A memorable music experience during the pandemic

Submitted by Cristina Oke

During the COVID-19 pandemic, there were many educational opportunities available on-line. The experience I found most memorable was the 3-part CAMMAC Active Listening lecture series on Indigenous Musics, offered by Dr. Rachel Beausoleil in the fall of 2020.

Indigenous Music: Active Listening

Each of the three CAMMAC 90-minute programs focused on music of the First Nations communities in certain areas of Canada and included examples of the music of various Indigenous individual performers and groups.


Drumming and dance are important in Indigenous culture. A drum is presented to an individual by an elder or leader, and is handmade from the skin of an animal, such as a caribou or elk, and the wood of a tamarack tree.

Drumming features a constant beat that represents the heartbeat of life. Many songs that are accompanied by drumming are often spiritually based and include short, repeated phrases with lyrics that are passed down from generation to generation. Some of these songs give thanks to ancestors and to the Great Spirit, and may include the dreams of spiritual leaders, a request for good hunting, a memory of a meeting or celebration, or a funeral.

Drumming can also be used to distract those playing the hand games that are popular in many First Nations communities. For many years, only men could play Hand Games, as women were considered to be too powerful to play with men. Now both male and female teams play these games, and there are competitions among players from various First Nations.

More information about the importance of drumming in various First Nations communities is available at www.nonslip.com>nwtnewsnorth

Indigenous Musicians and Groups

Dr. Beausoleil explained that a lot of music, both new and traditional, is currently being created by Indigenous musicians. Electronic music is often combined with traditional music, because of its repetition and trance-like rhythm.

Well known Indigenous Artists and groups include the following:

Edward Gamblin (1948-2010), a Canadian country rock singer and songwriter from the Cree Nation, was a residential school survivor and one of the most influential stars of early First Nations music. He wrote Survivor’s Voice and became an activist for healing and reconciliation around residential schools.

Kashtin was a duo formed by Claude McKenzie and Florentino Vollant, Innu musicians from the Maliotenam Reserve on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. They were active between 1984 and 1996 and were among the most commercially successful musicians in First Nations history. Their songs were performed in the Innu-Aimun language.

Mob Bounce was formed by Craig Frank Edes (Gitxsan) and Travis Adrian Hebert (Cree/Métis) in 2010. The Duo is from British Columbia, and they mix Indigenous influenced Hip Hop with electronic dance music.

Leela Gilday is a Dene-Canadian singer and songwriter from the Northwest Territories who combines Dene and English lyrics. Between 2002 and 2019, she released 5 albums. In 2002, she won Best Female Artist, Best Folk Album, and Best Songwriter for her first release, Spirit World, Solid Wood. In 2007, she won the Juno award for Best Aboriginal Recording of the Year for her second album, Sedzé, and, in 2021, she won the Juno award for Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year for her fifth album, North Star Calling.

The Halluci Nation (formerly known as A Tribe Called Red) is currently a Duo based in Ottawa with members Tim “200lman” Hill (Mohawk of the Six Nations of the Grand River) and Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas (Cayuga First Nation). The Duo blends instrumental Hip Hop, reggae, moombahton, and dubstep-influenced dance music with elements of First Nations Music, especially Drumming and vocal chanting. In 2018, the group won the Juno award for Group of the Year.

Pokuhulakon Witsehkehsu: Sisters of the Drum is an all women Maliseet drumming group formed in 2016 at St. Mary’s First Nation in New Brunswick. It is the only women’s First Nations drum group in the Fredericton region, and membership is open to all women from Maliseet communities in New Brunswick. The group is available to drum at sacred ceremonies such as funerals, sweats, prayers, or powwows.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is a pioneering and influential singer-songwriter who was born on the Piapot Reserve in Qu’Appelle River Valley, Saskatchewan. Her recording career started in 1964 with the album. It’s My Way. In 1969, her album, Illuminations, was the first quadrophonic electronic vocal album ever recorded. Her most recent Juno award was the 2018 Indigenous Music Album of the Year, Medicine Songs.

Tanya Tagaq is an Inuk Throat Singer from Cambridge Bay (Iqaluktuuttiaq), Nunavut. She won the 2014 Juno award for Aboriginal Album of the Year.

The Sweat Lodge Ceremony

The Sweat Lodge ceremony has spiritual, cultural and practical meanings to Indigenous people. It is held in a wooden structure that is topped with deer or buffalo skin. The purpose of the ceremony is to purify and restore balance and order in life by sweating out toxins and negative feelings.

Inside the Sweat Lodge are drums, shakers and herbs. There are specific sweats for fasting rituals or in celebration of the Sun Dance. The ceremony continues for 4 days.

The Sweat Lodge ceremony was forbidden under the Indian Act in Canada until 1951. Now it symbolizes cultural resilience.

Dr. Beausoleil will be offering a new Active Listening session online in December 2022:

Wednesday December 7 2022, 17h30

Explore holiday repertoire from beyond our borders… You won’t hear Jingle Bells during this presentation!

From Christmas and Hanukkah music to pagan solstice songs, Rachel will introduce you to a variety of cultural traditions during this lively audio-visual presentation on the music of December celebrations from around the world.