Biggest-ever Spirit Song Fest kicks off weekend of amazing Indigenous art

With three big names hitting the stage in St. John’s, the Spirit Song Festival is starting its largest lineup of Indigenous artists from all over Canada this weekend.

Kicking off the weekend’s festivities are the Snotty Nose Rez Kids, the Juno and Polaris Prize-shortlisted duo who got in early Friday morning from Vancouver.

Although they may need a nap before their gig.

“I got two hours of sleep. But it’s good. We’re used to it,” joked Quinton (Yung Trybez) Nyce.

Nyce said he and Darren (Young D) Metz got inspiration for the hip hop duo’s name “from years of oppression,” understanding who they are, the skin they live in and “just being proud of who we are.”

The magic of Spirit Song is bringing all of those groups together on the stage and having them really tell a whole picture of what it looks like across Canada for Indigenous people.– Jenelle Duval

Spirit Song, organized by First Light — formerly the Native Friendship Centre — is also featuring Juno- and Polaris Prize-winning tenor Jeremy Dutcher on stage at the Arts & Culture Centre, and the much-loved Jerry Cans, from Iqaluit.

It’s a message they’re excited to share with a soldout, all-ages show at the Rockhouse on Friday night.

“Our town is built around industry, like aluminum smelters and pulp mills and stuff like that, so there’s obviously a lot of settlers coming into our communities and reshaping who we are and our identity, so we’re just trying to reclaim that as Snotty Nose Rez Kids,” Nyce said.

Their songs are often written as anthems — like The Warriors, penned in solidarity with protesters of the Trans-Mountain pipeline project — which Nyce said made the group realize how much power there is in music.

Jeremy Dutcher won the 2018 Polaris Prize and 2019 Indigenous Album of the Year Juno award for his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa. (Logan Perley/CBC)

“It also made our youth realize how important our voices were as Indigenous people because for us, our voices were always silenced and we were always made to think that we came second to everybody else,” Nyce said.

While some of the hip hop group’s songs have some language that may prompt a parental advisory, Nyce and Metz temper some of their language in the songs to the audience they have.

But it’s the overall messaging to young Indigenous people that is important for Jenelle Duval, a member of music group Eastern Owl and also one of the organizers of Spirit Song, and that’s why the shows are open to all ages.

“We prepare parents and let them make their own decision about language, but we feel that the content and the message is way more important than if somebody drops an f-bomb,” Duval said.

“Obviously parents will have the autonomy and the decision making in coming to the show, but we think that the music and the message is just so awesome for teenagers especially — I have a 13-year-old and she can’t wait to come to the show.”

Duval said the organizers behind Spirit Song wanted to ensure the shows were available to the wider community, and that’s why they opted to make them free and friendly for all ages.

“Oftentimes some of the barriers people face in seeing incredible music is financial, so ticket prices sometimes prevent people from coming out and seeing really amazing shows,” she said.

“We wanted to make sure that everybody could enjoy this music. We’ve got three incredible shows for free and all ages and accessible, means that we can reach a broader audience with the lineup.”

The festival doesn’t just feature musical acts, as good as they are; there’s also workshops for Indigenous artists, throat singing performances and dancers, Duval said, from all sorts of diverse Indigenous communities.

The Jerry Cans and Unreserved’s Rosanna Deerchild pose on a snowmobile at Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

“I think the magic of Spirit Song is bringing all of those groups together on the stage and having them really tell a whole picture of what it looks like across Canada for Indigenous people, so whether that be the tough issues that we’re tackling, or the beauty in our communities,” she said.

That’s a sentiment echoed by fellow Eastern Owl member and Spirit Song organizer Natasha Blackwood.

“Even within Newfoundland and Labrador there’s a lot of cultural diversity between different Indigenous groups and in the way that they create art and the different stories that they tell,” Blackwood said.

“The beautiful thing about Spirit Song is not that we’re trying to present a narrative, but that we’re trying to create all these different safe spaces for people to share their stories so we can hear all these different perspective and gain some appreciation and some knowledge.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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