Canada is 150 years old this year. Although I wasn’t alive to experience Confederation first hand, I direct my thoughts to another time – to Expo’67 that took place in Montreal, and the altruistic and porous Canada that would have been projected through various cultural constellations. I can imagine that part of the perennial conversation at this centennial event, may have been charged with a collective synergy binding history, culture, technology and creative expression. Would Canada produce an intersection where tradition and modern ideas meet? Would our cultural borders become sharper or blurrier?
Introducing – Nehiyawak. Our current musical subject consists of three indigenous musicians of Cree heritage working in Edmonton (Canada) and hailing from amiskwaciwaskahikan Treaty 6 Territory. Their music blends a combination of western and traditional instruments to give the listener an earnest handshake between memory, tradition and new music. The band nehlyawak, comprised of Kris Harper, Matthew Cardinal and Marek Tyler, afford their storytelling trajectory an indie-rock vehicle packed with a deeper cultural sensibility. Palpable guitar riffs dance with steady heartbeats from carved cedar wood apparatus and hand drums, while dreamy synths indicative of the indie-rock genre, do what they do best – provide a poppy and hypnotic texture nostalgic of a new romantic era. What defies typical indie tropes and challenges the borders of the listeners’ imagination are the stories and spirit of growing up Indigenous in Canada, and all that entails. Such expressions are at the equidistant of Nehiyawak’s musical intersection.
I asked the band to comment on their creative union in some detail. Kris Harper wrote the following:
“We are three people who happen to be Nehiyawak who play music within the Canadian borders
but whose history predates any borders of that kind.”
The band recently released their first single, Tomasso, which will be featured on their upcoming EP recorded by Colin Stewart (New Pornographers, Black Mountain, Dan Managan). If a single is intended as a vehicle for self-definition, Nehiyawak has demonstrated that they have winter tires. Their traction in this delightful piece is highlighted with the power-steady charge of the drumbeat and the spacious long, resonating bass and synth. The vocals offer a soft, youthful wisdom and melodic urgency reminiscent of “Band of Horses”. The use of reverb might have acted as a distancing device, but uniquely, draws the listener closer, rendering one vulnerable to the band’s generous sonic universe. It feels like I am inside the vehicle as a passenger.
These newly minted, Canadian musicians and storytellers Nehiyawak gift us with the driving power needed to close a complicated, cavernous and arguably tragic year by guiding us through the wilderness into the vast plains of 2017 and moving us away from the chatter of alienation, anxiety, and frustration into a better conversation. Manager, Brent Oliver, says this of the attitude that he shares with his new friends:
“As a Westerner, a lot of the discussions around reconciliation with Indigenous peoples has to be
started, promoted and supported by my side of the table. The Seven Sacred Teachings – Truth,
Wisdom, Respect, Courage, and Love – need to be learned and carried out by my ancestry, to
help heal this partnership we need in Canada.”
Matthew Cardinal reaffirms the band’s transcendent quality:
“It is more than a band.”
Cultural awareness and heritage have a universal need in the world of creative expression. As a music journalist, I have purposely focused this article on the musical experience of Nehiyawak, but I can tell you as both a music fan and cultural citizen of Canada, that the handshake between ancestry and the contemporary is real. The intersection is real.
Marek Tyler paints us an earnest portrait of the band:
“This is Nehiyawak – where culture meets chord, melody, and rhythm. It is a rehearsal space. There are drums in the corner, amps tilted against the wall, the synths patched in and the mic on the edge of feedback.”
Keep an ear out for more music on their SOUNDCLOUND