Cree singer and music educator Angel Baribeau released a new single and music video titled “Love is Up the River”, which highlights issues of self-discovery and acceptance. Baribeau, a two-spirit artist from Mistissini, describes the inspiration behind the release, and the challenging journey of becoming an artist.
“The song itself was dedicated to the first girl I ever loved, and the video is for my mother, the first woman who ever loved me,” Baribeau told the Nation. “I wrote the song a couple of years ago actually. My process is writing a song, losing it for a while, and then finding it again and making it whole.”
Baribeau’s inspiration comes from experiences in youth as well as contemporary realizations about identity and personal growth. “I was initially inspired by young love. But when you leave a song for a period of time and then find it again later, it made me realize I had to honour another part of me with the music video as well,” explained Baribeau.
The song and accompanying video explore Baribeau’s journey of self-discovery, from understanding and accepting the identity of an Indigenous and queer person, to becoming comfortable in assuming the role of an artist.
“As a youth, you’re still trying to establish who you are. For a period, I was struggling with identity and mental health issues,” Baribeau recounted. “It was also hard to identify as an artist, because I initially had a narrow-minded view of what an artist was. At first, I didn’t want to take up any space by saying yes, I’m an artist, because I had this false understanding of that status.”
Baribeau’s new release explores the difficulty faced in coming to terms with personal and cultural identity. “For a long time, there were parts of me that didn’t even want to identify as Indigenous or French Canadian, because I didn’t know where I fit into all of that.”
The video features Baribeau’s mother, who guides the pair in doing various cultural activities. “Its really about taking a journey of self-acceptance, which is something that a lot of Indigenous people go through. We’re born in this post-colonial period, where we’re living in a country, province and reserve that is as far away from our ancestral ways of being as you can possibly get,” said Baribeau. “The song is representing how we have to go on that journey of discovery, and in a lot of ways my mother is my biggest bridge to that.
“I grew up listening to my mother’s stories and hearing her legends. In a big way those stories helped me discover those parts of who I was.”
Baribeau believes that art not only creates the opportunity for discovery, but also has the power to save lives. “It seems like art and mental illness go hand in hand. But the whole point of art is to express to people the things you couldn’t verbalize or allow them to see otherwise,” Baribeau noted. “Music and art gave me the tools to acknowledge that part of me that I wanted and needed to be heard.”
Baribeau is currently working as an artist-in-residence for Mikw Chiyâm, an arts education program provided by the organization InPath. The group is also behind the N’we Jinan project, which served as Baribeau’s first experience in creating music.
Baribeau was featured on the N’we Jinan project’s first volume of music. “My youth fusion worker knew I was a singer, and she took my hand and convinced me to go to the N’we Jinan workshop. She wouldn’t let go of my hand, because she knew I would bolt if she did,” laughed Baribeau. “I can’t tell you how grateful I am that she made me stay.”
Later, Baribeau became involved in Mikw Chiyâm, and was the program’s first graduate. “Within that program we honed our abilities. We learned more mediums, and we became more multifaceted multimedia artists,” stated Baribeau.
Baribeau is happy to now recreate the experience by working as an artist-in-residence for Mikw Chiyâm. “I feel the youth there are like me,” said Baribeau. “It’s full circle, me being that troubled kid and not being able to verbalize my emotions to me now teaching these kids how to verbalize their emotions through art.”
“Love is Up the River”is the first single to be released from Baribeau’s album For Those I Love(d), scheduled to be released in April.