Nfld. & Labrador

St. John's Native Friendship Centre gets a new name ahead of festival

The centre is rebranding, plus celebrating its annual Spirit Song festival with workshops and a concert.

Spirit Song festival holding arts classes and performance Saturday

The Native Friendship Centre is hosting three workshops over the weekend, including a throat singing class in which Tama Fost introduced students to an ancient art form on Friday. (CBC)

The St. John's Native Friendship Centre, a fixture for the urban Indigenous community, announced a new look Friday.

The centre rebranded as the First Light Centre in time to celebrate its 2018 Spirit Song festival, showcasing Indigenous acts and offering free arts workshops in singing, dancing and songwriting.

Jenelle Duvall said the new name reflects a push from the centre toward greater reach and inclusion — the same aims as the festival, now six years running.

Guests have dropped in from around the country to take part. "It's a couple of days where we all get together and share our different artistic practices," Duvall said.

Fost instructs new singers to pay attention to their breath. (CBC)

Tama Fost, who teaches Inuit throat singing, was on hand at the start of the festival Friday, instructing newcomers to the ancient art form.

"It's a guttural sound that comes deep from within your chest moreso than your throat," Fost explained.

"What I like to say is, your diaphragm is almost like a clutch in a car. No two cars and no two clutches are the same. So you've got to honour your body's way of letting you know if you're breathing in or out too deeply."

New musicians learn how to structure a song at Saturday's workshop. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Fost said much of throat singing is paying attention to both yourself and your partner.

"A very significant part of it is to listen, to train your ears to not only listen to the sounds you're making, but more importantly the sounds your partner is making, since it's such a dynamic duet between two partners.

"It's very meditative actually, it's almost like a trance."

Part of her workshop introduced new singers to the cultural importance of the craft, she said.

"It's a very ancient tradition. It was suppressed for a period of time in Canadian history, and in our province's history, so it's important to share the knowledge of this beautiful tradition."

The festival showcases Indigenous performers from across the country. (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Chelsea June, a singer and songwriter with Indigenous modern folk duo Twin Flames, ran a workshop Saturday to teach budding musicians the basics of song structures and lyric writing.

Most important, she said, is to express whatever you're feeling in the moment, without worrying too much about how well you're writing or playing an instrument. That can come later, she said.

"People think of songwriting as something that's super difficult, and it's hard to start something when you're intimidated from the beginning," June said.

"So we try to just strip that back and make it attainable for anyone who just wants to try."

Twin Flames and Eastern Owl are among the acts slated to perform at Spirit Song's evening concert, which starts 7 p.m. at the Cochrane Centre.

With files from Anthony Germain

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