nêhiyawak: The WL Interview

Purveyors of: the sound and feeling that something is going to change, and it’s going to be good.

File next to: Colin Stetson, Anna Calvi, TV On The Radio

Playing: Wavelength Winter Festival Day 3, Sunay, February 17th @ The Monarch Tavern. Get tickets here!

Coming from amiskwaciy in Treaty 6 Territory, nêhiyawak ᓀᐦᐃᔭᐊᐧᐠ are a trio of Canadian composers who combine contemporary sound to the traditions of storytelling. The band’s name refers to their nêhiyawa ancestors, the Plains Cree. nêhiyawak’s latest release of their starlight EP on Arts & Crafts is produced by Colin Stewart (The New Pornographers, Black Mountain, Destroyer), where each song is a reflection of self-education and the pursuit of meaning within cultural connection.  Wavelength’s Emma Bortolon-Vettor had a chance to connect with nêhiyawak’s guitarist and singer, Kris Harper, before their set at Wavelength’s 2019 Winter Fest.

What was it like working with Colin Stewart?

working with colin was an unforgettable experience. being around someone with such vast technical and engineering experience, coupled with his incredible knowledge of music history gives us, and other artists he works with, an incredible ability to track and record in effortless and beautiful ways. matthew made a hilarious joke after our recording experience that we had been, “colinized”. but in all truth, it was an honour to work with colin. listening to the detail of which now is immortally printed onto the waveforms on those recordings by colin, I can still hear things for the first time.

Could you describe your creative process in composing the film score for ôtênaw?

conor mcnally and I met by quite random chance while he was making the film pôtênaw. i had been living in the neighbourhood rossdale and researching myself the historical backgrounds of that specific area of the city. actually, where conor and i first decided to meet up and talk for the first time, was at the old hbc stable buildings, now called the ortona, right in the rossdale valley, and metres from the contentious burial grounds.

while he and i spoke and shared our research with each other, we spoke of the sounds and ways to relate messages on all fronts of artistic languages. knowing as well my friends, of whom we just began to play music together, had many fingers in the pies of electronic musical instruments. this for me also became a part of our auditory language that we had been asked to create as an accompany to a film about local distorted histories and their impact on the present day. this became, on the deep end, a very tangible reality that faced each of us an artists and indigenous people.

we included many synthetic sounds and decided to record in the city-owned house i was renting two blocks away from rossdale flats/current epcor site. we only recorded one night, and came with only 4 compositions. we expected to record everything else then and there with the energy created over the prior months of developing ideas and familiarizing ourselves with the history of the area.

Can you tell us what it was like growing up in amiskwaciy/Treaty 6 territory?

i can only speak for myself, but i can tell you i was born and raised on treaty 6, but only moved to amiskwaciy in 1999. i think many of the words used to describe a place, particularly in a foreign language like english, cannot begin to explain history, science, law or necessarily even give a sense to the beauty that we are all surrounded by on this planet. i do think also the mere fact that i am unable to explain this is a more just way through the language of nêhiyawēwin speaks to some of the ongoing struggles that face indigenous people on treaty 6 territory, though this story is common throughout the colonial landscape within our mapped environments. there have been strong efforts to disconnect indigenous people from their ability to put themselves onto the map of history throughout the world, and these effects can been seen in many of indigenous peoples upbringings.

You have indicated an interest in language, specifically, the languages we create. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?

language can be thought of as tools of an environment. i like to think of language of have deep seeded meanings that often can be related to science, history and even the stars. language is something also strongly impacted by water, land, art, family, and culture. because of the deluge of dominantly constantinian male perspectives that have flowed largely from europe in the past couple of millenia, there have been an overwhelming amount of concentration directed at understanding this point of view. i personally would like to think that all other human beings make up remaining facets of a whole world view. this is somewhere near a place where I like to create ways of speaking, and creating and even making my art.

What can arts curators and presenters do to counteract erasure in Canadian history?

this is a question that would likely require the answers of many to be truly answered. but, my one small meaningless view on this is to book and encourage all language/art that exists outside of the constantinian-hegemonic-male-dominated perspectives that seem to permeate and overshadow the many linguistic and artistic landscapes of our modern day. essentially bringing balance to rhetoric and even law, that has not been seemingly realized for a very long time. great lineup by the way!

Thanks! How does music play a role in education?

I would say our music plays a role in people’s education if they want that. there are deeper reads and things referenced in our music that i would encourage everyone to at least be aware of, although i think i would encourage everyone to keep learning anyway. i am, and will continue to be learning for as long as i am alive. i hope to never be satisfied by what i think i know. these thoughts could also come across in my lyrics or even the way in which we play and learn new instruments. is there anything more important?

What are you currently listening to?

charlotte adigéry (wwwater), the witch, kathleen yearwood