"Walking Through Fire" - in Kingston

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 19, Issue 1, January 2024
We thank this group for reaching out to TI Life. Our Events Page has several events publicized every month, but this one provides an opportunity for River Rats to learn more about Canada's Indigenous peoples and how perspectives are changing. If you are in the region - plan to attend. If not, then take advantage of the list of videos the group provided to us.]

The Kingston Grand Theatre is presenting a special event on January 23, 2024, called "Walking Through the Fire,” bringing the magic of collaboration to the stage, with award-winning First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists from across Turtle Island and joined by Billboard charting/6x CFMA winners Sultans of String. The show is described as a musical multimedia experience that includes Métis fiddling, an East Coast Kitchen Party, rumba and rock rhythms, and the drumming of the Pacific Northwest.

"We are so excited to be visiting Kingston!” says violinist and bandleader Chris McKhool. “Kingston Grand is such a special theatre and this performance is a very special opportunity to experience the beauty and diversity of music from Turtle Island, along with Sultans of String!”

Indeed, the show features Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk of the Métis Fiddler Quartet, Ojibwe/Finnish singer-songwriter Marc Meriläinen (Nadjiwan), Coast Ts’msyen singer-songwriter Shannon Thunderbird, The North Sound from the prairies, local dancer John Hupfield, as well as virtual guests joining in on the big screen, including Elder and poet Dr. Duke Redbird, the Northern Cree pow wow group, Inuit Throat Singers Kendra Tagoona and Tracy Sarazin, and more.

A five minute description of the project that is meant to describe this special collaboration to assist in the Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action and Final Report that calls for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to work together to find a path forward. 

Indigenous artists certainly seem to be having a moment in the sun. One of the artists in Walking Through the Fire, Marc Meriläinen, says “Definitely we are seeing a Renaissance, if you will, with Indigenous culture, and artists, and entrepreneurs, and everything else. And hopefully, this project keeps that ball rolling, which I'm sure it will. And that's one of the big reasons why I signed on . . . this is a great way to build some of these bridges, as well as leaving the listener with a great selection of tunes.”

Another of the performers on stage is Shannon Thunderbird. Originally from the Pacific Northwest coast of British Columbia, she will be sharing an original song called Black Winged Raven, influenced by the series of her ancestors. “Raven is the culture hero of the Pacific Northwest Indigenous People,” explains Shannon, whose fireside chats, lectures, and original music open the minds and hearts of audiences to the rich culture and history of Canada's Indigenous people. “I grew up with the stories of Raven. He is a very robust character that our people, the Coast Ts’msyen love and respect – to this day we listen to these stories.”

Joining virtually will be Steve Wood and nine-time Grammy nominees The Northern Cree from Alberta. “When you're collaborating with mainstream music, it shows that we can work together to bring out the very best in who we are as human beings," says Steve. "And that's what music does. It shows that we can work together and we can bring out something very beautiful. And it's giving our music an opportunity for a different type of audience out there. There's a lot of people that are just catching on to our type of music, which has been here since time immemorial. I think it's great.” The Cree lyrics talk to the dancer about "dancing hard and feeling the beat of the drum, encouraging the dancer to get down."

These artists have all come together in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 Calls to Action and Final Report that calls for Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to work together to find a path forward.

Together, these artists are making a safe, creative space where new connections can be dreamed of – not in the Western way of thinking and problematizing – but instead a deeper sharing and understanding, with music being the common ground to help cultures connect and understand each other. “We are opening doors for each other, as Indigenous peoples, as settler peoples. This project is about creating connections and spaces to learn from each other,” explains collaborator Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk, violist with Métis Fiddler Quartet.

Sultans violinist Chris McKhool, who was recently awarded the Dr. Duke Redbird Lifetime Achievement Award by Redbird, and JAYU Arts for Human Rights for working to amplify these truths through collaborations, says, “This country has a history that has been ignored, distorted, twisted to suit colonialist goals of destroying a people. We are so fortunate for the opportunity to work with Indigenous artists, sharing their stories, their experiences, and their lives with us, so we can continue our work of learning about the history of residential schools, genocide, and intergenerational impacts of colonization. Music has a special capacity for healing, connecting, and expressing truth.”

The Honourable Murray Sinclair, former chair of the TRC, said, “The very fact that you’re doing this tells me that you believe in the validity of our language, you believe in the validity of our art and our music, and that you want to help to bring it out. And that’s really what’s important: for people to have faith that we can do this.” Sinclair also spoke about the importance of using Indigenous languages so that these do not become lost. The concert feature lyrics in Dene, Inuktitut, Sm’algyax, Cree, and Michif.

L-R: Drew Birston, Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk, Chris McKhool, Shannon Thunderbird, Marc Meriläinen, Kevin Laliberté. [Photo courtesy of Sultans of String]

Sultans of String is a fiercely independent band that has always tried to lift up those around them and has exposed many of their collaborators and special guests to new audiences at their shows, including at JUNOfest, NYC’s legendary Birdland Jazz Club, Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, and in London’s Trafalgar Square. Led by Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal recipient McKhool, they have collaborated with orchestras across North America and have played live on CBC’s Canada Live, BBC TV, Irish National Radio, and SiriusXM in Washington. They have recorded and performed with such diverse luminaries as Paddy Moloney & The Chieftains, Sweet Honey in The Rock, Richard Bona, Alex Cuba, Ruben Blades, Benoit Bourque, and Béla Fleck. Their work during the pandemic on The Refuge Project amplified the voices of new immigrants and refugees, earning them CFMAs and Best Musical Film at the Cannes World Film Festival.

Sultans of String Website: https://sultansofstring.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sultansofstring
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sultansofstring

Sultans of String would like to acknowledge funding support from non-Indigenous funding streams of the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario, and Canada Council for the Arts.

WHAT: Kingston Grand Theatre presents ‘Walking Through the Fire’ – Indigenous Collaborations with Sultans of String
Featuring Shannon Thunderbird, Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk, Marc Meriläinen (Nadjiwan), The North Sound, local dancer John Hupfield, and a multimedia extravaganza including Duke Redbird, Northern Cree, Kendra Tagoona & Tracy Sarazin, and more!

WHEN: Tuesday, January 23, 2024 – 7:30 pm

WHERE: Grand Theatre, 218 Princess St, Kingston ON, K7L 1B2

TIX: $19.50 to $39.50, 613-530-2050 grandtheatre2@cityofkingston.ca


By Susan W. Smith, Editor, TI Life


• EPK https://youtu.be/0A5V6Q1Iabg
• Black Winged Raven - feat. Shannon Thunderbird and friends https://youtu.be/ycx9Vw1-uxg
• The Rez – feat. Crystal Shawanda https://youtu.be/rGa2OjdJgrI
• Take Off The Crown – Lyric Video- feat. Raven Kanatakta of Digging Roots https://youtu.be/VujifeK1Sq0
• Nîmihito (Dance) - feat. Northern Cree https://youtu.be/lICoyJlwh8s
• A Beautiful Darkness - feat. Marc Merilänen (Nadjiwan)  https://youtu.be/f-4YIdWOqU0
• Our Mother The Earth - feat. Duke Redbird  https://youtu.be/DwsfFgctFX0
• Humma – feat. Kendra Tagoona & Tracy Sarazin https://youtu.be/WUaIKn3chCE?si=NbQU-8jNttXiuzKi

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 1, January 2024, Artists, News article, People, Places

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