North­ern Cree ex­cited to kick off Grammy day fes­tiv­i­ties

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - LAU­REN LA ROSE TORONTO —

When the Na­tive Amer­i­can mu­sic al­bum cat­e­gory was elim­i­nated from the Gram­mys in 2011, Steve Wood thought that North­ern Cree’s run of nom­i­na­tions had likely reached its end. The group’s co-founder was de­lighted to have been proven wrong.

“We thought it might be a lit­tle tougher to get back, but we got nom­i­nated which is pretty darn cool!” Wood said ex­cit­edly.

The award-win­ning Al­bertabased in­dige­nous singing group has re­ceived its seventh Grammy nod.

North­ern Cree will com­pete in the best re­gional roots mu­sic al­bum cat­e­gory for “It’s a Cree Thing.”

What’s more, North­ern Cree will be kick­ing off the pre-tele­cast fes­tiv­i­ties in Los An­ge­les with a per­for­mance dur­ing the af­ter­noon ceremony on Feb. 12, where awards will be handed out in ap­prox­i­mately 70 cat­e­gories.

Wood said while the song they’ll be per­form­ing is still un­de­ter­mined, it was im­por­tant to the group to au­then­ti­cally rep­re­sent both them­selves and their her­itage when they take to the stage.

“I want to make sure the au­di­ence knows that we still ex­ist and we still have our lan­guage and we still have our song and dance. We’re still very much here,” he said. “We’re prob­a­bly go­ing to open up with a num­ber in our tra­di­tional lan­guage. The mu­sic will be there, but all of the lyrics will be in Cree, be­cause I just think if we open up with a num­ber with English lyrics that’s not re­ally us.”

Wood and his broth­ers Randy and Earl co-founded North­ern Cree in 1982. While the group orig­i­nates from the Sad­dle Lake Cree Na­tion in north­ern Al­berta, it com­prises mem­bers from the Treaty 6 area, in­clud­ing the Frog Lake Cree Na­tion, Onion Lake Cree Na­tion, Sam­son Cree Na­tion, Louis Bull Cree Na­tion and the Pound­maker Cree Na­tion.

Mem­bers in­clude Wood’s son, Joel, as well as Shane Dion, Leroy Whit­stone, Fer­lin McGil­very, Penny McGil­very, Jonas Tootoosis, Mar­lon Deschamps, Co­nan Yel­low­bird, Dezi Cho­can, Ben Car­di­nal, Kyle Pasquayak, JohnBoy Moo­somin, Ran­dall Paskemin and Mickso Deschamps.

The group, which has re­leased 37 al­bums over 35 years, has cre­ated mu­sic for and was fea­tured in the 1999 biopic “Grey Owl” di­rected by the late Sir Richard At­ten­bor­ough. Sev­eral years ago North­ern Cree opened for the Trag­i­cally Hip dur­ing a Canada Day con­cert at Lon­don’s Trafal­gar Square.

“I never grew up think­ing our mu­sic would go to the Grammy Awards — we were just do­ing it in a tra­di­tional set­ting,” said Wood, whose group is billed as the only tra­di­tional Cana­dian abo­rig­i­nal group to have been nom­i­nated for a Grammy. “It wasn’t un­til I went to a Kiss con­cert and I thought: ‘Why can’t we put our mu­sic on the stage in con­cert just like you guys?’

“It’s all about how you pre­sented it to the au­di­ence, and now we’ve done that. Now, our mu­sic is rec­og­nized at the most pres­ti­gious mu­sic level in the world.”

Wood said their lat­est al­bum was dubbed “It’s a Cree Thing” as a nod to the par­tic­u­lar type of singing of round dance mu­sic that is in­dige­nous to Cree peo­ple.

“Over the win­ter months, those cer­e­monies, those fes­tiv­i­ties are hap­pen­ing ev­ery week­end across the plain,” said Wood. “They’re for all ages, from the youngest per­son to the old­est, and it’s a whole night of song and dance and feast­ing and laugh­ter.”

The group mem­bers bal­ance their singing ca­reers with day jobs. Wood is a Cree lan­guage in­struc­tor to First Na­tions stu­dents, one of sev­eral school teach­ers in the group.


North­ern Cree re­ceived its seventh Grammy nod, this time for best re­gional roots al­bum for “It’s a Cree Thing.”

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