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The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story

The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story

Featured Image: Inuit throat singer Nina Segalowitz and Métis multidisciplinary artist Moe Clark, TheWords and Music Show:Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story. Photo by Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2023.

Colonial borders and academic pedagogy like to keep things separate, to compartmentalize. To define, determine and separate. But Indigenous Peoples have celebrated and fused stories and songs since time immemorial.

The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story on December 11 at Casa del Popolo in Montréal was such an occasion. Presented by the Quebec Writers’ Federation and hosted by Tawidha Tanya Evanson, Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story featured Métis multidisciplinary artist Moe Clark, Kanien’ke:haka (Mohawk) dancer and director/choreographer Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo, Inuit throat singer Nina Segalowitz, and trans non-binary Cree pop singer-songwriter Siibii.

Kanien’ke:haka (Mohawk) dancer and director/choreographer Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo, The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story. Photo by Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2023.

As the inaugural Words and Music Show since the passing of poet and organizer Ian Ferrier (1954 -2023), who founded and organized the monthly show in Montréal for the past twenty years. The Words and Music Show is the longest running spoken-word, poetry, performance, literature and music show, as Ferrier brought hundreds of poets and musicians together to produce and host nearly 200 productions. As a Mi’kmaq-settler poet who lived in Montréal for a few years and became friends with Ferrier, it was very meaningful to witness The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story come together and carry on the artistic flame that Ferrier lit.

Dancer and artistic director/choreographer of A’nó:wara Dance Theatre, Diabo didn’t share a dance piece as the stage was too small for her to perform, but bravely shared a story and performed on the piano and sang with her drum. Instead of seeing a dancer through her movements, it was beautiful to see her share the story of The Seven Dancers who became the constellations in the night sky. “The little warriors are dancing strong tonight,” she says. As a renowned dancer, Diabo was awarded the Prix de la danse de Montréal for most notable dancer in 2021, and her show Sky Dancers won A Dora Mavor Award for Outstanding Touring Production in 2022. Her ability to shapeshift – to perform, sing and serenade on the piano – illustrated her incredible array of gifts. But when she broke into David Bowie’s “We Can Be Heroes,” in her language, Kanienkeha (translated by Wahiakeron Gilbert), lips curled and audience members heartily sang along.

Inuit throat singer Nina Segalowitz, The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story. Photo by Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2023.

As a professional Inuit throat-singer for the past 25 years, Segalowtiz (Inuit/Chipewyan), has performed all over the world and with the Symphony Orchestra of Montréal, honouring Inuit throat singers who have been sharing for thousands of years. But what she shared during the The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story was a compelling, sad and humorous storytelling journey on all that led to her becoming. Being raised by her adopted mixed parents (who were professors) in Outremont, she was displaced from her family up North and Dene culture. Segalowtiz grew up learning the cello at the age of three, learning Hebrew, singing hymns and going to synagogue and church trying to find her place. “I didn’t think I looked Indigenous when I walked into a synagogue. I knew Hebrew.” In fact, she described the first-time hearing throat singing as strange. “Being adopted I felt imposter syndrome.” Yet, something inside her “wanted to get closer to that sound.”

It wasn’t until later in life during her post-secondary years when she met community through the Native Friendship Centre of Montréal, and began reconnecting to her culture and Inuit women taught her how to throat sing. At 50 years old, her presence and beauty radiated on stage, as she wove together the threads of her life-story, and all that makes her up. “I’m a grandmother. I have three kids. Two of my daughters throat-sing,” she says. “Throat singing is part of the gentle resistance against colonial forces.”

Moe Clark joined Segalowitz on-stage to sing a Dene healing song. Clark said it was gifted to her from a friend through a dream as a “really old song,” and she instructed the audience not to record it in order to preserve its original intention and allow it to be recorded in our body and hearts “or wherever you record things.” The strength of these two Indigenous women singing and drumming came together like a comet of healing vibrating throughout Casa del Popolo.

Métis multidisciplinary artist Moe Clark, The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story. Photo by Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2023.

“In a moment when we’re called to act on a global boycott from work, from consumerism, we the poets, the storytellers, the song keepers gather in solidarity,” writes Clark in an Instagram post about the event. As part of her performance (which she noted was the first stage she performed 15 years ago when Ferrier invited her to be part of The Words and Music Show), Clark shared looping poetic songs, a piano solo and a powerful poem about her experiences in Palestine inspired by the work of Mahmoud Darwish.

During her time visiting places like Bethlehem and Jerusalem last spring with a group of poets, songwriters and performers for two weeks, Clark came across Darwish’s book and opened to the line “They tried to arrest us for committing a dream.” Throughout the piece, she centred the resilience of Palestine, the Land Across the Water people and all Indigenous Peoples; including our Two-Spirit warriors. Clark repeats the lines: “pa-pawâkan, Pa-Palestine,” calling on the dream spirit guides for support.

Trans non-binary Cree pop singer-songwriter Siibii. The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story. Photo by Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2023.

“Oh no, I have to go after Moe Clark,” says Siibii. Clad in a Surrealist-style black and white swirl long dress, Montréal-based Siibii, who is from the Cree community of Mistissini, Quebec, shared some new poetry. But when they broke into songs, jaws dropped. As a rising pop, non-binary trans star and changemaker with over 3 million plus streams, the sky’s the limit for this musician. Siibii performed their most recent tune “YOY,” a catchy confessional off the hook track that repeats the chorus that “why oh why do I do this to myself?” that is somehow simultaneously uplifting and also personal reckoning. As CBC Searchlight’s 2022 runner up, Siibii has also garnered Canada’s Walk Of Fame 2022 Emerging Musician Grand Prize Winner and a SOCAN Young Canadian Songwriters Award in 2021.

As an incredible and memorable evening of Indigenous storytelling, poetry, music and song, The Words and Music Show: Enkonkara Tonhase – Let Me Tell You A Story filled us with light to help us get through these dark and cold long December nights. And in many ways, it also honoured Ferrier’s vision, as he understood the magic of what could happen bringing musicians, performers, dancers and poets together. All kinds of good medicines.

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About The Author

Shannon Webb-Campbell

Shannon Webb-Campbell is of Mi’kmaq and settler heritage. She is a member of Flat Bay First Nation. Her books include: the forthcoming Re: Wild Her (Book*hug 2025), Lunar Tides (2022), I Am a Body of Land (2019), and Still No Word (2015), which was the recipient of Egale Canada’s Out in Print Award. Shannon is a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick, and the editor of Muskrat Magazine and Visual Arts News.

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