Sunday January 10, 2016

Don Amero calls music an opportunity for education, reconciliation

Don Amero performs in the Unreserved studio.

Don Amero performs in the Unreserved studio. (Kim Wheeler/CBC)

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Don Amero puts a lot of heart into his music. 

His folk-pop songs are about the power of love, the importance of family and of living in the moment. But the Métis music maker also puts his heart and time into his community.

The best life lived is one that is in support of others. - Don Amero

Amero grew up in Winnipeg's North End, an area high in crime and poverty, and he said giving back is an important part of his identity and his career.

"I always want to find ways to give back, particularly give back to where I grew up." 

The Winnipeg Folk Festival hired him to spend 10 weeks mentoring some middle school students at Niji Mahkwa, an elementary school that incorporates cultural teachings into its curriculum. 

Amero admitted that at first he had a hard time with the class of teen girls, who thought it was a free hour away from school.

"I never do this, but I said to them on the second week, 'Listen guys, I am not here for me, I'm here for you. If you want something out of this, then let's do this. If not, then I'm going home to hang out with my kids.'"

It was enough. The next week the group was serious and ready to create. They wrote and recorded a song together called Never Alone about missing and murdered indigenous women.


Don Amero's next album will be an acoustic version of Refined, his fifth CD. (supplied)

"They really sunk their teeth into this and really wanted to encourage others who might be going through some really hard times," Amero said. 

Amero added many of the girls live in the area and likely have or witness difficult home lives, something he can relate to. 

"I grew up in the North End, didn't have anything at home, grew up with a really kind of frustrating home life," he said. 

A song of reconciliation

Amero is not just giving back in the classroom but on the stage too. He is partnering with country music star Brett Kissel to tour indigenous communities as a way to be part of the reconciliation conversation. 

"Reconciliation is relationship, and I think that what Brett and I want to do is be a living example of two guys from different hoods, different places, different backgrounds coming together to do something really great for people."

The idea for the tour came out of a song the duo wrote last year for National Aboriginal Day called Rebuild This Town, a song about a hurricane sweeping through a town and destroying it.

"Here are we are standing in the rubble. We have a choice to rebuild or lay down and die," Amero said. "It was a conversation that we are now having as a country.… I think everyone wants to see a rebuild."