Artists need to support each other during pandemic, say northerners

Dene musician Leela Gilday discusses the challenges artists and musicians are facing during COVID-19 and what they can do about them.

COVID-19 has created unique challenges for artists, but northerners are finding ways around it

Singer/songwriter Leela Gilday continues to make music despite the fact touring has stopped for musicians during COVID-19. (Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works )

Leela Gilday was taking a walk around Tin Can Hill and Rat Lake in Yellowknife last month, admiring the colours, when suddenly it hit her.

She had taken the same walk, on the same day, a year before. 

"I was really struck by how different the coming year for me is going to be and for everyone in ... the music industry," said the singer/songwriter from the Dene Nation.

COVID-19 has created unique challenges for artists, who can no longer travel and perform in front of large audiences.

After her walk on that day last year, she had flown to the United States and Germany to play songs from her then-upcoming album North Star Calling, which was released last September, and followed that up with more touring over the rest of the summer and fall.

Although touring is not happening this year, it's not stopping Gilday from moving forward.

"Even without the touring and without all the bells and whistles, I'm still making music," she said.

She released a single in June, Giants, which she co-wrote with Canadian songwriter Hill Kourkoutis for the 2020 World Cup of cross country skiing.

Focus on live streams

Marie Coderre, artistic director of the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife, which supports performing arts in the N.W.T., said artists should focus on being community-minded and helping each other out right now.

Coderre organized a series of seven events in August to support local artists. Thirty-one artists participated and performed in front of small audiences.

The Buskers in the Bush series featured 21 artists over the course of three Sundays performing along Frame Lake Trail, while the NACC Outdoor Concert Series featured more artists over three shows. 

The NACC events finished with a live performance by local singer/songwriter Carmen Braden in front of an audience of 15 people. Like the other performances, the show was also live streamed online.

Coderre said artists and musicians should invest time to work on the technical side of live streaming because many festivals are moving online.

Gilday adjusted her show to deliver it online and performed virtually at the Philadelphia Folk Festival on Aug. 14 before singing live in Yellowknife the next two days, as part of the NACC events.

You'll see all kinds of people releasing music and flourishing in a way that they weren't really able to before because they were so competitive.- Leela Gilday, singer

She said she's been using part of her time to develop relationships with fans online, including releasing some tracks weekly on her YouTube channel from her show at the 2019 Blue Feather Music Festival.

"People have reached out directly to me who would never do that in a live setting," she said. "I've had a number of messages in my inbox that are like, 'thank you so much for your music.'

"It's been a positive change to connect with those people that the music impacts."

Gilday agrees with Coderre that artists should be helping each other out during the pandemic, saying it makes no sense to be competitive.

"It's only because of how the industry is structured that we're kind of crabs in a bucket trying to fight over the live performances," she said.

"Now that that's kind of been taken off the table, you'll see all kinds of people releasing music and flourishing in a way that they weren't really able to before because they were so competitive."

With files from Lawrence Nayally