Northern musicians explore reconciliation through song in Gho-Bah project

A powerhouse collection of Northern musicians will take the stage in Yellowknife today, debuting a new project aimed at reconciliation on National Aboriginal Day.

Performance, led by Leela Gilday will take place at noon at Yellowknife's Somba K'e Civic Plaza

Singer-songwriter Leela Gilday is heading up the Gho-Bah/Gombaa project, which means 'first light of dawn' in different Dene dialects. Gilday says the project is aimed at reconciliation, as well as celebrating resilience. (Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works )

A powerhouse collection of Northern musicians will take the stage in Yellowknife today, debuting a new project aimed at reconciliation on National Aboriginal Day.

The group includes Casey Koyczan, Stephen Kakfwi, and Pat Braden, among others, and is led by Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Leela Gilday.

Gilday's vision for the project, named Gho-Bah or Gomba — both of which mean "the first light of dawn," depending on the dialect spoken in Dene — began with conversations with other musicians and artists about what reconciliation means to them.

The Gombah performers gave a sneak-peek of their performance Saturday evening at Yellowknife's Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. The collective includes notable Northern musicians, as well as guests from the south and a 25-person choir. (CBC)

"Reconciliation is a big buzzword right now, and sort of what people are focusing on and as Indigenous people, we have to really sit back and think what does that mean to us," she said. "And so what we came to as a collective is what we wanted to focus on is the resilience of our people, as Indigenous people making it through culturally legislated genocide."

Gilday said that she looked for a range of perspectives when approaching musicians to take part. The collective includes two residential school survivors, as well as intergenerational survivors, and people representing many different First Nations.

'What we really want to do... is celebrate that resilience'

In addition to reconciliation, Gilday said that the project is aimed at celebrating resilience — that of Indigenous people keeping their culture and traditions strong despite Canada's history of colonization and residential schools.

"When we're talking about reconciliation and healing our relationships with non-Indigenous people, I think as artists, that's the first thing we really want to do is celebrate that resilience, and have other people recognize that as well," she said.

All the music composed for the concert is new and original, and multiple artists have contributed songs.

Gilday's piece is titled "Give What Our Hearts Can't Take," and is focused on things lost, like language.

"I don't speak my language and it's been a really interesting process to write music," she said. "The other people that do speak Dene languages have helped me to interpret some of the lyrics and it's been a very emotional thing, actually, to write music in that way. So I did write a song about those things that we lost and that I still feel the loss of."

Paul Andrew is another of the performers. He's a former Dene chief and residential school student who has written two songs for the performance.

Paul Andrew (right) wrote two songs for the performance. One of them, titled 'I Want to Go Home,' is dedicated to all the children who never made it home from residential school. (CBC)

One of Andrew's songs, "I Want To Go Home," is dedicated to all the children who never made it home from residential school.

"My grandmother said that two of her daughters were taken to residential schools and they never came home, she never knew what happened to them," he said. "The other song that I also have is 'Spirit of the Dene,' I call it.

"Despite what has happened in 600 years, we're still doing okay. So we've got to celebrate that."

Non-Indigenous musicians, southern performers to take part

Despite the project's focus on Indigenous issues and performers, Gilday said it was important for her to include non-Indigenous musicians, including Edmonton's Robert Walsh. A 25-member choir, Aurora Chorealis, will also join the stage for part of the performance.

"It's very important when you talk about reconciliation and healing to involve non-Indigenous people," said Gilday "You can't have reconciliation when there's only one party at the table."

Music won't be the only thing featured in the Go-Bah Project — three Dene artists have painted a large mural that will be unveiled and 14 youth from around Yellowknife will be live painting during the show, creating their impression of reconciliation and their reaction to the music.

Gilday said that her vision of her project also includes spectators.

"I hope they feel a little bit more enlightened, a little bit more educated about various reactions and feelings towards colonization and residential school," she said. "I hope they feel very proud of being Northerners... and that they're able to celebrate with us."

The Goh-Bah Project will take the stage at noon in Yellowknife's Somba K'e Civic Plaza, which will host Aboriginal Day celebrations throughout the day.