(Mani-utenam) The Aboriginal music scene is in turmoil. A look at four artists who have released an album in recent months, three of whom are veterans who are starting to gain recognition outside their communities.
Very well known in the Aboriginal cultural network, Maten is determined to be heard throughout Quebec. Utenat, his most recent album, displays a folk with modern colors, carried by the pulsation of the traditional drum.
“There is a rapprochement between our cultures, there is a door that opens, so you have to go,” says Samuel Pinette. To seize the opportunity, Maten had to surpass himself, according to him, with his fourth album. “I told the guys that I wanted us to find another style, a little more urban,” explains the guitarist and lead singer of the Mani-utenam trio.
Maten is not very well known outside the indigenous communities. Now, in this network, this folk-rock group has been established for 25 years. Kim Fontaine (bass), Mathieu Mckenzie (guitar) and Samuel Pinette have known each other since childhood, played together since adolescence and helped build – in the strict sense of the word – the Makusham studio, founded by Mathieu’s father, Florent Vollant. In short, it is a tightly woven core.
To find a new sound, the trio went in search of new blood: guitarist Réjean Bouchard, drummer Alain Quirion and bassist Jean-François Lemieux, who participated in the compositions. The first two are practically family, since they often collaborated with Florent Vollant. Maten has also invited several artists to sing with the group, including Elage Diouf (on Ueshama), as well as Beatrice Deer and Black Bear, on the stunning Nitepuatauat.
This spirit of collaboration, which we feel throughout the record, comes naturally to Maten, according to Kim Fontaine.
The folk-rock roots of the group remain, but enhanced here with sliding basses, there with almost pop tweaks, as well as a neat and airy realization.
What also feels, on Utenat, even if we do not understand the words in Innu-aïmun, it is the wind of hope which blows. “We’ve always been like this, Maten. We try to stay positive. We are bon vivants, ”says Samuel Pinette. “That doesn’t mean we don’t go through some tough times in our personal lives. We’ve all had them, hard times, I’ve had them and the guys too, insists Mathieu Mckenzie, but we don’t lose hope that better days are ahead. You have to have the courage to continue. »
On a sometimes raw rock, Kanen tells his anger, his sadness and his hopes. She sings in French and in Innu-aïmun with the assumed desire to make her voice as an Aboriginal woman heard, to exist in the eyes of all and to heal what is wounded in her.
It’s hard to believe that Kanen was a shy teenager when she first set foot in a music camp at the Festival en chanson de Petite-Vallée. At 25, she is no longer the girl who stood back from everyone else: she speaks in a soft but confident voice, sharing her observations and thoughts in an assertive way.
Mitshuap means “house” in Innu-aimun. Kanen did not choose this word as the title of his first full album to anchor himself somewhere, rather as a symbol of his quest for identity. Based in Montreal, but originally from Mani-utenam, on the North Shore, she is still looking for her place – her home. She also seeks herself in her language: educated in French, she relearns Innu-aïmun by making songs.
“Writing, for me, is a way of reflecting on where I am,” she explains. Sometimes it’s fuzzy in my head. I’m looking for my words to talk about it out loud. Writing helps me clarify that. »
What torments her is sometimes heavy: the death of Joyce Echaquan, the discoveries of bodies on the sites of former Indian residential schools, the tragedy of Indigenous women murdered or disappeared in indifference, not to mention the usual torments of the end of adolescence and early adulthood.
The sounds to share his inner landscapes and storms are to match: a folk rock with rough outlines, catchy without being pop, in line with the indie rock that Kanen is fond of.
The young Innu sings in French (in a way that reminds a bit of Salomé Leclerc) and in Innu. By wanting to be understood and by incapacity: she does not yet master the language of her parents and grandparents. “I feel something heals inside every time I sing in Innu,” she says, “and every time I learn a new word in Innu.” »
She does it for herself, but also for those who will follow. “I would have liked that five or ten years ago to see another Innu woman assert herself, make music, speak up,” she explains. I hope that hearing an Innu woman speak forcefully about heavy things will inspire others. »
The first Innu reggaeman, Shauit, takes a break from swaying rhythms to reconnect with those of his territory. And of all Quebecers.
For the love of reggae, Shauit learned a piece by Wyclef Jean in Haitian Creole. “When I like a song, I try to learn it,” says the Innu singer, originally from Mani-utenam, but transplanted to Montreal many years ago. “I have a lot of covers in my repertoire. »
After spending years grooving the Innu-Aimun, the big guy raised mainly in French has returned to his roots. Natukun, his most recent album, puts forward trad and country sounds that all Quebecers will be able to recognize as his own when hearing the accordion and the violin.
“I like to say that cultural differences are a richness, that there is no one more important than another and that they must be preserved,” he explains.
There are fiddlers and accordionists in Aboriginal communities, says Shauit, referring to Canadian evenings in Pessamit, about fifty kilometers southwest of Baie-Comeau. His song Kanishte, which we would have imagined in the repertoire of Mes aïeux, is one of those that fit the most in this trad niche. Others like Tshi mueshtatitin are more folk-pop, in the distant lineage of Kashtin, a group that rocked his youth.
His desire to bring people together prompted Shauit to make a gesture that some may find daring: he invited Yves Lambert, pillar of Quebec trad known for his sometimes daring collaborations, to sing Ekuan pua with him. This song by Philippe Mckenzie – the Innu “Gilles Vigneault” – evokes the forced sedentarization of Aboriginal people and serves as an anthem for the Innu, if not all Aboriginal people.
“I wondered if I was doing the right thing to put French in it. Was I going to alienate the Innu? For us, the French language is a danger, a bit like English for French speakers, he explains. I decided to do the same to show that we are open. I see my version as a symbol of rapprochement. »
Confined to Manawan during the pandemic, Pako has seen firsthand the distress caused by the isolation. Hence the wind of comfort that blows on his second album, Nanto.
Rock guitars, a background of blues, Pako’s foot is a little heavy on Awacak, the track that opens his most recent album. It’s no wonder: his musical roots include rock classics, including Janis Joplin. However, he quickly lowers the tone on the following songs, hovering with a folk imbued with country and carried by subtle rhythms.
“This record requires more sweetness,” confirms Patrick Boivin, its bassist. You have to put yourself behind what Pako is saying. Why play a lot of notes when you can just make one and have it look good? His brother Louis-Philippe, who plays the drums, also believes that it is by letting the music speak that they will be able to transmit the meaning of the songs to ears that do not understand Atikamekw.
Pako (Pascal Ottawa) is originally from Manawan. His two acolytes, from Wemotaci, a little further north. In addition to forming the core of Pako’s band, they also play with other Aboriginal artists like Scott-Pien Picard and Bryan André, whom they were going to accompany in Shefferville when La Presse met them at the Makusham studio in Mani-utenam.
The desire to make his own songs is inseparable from the bond that Pako maintains with his community. He started writing to convey his thoughts about nature and what he saw in his home. Nanto, written for the most part during the pandemic, talks a lot about the quest for identity, the search for pride, self-understanding. Themes inspired by the distress he witnessed in Manawan during the confinements.
He trusts music to carry his point, because if he has already considered making bilingual songs, he decided that he had to stay true to his language, Atikamekw. “We have a role to play, singer-songwriters. We have a responsibility to use the language well, to make the words heard. We should go for the old words, emphasize the threatened vocabulary in our songs, he insists. It’s something I think about more and more. »