By Rick Garrick
ATTAWAPISKAT—A group of Vezina Secondary School students in Attawapiskat enjoyed learning more about music during a March 12-18 Singing for Love program in the James Bay community.
“It was great,” says Trina Rose, one of the students. “We all had fun together and learned new music from different instruments, like the ukulele and drums. [The drums] were kind of hard at first, but it was okay.”
Tyler Hookimaw, another student, also enjoyed the music sessions during the Singing for Love program.
“I played music with the guitar,” Hookimaw says.
Singing for Love presenters Rosa Cervantes and Richard Fouchaux joined up with Jackie Hookimaw-Witt, an education consultant from Attawapiskat they met last year in Toronto when she was screening her documentary on the community’s suicide crisis, to deliver the Singing for Love program of music and education to the students. Cervantes and Fouchaux had previously delivered the Singing for Love program to youth in Toronto.
“She lives here in Attawapiskat with her husband Norbert and the two of them are very active on the issue,” Fouchaux says. “So we modified our [Singing for Love] program and put together a music program for kids. We looked at the influence of Indigenous people on our popular music.”
Fouchaux says they introduced the students to the music of Indigenous musicians such as Link Wray, a Shawnee musician, and Jesse Edwin Davis, a Kiowa Comanche musician who played with many famous musicians, including the Rolling Stones.
“We gave a background on Indigenous music and the Indigenous musicians’ contributions to music,” Fouchaux says. “And we wrote a song together — they supplied all the words and the theme.”
Fouchaux says they readapted the chords from a popular song to create the new song.
“And we let it be influenced by local drumming that we heard on the Pow Wow last Saturday and by Link Wray’s … song Rumble, which is a 1950s song,” Fouchaux says. “We put it all together and wrote a song and we played it all afternoon at the high school.”
Hookimaw-Witt says the program was a good opportunity for the students to learn from Cervantes, an Indigenous educator originally from Mexico.
“When she sang, I was observing the students and they were staring because you know how they sing with a high voice,” Hookimaw-Witt says. “That is what I loved about her spirit; it was very up-lifting. And considering the situation in the community from the social crisis we had when we lost a young child from suicide, I figured this would be a nice opportunity to bring them here to bring some joy and some positive energy.”
Cervantes says it was a wonderful experience to work with the students.
“I didn’t expect how emotional [the] experience was for me,” Cervantes says. “I love to share with them in some kind of way the process for creating songs and they got involved step by step. They received us a little [more] openly every day, and today the kids came and participated … with drums and making the song.”
Fouchaux says the community’s reaction to the Singing for Love program was “absolutely positive.” The program was delivered in Attawapiskat through a Laidlaw Foundation grant.
“We had kids hugging and crying as a matter of fact at the end,” Fouchaux says. “We brought our daughter from Toronto as well, she’s seven going on eight, and she became friends with a couple of girls. In fact they’re out skiing now.”
Information about the program is available online.