published

February 12, 2016

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Native North America (Vol. 1) is a compilation of 23 unsung indigenous music acts, dating from 1966 to 1985 and ranging in everything from rockabilly to folk. For Canadian producer Kevin Howes, it was also a labour of love, and something that took some 15 years of his life to complete. The album is up for best historical album at the 2016 Grammy Awards. It will also mark the first award recognition of this scale for artists on the compilation.

"Reaching out to the artists [was] a very significant acknowledgement of their history and their music that they laid down all those years ago. And in a lot of cases were never really embraced on such a level," he said in an interview with CBC Music.

Below, we look at the 23 music acts that made this monumental album possible.

Willie Dunn
Songs: "I Pity the Country," "Sun of the Sun," "Peruvian Dream"

Activist and storyteller Willie Dunn often highlighted Aboriginal issues in his work. The Canadian singer-songwriter, born in Montreal, was of Mi’kmaq, Scottish and Irish descent. In the 1960s, Dunn became active in the North American folk scene. The musician received several honours during his lifetime, including being inducted into the Aboriginal Walk of Honour in Edmonton and earning a Lifetime Achievement Prize at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards in 2005.

Willie Dunn playing the guitar.

John Angaiak
Songs:"I'll Rock You to the Rhythm of the Ocean," "Hey, Hey, Hey, Brother"

John Angaiak’s love for music began as a young boy, when his father brought home a Silvertone guitar. While enrolled at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, he made a record with both Yup’ik and English songs, which, when released in 1971, became a smash hit. His single ““Ak’a Tamaani” received recognition in Billboard Magazine. Angaiak’s music would eventually reach other northern communities, including Greenland, where he was asked to perform during the 1980s.

John Angaiak playing the guitar.

Sugluk
Songs:"Fall Away," "Ajuinnarasuarsunga," "I Didn't Know"

Sugluk remains one of the earliest examples of original Inuit rock music recorded in Canada. The group, based in Northern Quebec, recorded two vinyl EPs for the CBC. The band wrote their songs in both English and Inuktitut to preserve their language and culture.


Sikumiut
Songs:"Sikumiut," "Utirumavunga"

Sikumiut is a band formed in Puvirnituq, an Inuit community in the northern region of Quebec, during the early 1970s. The group was a key player in bringing rock ‘n’ roll to the Nunavik region. The band comprised of Charlie Adams, who was on vocals and guitar, Eli Quananack on drums, and multi-instrumentalist Lucassie Koperqualuk. Sikumiut’s songs covered a range of topics including hunting, weather, relationships and the experience of everyday life.


Willie Thrasher
Songs: "Spirit Child," "We Got to Take You Higher," "Old Man Carver"

Willie Thrasher used music as an outlet to advocate for Inuit and First Nations issues. The Canadian Inuit musician recorded both as a solo artist and a member of several bands, including the Cordells and Red Cedar. In the late 1970s, Thrasher recorded a full-length album commissioned by the CBC. That album, Spirit Child, was initially released as a five-song broadcast only, and was later issued commercially.

Willie Thrasher playing the guitar.

Willy Mitchell
Songs: "Call of the Moose," "Kill'n Your Mind," "Birchbark Letter"

Willy Mitchell, born Percy Williams, was born in Malone, N.Y., after his Algonquin and Mohawk parents were turned away from a busy hospital in Cornwall, Ont. He was raised in Kitigan Zibi in southern Quebec by his grandmother, who gave him the nickname Willy. Mitchell recorded and toured mostly in the 1970s with his Desert River Band, while playing an active role in his community. Mitchell also co-organized the 1980 Sweet Grass festival in Val-d'Or, Quebec.

Willy Mitchell with his band, Desert River.

Lloyd Cheechoo
Songs: "James Bay," "Winds of Change"

Lloyd Cheechoo, a Canadian First Nations musician, was born in Eastmain, Que., in James Bay. At a young age, he and his family relocated to Moose Factory, Ont., where most of his relatives resided. Aside from singing, Cheechoo also played the drums and guitar. He recorded two singles in the early 1970s, “James Bay” and “Winds of Change.”

Lloyd Cheechoo

Alexis Utatnaq
Song: "Maqaivvigivalauqtavut"

Music has always been an integral part of Alexis Utatnaq’s life. Born in Chesterfield Inlet, N.W.T., the singer relocated with his family to Baker Lake, Nunavut, to be with relatives. The Inuk singer-songwriter would later create records that would eventually play on the air waves in the Arctic. He has performed at numerous concerts over the years including Nunavut, Yellowknife, Toronto and Ottawa.

Alexis Utatnaq

Brian Davey
Song: "Dreams of Ways"

Brian Davey was born and raised in the Cree community of Moose Factory, Ont. His aspiration for music was inspired by community gathering places. He would go on to gain a reputation for his songwriting and would record two songs for the Goose Wings project. The compilation included talent from the James Bay Cree community, among them Lawrence Martin and Lloyd Cheechoo.


