5 songs you need to hear this week, Indigenous History Month edition

Fresh tracks from Terry Uyarak, Zoon, Ila Barker, Ziibiwan and more.

Fresh tracks from Terry Uyarak, Zoon, Ila Barker, Ziibiwan and more

An image of singer-songwriter Ila Barker with a CBC Music SYNTH graphic overlayed.
Ila Barker's "Intuition" illustrates her personal journey after being in a toxic relationship. (Buio Assis / BNB Studios; graphic CBC Music)

For National Indigenous History Month, we're devoting this week's edition of our Songs You Need to Hear feature to new and recent tracks from these exciting Indigenous musicians:

  • Zoon featuring Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.
  • Ziibiwan.
  • Ila Barker.
  • Terry Uyarak.
  • Barbara Assiginaak. 

Scroll down to find out why you should listen, too.

What First Nations, Inuit, and Métis artists are you currently obsessed with? Share them with us on Twitter @CBCMusic.

To hear more about these standout songs, tune in to CBC Music Mornings every Thursday and Toronto's Here and Now every Wednesday afternoon, both available via CBC Listen.

'Astum,' Zoon ft. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Zoon's songs are often full of quiet revelations, and that remains true on "Atsum," the debut single from the artist's new EP, Big Pharma (out June 21), featuring artist Leanne Batasamosake Simpson. The two make "Atsum" a space for reflection, refraction, and contemplation. "You'll change, I want to believe it," Zoon sings, a voice full of nostalgia and yearning overtop swirls of guitar, keys, strings, and charmingly low-key handclaps. We don't know what promises have been made, broken, and repaired in the creation of this song, but we can feel the hope in every note.— Andrea Warner

'Miskwaa,' Ziibiwan

Ambient electronic music often soundtracks the background of my everyday life, almost like a pleasant white noise there to keep me company. The first time I played Toronto-based, Anishinaabe producer Ziibiwan's latest album, I was expecting a similar experience but the eight-track album was a  welcome surprise. It's full of gripping songs that, in their layered sonics, demand to come to the forefront. I stopped everything I was doing and just listened. Within seconds of hearing "Miskwaa," I felt like I was falling, it hit like a flood. With distorted bass and scintillating synths, its heart-palpitating immediacy takes over instantly. Then there's this glorious moment two-thirds of the way in where the rush pulls back and delicate keys and woodwinds intertwine to create a denouement so tender it reduced me to tears. "Miskwaa" feels like a rebirth, ending with a moment of absolute clarity. Ziibiwan is so adept at layering electronic sounds that invoke deeply emotional reactions. This latest release is their first new music since 2019's "Your Last Steps," hopefully we won't have to wait as long for the next one. — Kelsey Adams

'Intuition,' Ila Barker

"Intuition," Winnipeg singer-songwriter Ila Barker's latest single, was born out of a challenge she got from a young artist. In an interview with Canadian Beats, Barker explained that a youth artist assistant at a Nemaska, Que. workshop asked her to look into the process of writing a song inspired by another art form. This led to Barker listening to a podcast about the mind-gut connection, which motivated her to craft a song around the idea of trusting one's gut. "Gotta listen to your spirit deep inside/ Intuition/ Trust the wisdom you've got," Barker sings beautifully over a simply strummed guitar. For Barker, "Intuition" is part of a bigger healing process, illustrating her journey to rebuilding her relationship with herself after being in a toxic relationship, something that is felt throughout the track as Barker's vocals stretch out like a necessary exhale. (This is underscored by Barker's own lyrics later on: "Count each breath/ Until you can/ Take them in/ Without thinking.") "Intuition" is a testament to writing exercises, and how simple prompts can sometimes unlock something much more meaningful. — Melody Lau

'Aniqsaatuinnarit II,' Terry Uyarak

Iqqaumajaqarniruvit inungmit 

(When you are missing someone
Remember their words
We can remember them together.)

Igloolik singer-songwriter Terry Uyarak released an EP titled Atiilu! on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and it's a reimagining of three songs off his 2020 Juno-nominated debut album, Nunarjua Isulinginniani. This time Uyarak has taken his originals and gone electric, infusing their still acoustic hearts with more modern influences. On "Aniqsaatuinnarit II," a song in memory of Uyarak's late mother, the singer layers the electric guitar on the chorus, giving an Explosions in the Sky-style edge to the still intimate track. "Aniqsaatuinnarit II" reminds us of the wisdom and healing that can come from our ancestors, and as Uyarak explained in a press release, the song "has given me hope in life when I get a chance to sing it each time." The chorus reminder "aniqsaatuinnarit," or "keep breathing" in English, is a fitting coda for the song, and meditation for today. — Holly Gordon

'An Abundance of Insects, Book 1,' Barbara Assiginaak

On his new album, Fables, Montreal pianist Philip Chiu plays a five-movement suite by Barbara Assiginaak called An Abundance of Insects, which he commissioned. Its impressionism lives happily between two well-known works by Maurice Ravel. The suite is best described in its composer's words:

This work for solo piano, the first of two collections of short pieces, reflects on my childhood immersed in akiing (the land), mshkiigkiing (the swamps/marshes) and nibiing (the waters) — and nearly two decades of work in environmental outdoor education rooted in the Anishinaabeg teachings of my family and elders. I wanted to focus on the tiny beings who are often ignored, feared or otherwise considered to be a nuisance: bugs. We have many traditional stories connected to these mnidoonsak — tiny spirit beings — and their important roles within the intricate web of life and for maintaining balance on Shkagmigkwe (Mother Earth).

An Abundance of Insects is one of the most delightful discoveries of the year so far. — Robert Rowat