Two Indigenous musicians singing

Indigenous Musicians Take Their Place at Folk Alliance International

April 12, 2019

The Canada Council Supports the First International Indigenous Music Summit at the Folk Alliance International 2019 Conference

Folk Alliance International (FAI) is the pre-eminent annual gathering of the folk music community and industry. This year’s conference was held in Montréal from February 13 – 17, 2019, with attendees from a multitude of countries, hundreds of curated programs and events, and thousands of performances throughout.

This year’s FAI included the International Indigenous Music Summit, funded in part by the Canada Council. The Summit was attended by about 150 artists, arts professionals, supporters and curators from several countries, including contingents from Canada, the US, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand.

Following prayers, welcome songs and introductions by participants, renowned Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie addressed the gathering. Her talk varied widely and touched on topics as diverse as the impacts of colonial practices on today’s Indigenous musicians, and the roots of North America’s entertainment industry in Yiddish theatre. At the heart of her talk, Sainte-Marie urged participants to “practice more” in the spirit of continuous growth and lifelong artistic development.

An open discussion followed the talk, where artists raised diverse issues, including lateral violence, mental health, and the need for ongoing collaboration and fostering a supportive, sustainable music ecosystem rooted in Indigenous values.

Subsequent sessions held Friday and Saturday were smaller, and more akin to working groups. They included deeper discussions of issues, and a focus on how to turn ideas into action. Some of the ideas the working groups came up with included:

  • the need for more grassroots organization—to network, develop shows and tours, share contacts, and establish new collaborations;
  • the importance of cultural exchanges between Indigenous peoples from different parts of the world—like those in Canada and Australia; and,
  • the creation of an Indigenous Music Office, similar to the recently created Indigenous Screen Office.

In addition to the International Indigenous Music Summit, Indigenous artists had a substantial presence throughout the Folk Alliance. Nick Sherman, Amanda Rheuame, Leela Gilday, Jay Gilday, Mama Mihirangi and the Mareikura, Glenn Skuthorpe, and Digging Roots were just some of the artists who performed. The Indigenous showcase room was consistently packed for intimate performances by Celeigh Cardinal, Adrian Sutherland of Midnight Shine, Josh Halverson and many others. There was standing room only for appearances by Buffy Sainte-Marie and Tanya Tagaq—both of whom were promoting books.

This is just one example of many dynamic initiatives for Indigenous artists that the Canada Council supports. Follow us on social media to discover more.