Buffy Sainte-Marie talks protest, em­pow­er­ment

Cana­dian icon in Burling­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - GRA­HAM ROCK­ING­HAM grock­ing­ham@thes­pec.com 905-526-3331 | @Rock­atTheSpec

Buffy Sainte-Marie re­mains very much a protest singer, al­though she’s a bit un­com­fort­able with the word “protest.” She prefers to call her work “ac­tivist” songs.

At 76, she’s still rail­ing against the in­jus­tices of the world — war, poverty, greed and racism.

All those themes can be found on her lat­est al­bum “Medicine Songs,” a mix of new com­po­si­tions with some up­dated and re-recorded ver­sions of old favourites, like “Uni­ver­sal Soldier” and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.”

But per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing track on the al­bum is the opener “You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind).” It’s def­i­nitely not a protest song, not re­ally an ac­tivist song ei­ther. If any­thing it’s a song about em­pow­er­ment.

“You Got to Run” was in­spired by leg­endary dog sled­der Ge­orge At­tla, an Alaskan musher who won 10 world cham­pi­onships dur­ing 54 years of rac­ing.

At­tla, who died in 2016, con­tracted tu­ber­cu­lo­sis as a child and spent many years in and out of hos­pi­tals. The dis­ease left him with a stiff leg and a fused knee, but he was able to over­come his dis­abil­ity to be­come one of the sport’s great­est com­peti­tors.

Sainte-Marie said she first en­coun­tered At­tla’s story when she was asked to score a 1979 film about him called “Spirit of the Wind” and even­tu­ally wrote the song to help peo­ple be­lieve in them­selves.

“‘You Got to Run’ can be about run­ning for of­fice be­cause of what you be­lieve, or run­ning in a marathon or get­ting to run your own life,” Sainte-Marie says from a Toronto ho­tel where she is pre­par­ing for an On­tario tour that stops at the Burling­ton Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre Fri­day.

“It’s re­ally about be­ing your­self, grow­ing into your­self and what it means to be a cham­pion, not only a cham­pion in sport, but some­one who is ful­fill­ing their own life. There is a kind of cham­pion in the ev­ery­day per­son and that’s re­ally what it’s about — try­ing to en­cour­age some­one.”

Sainte-Marie, an In­dige­nous Cree orig­i­nally from Saskatchewan, recorded the song ear­lier this year with ac­claimed Inuit throat singer Tanya Ta­gaq. The two singers had been en­cour­aged to col­lab­o­rate af­ter they had won back-to­back awards for Cana­dian al­bum of the year, Ta­gaq in 2014 and Sainte-Marie in 2015.

“We had met the first time years ago in Yel­lowknife and then many times over the years,” Sainte-Marie said about Ta­gaq. “I re­spect her, she re­spects me. It was (Polaris Prize founder) Steve Jor­dan who sug­gested it. He said we would like Polaris win­ners to work with other Polaris win­ners, is there any­body you’d like to work with?

“Im­me­di­ately, I said Tanya. And Tanya wanted to make it hap­pen. We were both re­ally thrilled. It was a great day, the day we recorded the song.”

That type of col­lab­o­ra­tion is in­creas­ing for Sainte-Marie as a new gen­er­a­tion of In­dige­nous artists look up to the vet­eran song­writer as a men­tor. She has also re­cently recorded with Ot­tawa electro-pow­wow sen­sa­tion A Tribe Called Red and per­formed on the same stage sev­eral times with Hamil­ton-based R&B pow­er­house Iskwé.

Saint-Marie, who won an academy award for cowrit­ing “Up Where We Be­long” for “An Of­fi­cer and a Gen­tle­man,” ac­knowl­edges that her ca­reer is en­joy­ing a re­mark­able re­ju­ve­na­tion af­ter many years of be­ing un­able to get ra­dio play.

Af­ter win­ning the Polaris Prize for her “Power in the Blood” al­bum, Sainte-Marie was hon­oured at the 2016 Junos with Abo­rig­i­nal al­bum of the year and con­tem­po­rary roots al­bum of the year. This year, the Junos con­tin­ued the ac­co­lades by pre­sent­ing her with the pres­ti­gious Al­lan Waters Hu­man­i­tar­ian Award.

Sainte-Marie, who lives on a goat farm in Hawaii, at­trib­uted her ca­reer resur­gence to her Wa­ter­down-based la­bel Truth North Records.

“I’ve been do­ing the same thing all along,” Sainte-Marie says. “Yet it was True North Records who re­ally brought my work to the pub­lic. You can’t do this by your­self as an artist. True North Records was the one that brought the work that I was do­ing all along to the larger pub­lic.

“They got the mu­sic heard and I hand them bou­quets for that.”


Buffy Sainte-Marie says she owes re­newed in­ter­est in her work to Wa­ter­down-based True North Records.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.