COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Jan. 18, 2013

Jessica Iron Joseph
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Holly McNarland

On Jan. 9, four Aboriginal musicians joined efforts to launch free downloadable music in support of Idle No More. Holly McNarland, Marty Ballentyne, Kevin Joseph and Ron “Ostwelve” Harris organized 14 different artists to be featured on Idle No More: Songs for Life, Volume 1 at:

“We all began talking in mid-December out of a desire to contribute something to this pivotal moment in our shared history,” Ballentyne said. “We agreed that music could help bring people together and wanted to follow in the spirit of Idle No More founders by engaging in a grassroots effort to collect and release music in support of the movement.”

The fourteen songs listed thus far feature an eclectic blend of genres, like: rock, blues, folk, hip-hop, and powwow step. One song called “7 Lifetimes” by Derek Miller was written in support of Chief Theresa Spence and her hunger strike.

I believe the great diversity of music on the play list will appeal to everyone.

In an apt introduction to Songs for Life, Ballentyne eloquently expressed his thoughts on music. “Music is transcendent. Somewhere in between the melody, the rhythm, the words, the instruments and the people playing them, it all adds up to something more than the sum of its parts. It’s magic! Music soothes frayed nerves. It makes you dance. It says things you just can’t put into words. Songs make you think, make you feel, bring you up, bring you down, bring you around. For some music is loud and groovy on a Friday night; for some, it’s quiet and calming on a Sunday morning. Music brings us all together. We have it in common, along with the air, the water, the earth beneath our feet and the sky above.”

It all began when Ballentyne saw McNarland’s supportive reaction to Idle No More on her Twitter and Facebook. He inboxed her and suggested they compile an album of songs from various artists in support of the movement. McNarland liked the idea, but worried that an album might take too long, and she wanted to capitalize on the current momentum and energy. “I really wanted to try and catch people on a free level and try to steer attention to Idle No more through music, and let music lovers know that artists are behind this, and in their thoughts as well,” McNarland said. “So, Marty and I did a lot of talking and hashing out different ideas about how to gain more allies, First Nations and non-Aboriginal as well.”

It was at this point that Ostwelve and Kevin Joseph entered the dialogue. Ostwelve had connections with and was able to help set up the play list online. Joseph, a fellow musician and Idle No More supporter was excited to contribute to the movement musically.

“What I hope the (eventual) album and the online play lists do is inspire individuals to realize that they all have something to offer the Idle No More movement. Idle No More is about empowering people. The rallies are great, but where we will do the most good for Idle No More is acknowledging and embracing each individual’s talents and abilities. We are all musicians, so what we are doing hardly seems like work. But it will keep the momentum building nationally and internationally,” Joseph said.

McNarland stressed that for her the online play list wasn’t a money issue, it was a communications issue.

“My focus is to speak to my fans and hopefully sway some of the opinion about First Nations people and shine some light on how Harper is selling us out via our water, land and resources … being Métis myself and having the benefit and ability to ask for help via the music connections I have is amazing,” McNarland said. “It’s a one-song free download to draw in more attention to Idle No More. The idea is to have more content to keep the conversations going and slowly have more artists added to the list. Super low-key. No big press release. Not so far anyhow.”

Ballentyne said that in reaching out to artists across Canada and around the world, the response they received was fantastic.

“The issues that Idle No More is bringing to the national conversation affect all Canadians, and so it only seemed right to reach out to all artists. Prominent non-Aboriginal Canadians such as Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, and Sarah Slean have spoken out in support of Idle No More, and when we reached out to artists like Tom Wilson, John K. Samson, and Jenn Grant, they were among the first to enthusiastically respond. Our outreach continues and we’ve got some very cool artists lined up for the next edition of the series,” Ballentyne said.

Joseph believes that the work they did to compile the first play list was probably the toughest part.

“The music that was donated was absolutely amazing. Our task with the first volume was contacting the artists. Now we have artists contacting us,” Joseph said. “We are still reaching out to as many well-known artists as we can. Many well-known artists are doing what they can to show their support for the movement. Nelly Furtado is sporting an Idle No More T-shirt regularly and released a youtube video expressing her support. Blue Rodeo dedicated a song to the movement at their concert in Prince Albert the other night. And artists including Feist and the Tragically Hip signed a letter in support as well. This doesn’t mean that they will be able to contribute music of course, but it is encouraging for us to know that they are with us in spirit.”

Ballentyne agreed.

“We’re only just getting started. If ever we’ve been idle -- whether in our thoughts or our actions -- we are now Idle No More.”

Organizations: First Nations, Prince Albert, Tragically Hip

Geographic location: Canada

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