Indige­nous and non-Indige­nous artists share stage in tour­ing show

Ottawa Citizen - - YOU - ERIC VOLMERS

Ja­son Col­lett has one hard and fast rule when it comes to the New Constellations tour.

The per­form­ers must watch each other at work.

“The artists aren’t al­lowed to just hang out back­stage,” says the singer-song­writer, talk­ing with Post­media from his home in Toronto.

“Typ­i­cally, when­ever we do ben­e­fits to­gether, that’s how it goes. Ev­ery­body is a snob about their peers, and they’re just hang­ing in the green room un­til it’s their time to be on stage, and they’re too cool for school. But with this show, a key part of the chem­istry is the au­di­ence get­ting to watch not just who’s per­form­ing, but get­ting to watch artists watch­ing other artists per­form. I al­ways think of the show as an ex­ten­sion of a kitchen ta­ble, post-dinner party, where the gui­tars come out and sto­ries get shared.”

Artists in­ter­min­gling is the key thrust of New Constellations, a 13stop Cana­dian tour that stops at the Bron­son Cen­tre on Satur­day.

Specif­i­cally, it’s meant to have Indige­nous and non-Indige­nous artists shar­ing a stage. It will visit Cana­dian cities and Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in the next cou­ple of weeks, mix­ing lit­er­ary arts and mu­sic with a ro­tat­ing ros­ter of artists per­form­ing in var­i­ous cities. That in­cludes A Tribe Called Red at the Bron­son Cen­tre and Feist at the tour-end­ing Toronto show on Dec. 20.

“We’re re­ally just try­ing to keep the fo­cus sim­ple in that it’s Indige­nous next-wave artists shar­ing space with no­table non-Indige­nous artists as a way of com­ing to­gether,” Col­lett says. “On one hand, it’s to show­case next-wave Indige­nous tal­ent — the next wave beyond the Tribe Called Reds and the Tanya Ta­gaqs. The flip side of the coin is that it’s an op­por­tu­nity for artists like Feist ... to ac­tu­ally en­gage with Indige­nous artists. It’s not an easy thing to do in our land­scape and coun­try. We’re try­ing to make it easy and ac­ces­si­ble.”

New Constellations is an off­shoot of va­ri­ety shows that have been go­ing on in Toronto for the past 10 years. Col­lett, a vet­eran singer-song­writer and mem­ber of Bro­ken So­cial Scene, co-founded The Base­ment Re­vue with poet Damian Rogers. The shows mixed mu­sic and lit­er­ary arts, lead­ing to such com­pelling pair-ups as Feist and Michael On­daatje and Mar­garet Atwood be­ing backed by the Sadies.

In 2014, The Base­ment Re­vue

did a ben­e­fit show for Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women fea­tur­ing a num­ber of per­form­ers on the New Constellations tour.

So Base­ment Re­vue teamed with Rev­o­lu­tions Per Minute — a record la­bel and artist col­lec­tive spe­cial­iz­ing in Indige­nous mu­sic — to ex­pand the project.

Armed with fed­eral funds from Canada 150, the two groups turned New Constellations into a multi-lay­ered project. Beyond the tour, it also of­fers work­shops in var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties for Indige­nous youth and a long-term men­tor­ship pro­gram that will have Indige­nous artists be­ing guided by the likes of Cree/Dene mu­si­cian IsKwe, Po­laris Prize-win­ning Colom­bian-Cana­dian singer Lido Pimienta and Weaves singer Jas­myn Burke.

Col­lett says the shows aim to at­tract both Indige­nous and nonIndige­nous au­di­ences.

“It’s very much like an old-school re­vue ... short sets,” says Col­lett. “I’m a big fan of ’60s Mo­town re­vues, where you have to go out, and you only have three songs, and you have to kill it. It makes ev­ery­body bring their best game.”


Ja­son Col­let says his tour­ing show is “like an old-school re­vue” in which artists have to be at their best.

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