Nfld. & Labrador

New workshop focuses on inspiring Indigenous musicians during pandemic

Musicians have been forced to cancel or reschedule live performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still a way to get creativity flowing — and making that happen for Indigenous songwriters is the focus of a new workshop being offered through First Light.

Joanna Barker kicked off first virtual songwriting session earlier this week

Musician Joanna Barker is kicking off the songwriting series, hosted by First Light. (First Light/Facebook)

Musicians have been forced to cancel or reschedule live performances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still a way to get creativity flowing — and making that happen for Indigenous songwriters is the focus of a new workshop being offered through First Light.

Jenelle Duval, the arts and culture co-ordinator at First Light — formerly the Native Friendship Centre — is no stranger to the music scene.

As a member of award-winning group Eastern Owl, Duval said her spring and summer plans had to change swiftly — something that's been a common occurrence among her fellow musicians.

"We, Eastern Owl, had a very exciting travel schedule set up for the summer. We were gonna be in Winnipeg and P.E.I. and then everything kind of got cancelled, but I think the industry mobilized quickly and found creative ways to still make music and make sure people are seeing us out there," she said.

"So we've been doing a lot of video shoots and a lot of getting together and just practising and jamming."

Now, First Light, in partnership with MusicNL and FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings), has started a series of online workshops, where musicians will get to work with, and learn from, some experienced artists.

Eastern Owl is, from left, Jenelle Duval, Jaime O'Leary, Joanna Barker, Stacey Howse, Natasha Blackwood, Rebecca Sharr and Danielle Benoit. They are sitting in front of a mural by Indigenous artist Jordan Bennett, called Ktaqmkuk-Msit No'kmaq. (Jennie Williams )

The first in the series launched this week, and featured Joanna Barker offering a mix of in-person and online songwriting discussions, dissecting a piece of music she has written and going through the song's structure with attendees.

"They can use hers as an example or they can take a melody or a structure that they like to use and they'll work collaboratively to create their own piece as a group," said Duval.

"We're hoping to build skills and interest in community during all this pandemic stuff, giving people the opportunity to work with Joanna to build their own skills as a songwriter, because we all know what a great songwriter Joanna is."

'We're really excited'

The songwriting sessions are free but require registration, Duval said, to ensure people are able to take part safely.

A few different sessions will be happening through September, she said, with other artists.

"Silver Wolf Band just actually released this really cool song called Woman of Labrador — it's a remake of a traditional tune that's well loved by people in Labrador, and so in September they're gonna be joining us as well to do a similar kind of workshop," Duval told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"They'll explore that piece of music and people can kind of write about their own lived experiences on the land and with their territory. And they're gonna be giving us a special performance via Zoom on our Facebook platform as well, so we're really excited about that."

Aaron Prosper of Halifax will also be doing a session for a traditional Ko'jua dance and song workshop, Duval said.

It's all part of First Light's effort to bring Indigenous arts and culture further into the spotlight.

"At First Light, we're always trying to build arts and culture in our communities, make it visible, make sure people are aware that we have very vibrant, very diverse, very beautiful forms of art and music," she said.

"I guess the larger goal is to kind of invite community to explore these styles of music with us, to create and to really build skill in our community and get people excited about making Indigenous music and art."

It's just the latest in a long line of virtual programs First Light has been offering through the COVID-19 pandemic; other courses include making traditional instruments, virtual meetings for two-spirited individuals, and crafting sealskin slippers.

There are still plenty more to come, Duval said, adding that this year's Spirit Song Fest will still be going ahead in November.

"We're gonna be having a family day in the park where Eastern Owl and Inuit throat singers and drummers are going to be performing in the park — we're gonna have a little bubble picnic."

Duval said anyone interested in learning more about the programs offered by First Light should visit their Facebook page.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

now