The Anishinabe people of Canada found inspiration for their songs from the landscape of this country. “Song lines” are inspired by what the earth offers up. It is the natural progression of notes found in the flow of the land, similar to the notes found on a music staff.
ShoShona Kish and Raven Kanatakta discovered this traditional way of songwriting after spending time with Kish’s great aunt.
“We listened to her talk about residential schools while she listened to Bob Marley, and eventually she told us how the Anishinabe people used song lines to traditionally write their songs,” says Kish.
“Song lines cause you directly to be in relation with the land,” adds Kanatakta.
Kish and Kanatakta are the husband and wife driving force behind world and roots group Digging Roots, from Ontario. They are currently on tour in Manitoba and Ontario and have taken their only day off to meet and talk about their songwriting.
Their new album Flight Path is due for release in the fall. On this latest offering, they have further explored writing via song lines.
“We Are just scratched the surface,” says Kanatakta, referring to their blues-influenced 2010 Juno-winning album. But as they embraced this way of writing more and more, Kanatakta says he and Kish let go of their structured way of writing songs. “This is a reclamation of indigenous music and it’s really empowering and exciting,” he says, shifting on the bar stool and sitting up straighter.
Kanatakta and Kish have photographed several landscapes during their touring across the country. They have had to learn to evolve their songwriting with this traditional influence.
“We were coming at it very academically,” reflects Kanatakta. “Then we realized eurocentricity was creeping in on the indigenous experience.”
Kish somewhat disagrees. She confesses that she still needs to document the melodies that they see in the landscapes, but does concede that they are both not as specific with it as they once were. She recounts the times when she would lay out staff paper on overhead projectors and try to match the landscape in photographs they had taken to notes on the staff and create melodies that way.
“I came home, opened the door and all this paper kind of just floated to the ground,” laughs Kanatakta.
“I kind of went a little crazy and had all this paper posted all over the house,” continues Kish. “I wondered why it was so dark in the house,” Kanatakta interrupts.
“I had posted the staff paper all over the walls and windows, trying to make sense of what I was seeing in the land,” Kish finishes.
They had fought with writing songs this way, says Kanatakta, because, for him especially, he wanted it to work right away. But after they struggled with it, over-analyzed it and stripped it down, they found the natural evolution of their song lines.
“Instead of a traditional influence, we come at it with a mixture of modern music. We’ve added chord progressions, found the natural melodies and write with new-ish song styles like reggae, ska and blues,” Kanatakta says, settling back onto the bar stool.
“We’re updating a tradition and keeping it alive,” Kish smiles warmly.
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on Apr 20, 2012