Tedwalks: Musician Joanna Barker talks industry sexism, Indigenous culture

In a series of original podcasts from CBC N.L., On The Go host Ted Blades hits the trails around St. John's with a guest in tow to talk about the world today and our place in it.

Barker reflects on the tragedy that drew her to performing

Singer/songwriter Joanna Barker takes a walk with CBC radio host Ted Blades for an episode of the podcast Tedwalks. (Knoah Bender)

Musician Joanna Barker has a lot to say on a lot of topics — from growing up in a large Indigenous family, her artistic motivations and combating sexism.

While she might be best known as a singer/songwriter, Barker always wanted to be a poet and writer. It was a personal tragedy that brought out her inner performer — her best friend was killed in a car accident when Barker was in her early 20s.

"Writing songs about it was just the natural thing that felt right, and that's what I did," Barker told CBC radio host Ted Blades while walking along the Virginia River Trail for an episode of the Tedwalks podcast.

Barker shared her music publicly for the first time at the one-year memorial concert of her friend's death. 

"The whole thing was [so] unplanned … I always loved performing and I did always love writing and I did want to be a writer, so I guess that happened in one way or another," she said.

Blazing musical trails for women, girls

As a female performer, Barker has encountered her own share of sexism in the industry. She founded St. John's Women in Music (SWIM) with Kate Lahey after hearing a panel discussion at the Lawnya Vawnya music festival a few years ago. 

"[We're] creating a space where women can ask questions without the risk of feeling stupid or without there being some sort of subtext like, 'I'll tell you if you sleep with me,' because all of these things are very much alive," she said.

While Barker might best be known for her music, she's also a nanny, a research assistant and programming director for Girls Rock NL, a non-profit organization that aims to empower gilrs through mentorship and music. She also grew up in a large Indigenous family with eight siblings.

Barker is also a nanny, a research assistant and programming director for Girls Rock NL.

"There's a mix of emotions. It's cool to be an Indian now, finally. That's validating in one sense, but it's also sad because the time to ask questions of people with stories and knowledge is done because they're gone," she said.

To listen to the full episode of Tedwalks with Joanna Barker, click here.

Listen to the entire Tedwalks series here at cbc.ca/onthego.