ShoShona Kish, an organizer of the International Indigenous Music Summit, shares a moment of joy with Lora Ann Chaisson, right, at a welcoming ceremony in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 21, 2020. Chaisson, a council member from the United Houma Nation, helped prepare an Indigenous feast for attendees of the summit. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Indigenous musicians come together in a sacred and safe space

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana -- "Welcome to Bulbancha!"

With prayer, song, food, smudging and an acknowledgment of the Indian nations that call this crossroads of tribal cultures home, the International Indigenous Music Summit kicked off an impressive week of music, art and performance in a place known in the Choctaw language as the "place of many tongues."

"We're about to see a whole bunch of beautiful things unfold, because we're here together," ShoShona Kish, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) community organizer, producer, activist and songwriter from the Batchewana First Nation, said at the welcoming ceremony on Tuesday evening.

The International Indigenous Music Summit is the brainchild of Kish, who performs with her husband in the award-winning group Digging Roots. Though the event serves as a way for artists from around the world to get their work before industry professionals, it also provides a "safe space" for them to share their traditions and ways of life with one another, she said.

"Creativity and music -- the things that are bringing us together -- are sacred," said Kish.

Mohawk elder and educator Louise Lahache, left, hailed as the "matriarch" of the International Indigenous Music Summit, speaks to attendees at a welcoming ceremony in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 21, 2020. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Dozens of attendees got a preview of the space created for them at the welcoming ceremony, which took place at the New Orleans Jazz Market, a venue and community center. Indigenous musicians from the United States, Canada, Colombia, Australia and Norway presented heartfelt songs to their peers, with one particularly stirring performance dedicated to a fellow artist who could not be here.

Kelly Fraser, an Inuk singer from Nunavut, died last month by suicide at the age of 26. Her friend, Jade Harper, who serves as the Indigenous music coordinator for a government-funded program in Canada, remembered the talented songwriter as someone who was "always smiling."

"She was so happy. And that laugh," said Harper, who is Anishinaabe, Cree and Icelandic. Her song about "star people" brought several in the audience to tears.

"We are star people," said Harper, relaying some knowledge from her Indigenous teachings. "Our bones are made of star dust."

Jade Harper performs "The Star People Song" at a welcoming ceremony for the International Indigenous Music Summit in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 21, 2020. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Emotions and excitement will continue to run strong for the rest of the week, as artists, knowledge keepers, and community builders come together to discuss ways to promote, advance and respect Indigenous music in the larger entertainment industry. Most of the sessions, which are taking place during the day at a hotel on the edge of New Orleans' famed French Quarter, are open to supporters and allies, though some have been set aside as a "safe space" for Indigenous peoples, including elders who are attending the summit, to help them stay connected to each other.

"So many of our friends are not here, and family members are not here, and they should be," said Kish, referring to those who have passed.

At night, the summit will turn into a stunning space for all things Indigenous. Organizers have lined up a dizzying array of artists from all over the world -- nearly 50 at last count -- for a slew of performances that begin at 10:30pm and run through the early morning on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Gabriel Ayala, an award-winning Yaqui guitarist, is among those on tap for the late night sessions. After landing in New Orleans on Tuesday evening, he told Indianz.Com that he was looking forward to his performance on Wednesday evening.

All told, attendees will get to see, hear and experience nearly 24 hours of Indigenous music performances, representing a wide range of genres, from hip-hop and rock to folk and soul. In addition to Ayala, there's Sihasin, comprised of brother and sister Jeneda and Clayson Benally from the Navajo Nation; the Snotty Nose Rez Kids, the duo of Darren "Young D" Metz and Quinton "Yung Trybez" Nyce, who are rappers from the Haisla Nation; Torgeir Vassvik, a Sámi performer from Norway; Emily Wurramara, who sings in English and in Annandilyakwa, the language of her Warnindhilyagwa people in Australia; and Raye Zaragoza, a folk artist known for "In The River", a protest song inspired by the Standing Rock movement.

The International Indigenous Music Summit is a relatively new component of the Folk Alliance International Conference, also being held in New Orleans this week. The partners are celebrating their second year together, following the inaugural Indigenous event in Montreal, Canada, in 2019.

The Folk Alliance International Conference, presented by Folk Alliance International, is in its 32nd year. It's the world's largest gathering of the folk music industry and the folk music community, a term applied to diverse array of genres, including Indigenous music. Some 2,900 artists and industry representatives, hailing from 48 countries, attended the conference in 2019.

Darryl Buck, a singer from the singer from Mosakahikan and Opaskwayak Cree nations, performs at a welcoming ceremony for the International Indigenous Music Summit in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 21, 2020. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

International Indigenous Music Summit
Get ready to stay up all night! Here's a rundown of the Indigenous Voices Private Showcases that are taking place this week during the International Indigenous Music Summit in New Orleans, Louisiana. Each lineup starts at 10:30pm every night, with the last performer on the bill slated to go on around 2:40am.

Wednesday, January 22
The Johnnys
Gabriel Ayala
Thea Hopkins
Sierra Noble
Mamarudegyal MTHC
New Tradition Music
Snotty Nose Rez Kids
Sandy Scofield
Bebe Buckskin
Murray Porter
RELLIK / William Leblanc

Thursday, January 23
Grayhawk Perkins
Leela Gilday
Andrina Turenne
Nancy Mike (of The Jerry Cans)
Kristi Lane Sinclair
Alice Skye
Darryl Buck
Josh Halverson
Desiree Dorion
Kim Moberg

Friday, January 24
Kalyn Fay
Elexa Dawson
Celeigh Cardinal
Cary Morin
Blue Moon Marquee
Emily Wurramara
Sister Says

Saturday, January 25
Kym Gouchie
Jay Gilday
Raye Zaragoza
Diyet and the Love Soldiers
Elisapie / Outloud
Lacey Hill
Quique Escamilla
The North Sound
Songs in the Round

And if that isn't enough Indigenous music, another set of showcases takes place earlier in the evening on Saturday, January 25. The lineup features Doctor Nativo, DOBBY, Charly Lowry and Micki Free.

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