North

Willie Thrasher re-releases another album with Grammy-nominated producer

Toronto music producer Kevin Howes has re-issued yet another northern gem. This time it’s Willie Thrasher’s Indian/Inuit Country, which was first out from Sunshine Records in the 1990s.

The project is praised for bringing Indian Inuit Country from the 1990s ‘back to life’

Aklavik musician Willie Thrasher and producer Kevin Howes doing a radio interview together about the album Native North America Vol 1, which featured three of Willie's previously released albums. A re-issue of the entire album Indian Inuit Country is now available online. (Amanda Leigh Smith)

Willie Thrasher's musical revival continues with the re-release of another album. 

The Aklavik, N.W.T., musician, who now lives in Nanaimo, performed across the North in the late 60s and 70s.

His album, Indian/Inuit country, was originally released in 1994 by Sunshine Records. Thrasher promoted the albums at his gigs and shows. 

It's being re-released through a digital project called Voluntary In Nature, by Kevin Howes, the producer who included three of Thrasher's songs on his Grammy-nominated Native North America, Vol 1.

The nomination raised the profile and revived the careers of a number of life-long Indigenous artists. 

Aklavik musician Willie Thrasher performed across the North in the late 60's and 70's. (Courtesy Voluntary in Nature )

After Native North America, Howes and Thrasher also re-released Thrasher's 1994 album Spirit Child, originally recorded by CBC North, through Light in the Attic Records. 

Inspired by an old cassette tape

Howes is an archaeologist of music who has spent a decade of his life in record shops and archives finding obscure and under-recognized recordings from the past

Once he finds them, his passion is tracking down the artists and producers behind them, and shining a spotlight on their work. 

"I came across this cassette," Howes said. "It was done in the early '90s for Sunshine Records. It was Willie Thrasher's Indian/Inuit Country and I heard the music and fell in love with it."

Thrasher said hearing songs like Indian Lady bring him back to what inspired them. 

"I was at a powwow in Alberta and there was about ... 300 native women dancing in the circle," he said.

"And then I said 'Look at the Indian Ladies. Wow, beautiful.' Then this song came. It was very, very special to me to write this song for them." 

It was finding a cassette like this one that inspired Kevin Howes to work with Willie Thrasher to re-release Indian Inuit Country. (Voluntary in Nature )

For Howes, the song that moves him most on the album is We Believe in Native Music, because it reflects what is at the heart of Thrasher's music. 

"You know, all of Willie's songs contain these beautiful messages and thought-provoking ideas and celebrations of culture and people and tradition." 

'Back to Life' 

Thrasher said Howes's work re-releasing Indigenous artist's music has brought the music of many under-recognized artists "back to life." 

He lists artists like Willie Dunn, Eric Landry and Willie Mitchell.

"You know all these legends that are still on the road right now, they are still doing music," said Thrasher, who's continued to perform into his 70s.

"People that are nearly forgotten, but they will never be forgotten because they continue their music." 

He calls it an honour to work with Kevin who has "so much love and devotion to do all that work."

Perfect time to support artists

Indian/Inuit Country is one of three albums on Howes' Voluntary In Nature website and social media pages, which he describes as an "outlet for sharing."

Another is the re-released work of Wayne McGhie, a Jamaican artist based in Toronto who released one of the first lps by a Black artist in Canada, and who struggled with mental health issues throughout his career. 

Kevin Howes launched 'Voluntary in Nature' online and on social media to support the work of under-recognized musicians like Willie Thrasher. (Jennifer Forward Frost )

The other features Catseye, a band that included Canadian Duane O'Kane and recorded an album in London that got some attention from the BBC but was never actually released until Howes discovered it and shared on social media.

Howes said the age of COVID-19 is the right time for this kind of work. 

The music of artists like Thrasher "can bring people together," he said.

"It can heal and we need that right now."

Corrections

  • This story has been updated to note that Thrasher's album was originally released in 1994, not 1981. The syntax of the album title has also been corrected.
    Jan 17, 2022 9:23 AM CT

Written by Joanne Stassen based on interviews by Loren McGinnis

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