Morley Loon
Song: "N'Doheeno"

Morley Loon is a Canadian First Nations musician from Mistissini, Que. He’s played in several groups, including Red Cedar and Kashtin, but is most well known for his solo work. Loon mainly wrote and performed in Cree, and was a prominent activist for First Nations issues.

Morley Loon

Peter Frank
Song: "Little Feather"

Peter Frank was a singer-songwriter from Wagmatcook First Nation reserve in Nova Scotia. In his early years, Frank attended a residential school, in which he was separated from his family. From here, he learned to speak English. He would later go on to become a commercial bush pilot. During this time, he would reflect and write meditative songs about his people and what he’d observe throughout his travels.

Peter Frank

Ernest Monias
Song: "Tormented Soul"

Born in Cross Lake, Man., this Canadian musician is often referred to as the “Elvis in the North.” Ernest Monias had the chance to share the stage with a number of great artists throughout his career, including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Trooper and Nazareth. Since 1979, the Canadian musician has released more than 15 albums.


Eric Landry
Song: "Out of the Blue"

Eric Landry is a musician from Sudbury, Ont., who has had only one song issued commercially. He draws his inspirations from pop, folk and rock from the 1960s and ’70s. Landry has performed at many coffee houses across Ontario and many festivals.


David Campbell
Song: "Sky-Man and the Moon"

David Campbell was raised in Guyana, but eventually moved to Toronto to pursue music. He had a strong desire to learn about First Nations people, and in turn reflect upon his own heritage. He released music that spoke about the Aboriginal experience and journey.

David Campbell

Shingoose
Song: "Silver River," poetry by Duke Redbird

Curtis Johnnie went by the stage name Shingoose. He was an Ojibwa singer-songwriter born in Winnipeg, Man., where he was a member of the Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation. Johnnie was inspired by live shows by the likes of James Brown and Buddy Holly.

Shingoose and Duke Redbird

Philippe McKenzie
Song: "Mistashipu"

Philippe McKenzie is an Innu singer-songwriter from Mani-utenam. He sung songs in his native tongue, Innu-aimun. McKenzie was an active leader for the Innu folk movement during the 1970s. He gained recognition in Quebec as well as the northern service division of CBC at a time when genres such as folk, country and pop were becoming more popular amongst the Indigenous music landscape.


The Chieftones
Song: "I Shouldn't Have Did What I Done"

Raised along the banks of the Skeena and the Nass rivers in British Columbia, the Chieftones met each other at a residential school in Edmonton, Alta. The band composed of Vincent and Barry Clifford, Jack Cecil and Richard Douse. Formed in 14, the group released two singles 20th Century Fox Records in 1975. They reached number 16 on hot country songs and number 92 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “What Time of Day.”

The Chieftones.

Lawrence Martin
Song: "I Got My Music"

Canadian musician Lawrence Martin was born in Moose Factory, Ont. Although an entertainer, he’s also a politician, and was elected as the first Aboriginal mayor in a municipality outside a First Nations reserve. Martin has incorporated music within his political career to gain supporters and listeners. He currently writes and records music and is planning a series of Nashville recording sessions.

Lawrence Martin (left), Leland Bell.

Gordon Dick
Song: "Siwash Rock"

Born in the Mount Currie region of British Columbia, Gordon Dick was surrounded by a family that loved music and, from them, he drew his influence. In his early years during the '70s, the musician started a rock band called Siwash Rock. The band quickly became a sensation locally as they performed at weekend parties and weddings.

Gordon Dick

William Tagoona
Song: "Anaanaga"

William Tagoona is a singer-songwriter and longtime broadcaster for the CBC Northern Service in Kuujjuaq, Que. He was born in Baker Lake, Nunavut. While working as a journalist, Tagoona also worked on his music. He wrote songs in Inuktitut, preserving his culture and heritage.

William Tagoona

Leland Bell
Song: "Messenger"

Although Leland Bell is best known as a painter, he also identifies as a musician. Bell was born on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island, Ont. At 12, the musician moved to Toronto, and through that transition he found his appreciation for music. In 1992, he contributed a song called “Mishomis,” to a Juno award-winning compilation entitled The Gathering.


Saddle Lake Drifting Cowboys
Song: "Modern Rock"

This four-member band used its community name, Saddle Lake, as its band-name inspiration. The group played throughout the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, performing mostly to native audiences, including at weddings and festivals.


Groupe Folklorique Montagnais
Song: "Tshekuan Mak Tshetutamak"

This Canadian group first started as a duo. It comprised of musicians Philippe McKenzie and Florent Vollant. They would later join forces with guitarist, percussionist and songwriter Bernard Fontaine. The trio recorded a five-song EP for the CBC in 1977. The band performed at weddings and local bars.