TORONTO – What a gala it was last Thursday at Old Fort York in Toronto. The Gala, put on by the Mississaugas of the New Credit to open the Pan-Am Games on their traditional territory, invited dignitaries, politicians and chiefs from across Ontario to a day of speeches and great entertainment, highlighted by the iconic Buffy St. Marie, who has just released her new album “Power in the Blood”.
Also performing was singer/songwriter, Chantal Kreviazuk, who is also — like Buffy, a Cree. New Credit’s own Mark LaForme and Cecil Sault and his band Old Chicago were on the bill as well.
We had a chance to talk with Buffy in an exclusive Two Row Times interview about her amazing life and 50-year career, with no signs of slowing down.
Sitting and talking with her between sound-checks, it was hard to believe that she is now 74 years old, and has been a world recognized Aboriginal singer and songwriter for 50 years — still nailing it with her energetic live performance and her heart-deep songwriting.
The Oscar, Juno, and Golden Globe award winner is still the same girl that wrote “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, “Universal Soldier”, and so many other politically charged songs, but that is not all she is.
Some of the worlds greatest love songs have also been given life through her incredible talent for weaving a melody and lyric. Songs like “Up Where We Belong”, “Until It’s Time For You To Go”, and “Pretty Good Man” have been covered by some of the music world’s biggest names. She also pulls a lot of inspiration from traditional songs and indigenous worldview, which attest to her multifaceted personality and career.
“I make an album when I feel like going on the road,” said Ste. Marie about her new work ‘Power In The Blood’. “I went out on what was supposed to be a two-year world tour and we are in year six of that two year road tour.”
While on the road, she was busy writing songs and performing many of these news songs live, fine tuning them, so when it came time to record a new album, she was ready to go.
“I never think about it (needing a new album),” Buffy said. “If you are a merchant or a corporation you always think about ‘I want an album every 16 weeks’ or whatever. That has nothing to do with me, or any real artist. That has to do with money, merchandizing, marketing and corporate thinking. I just don’t think like that.”
While trends and tastes have fluctuated broadly since she began her career, the artist who is now on her 20th album has remained true to who she is. Along with her love of her people and indigenous peoples around the world, she is also very progressive and technology savvy and is able to bring the two worlds together seamlessly on stage and in the studio.
“I’m not the record business kind of artist,” she said. “Since my very first album I record the various reflections I’m getting from the world I am living in. And it’s never just love song, love song, love song. It’s always been a mix. Every album is like 360 degrees of my own life. I travel a lot, so my albums are really quite different from most top artists. I live a very personal life, but globally.”
Buffy shared she is thrilled about the forward steps that have been made in recent years regarding indigenous rights, mainly through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples and many benchmark Supreme Court decisions which have favoured Indigenous Rights.
“The fact that there was a Truth and Reconciliation Commission at all is a dream come true for me,” she smiled. “Because I was the only person talking about genocide in North America 50 years ago. There wasn’t one single person in media or the arts talking about it. But we were talking about it at home.”
She feels blessed to be in a position to educate the uneducated about indigenous issues, and to support and encourage those who do.
“Because I have had those airplane tickets (access to the world through her music) much earlier than some of my peers. Fifty years ago, I couldn’t think of many indigenous people who had the opportunity to travel the entire world. I was in Hong Kong one day and Paris the next and then some reserve the following day. I had a head start because I had traveled.”
People around the world are becoming more in tune with indigenous people and their history as well as their struggles and St. Marie is thrilled with that.
“I think people have always been interested in our culture,” she says. “I work with a lot of Aboriginal PHD’s in various colleges and 50 years ago they never would have thought of themselves as being mis-educated. Now they are beginning to realize that they have been. Because I could travel a lot, I was often the first person to bring that news to universities.”
Through it all – the show business, the success and the glamor of all of that – Buffy says the opportunity to travel the world and educate has been the happiness of her life, and continues to be.