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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

The beating of a heart

BY Will Nicholls Apr 25, 2022

Culture and the arts define a people and can influence the direction of their society. Music is one of the ways this is done. Woodstock still conjures up images of the 1960s and the changes that accompanied that era to this day. Anyone who has gone to a concert knows the energy the event has for the audience.

Back in the late 1980s, I spoke at an event in the United States against the damming of the Great Whale River. Before my talk, a drum group played an honour song and I joined in. It started out as a heartbeat and then grew faster. As we drummed, the audience’s heart started to beat in time and increased when we did. Later, when I started to talk, I was cheered on with each sentence I spoke. Such was the power of music to influence the way people responded.

Musique Nomade’s presentation at the Outremont Theatre on April 13 started off with drumming and reminded me of the power of music. Traditional music wasn’t the only genre on the Nikamowin bill as it encompassed hip hop, rock and more.

One of the musicians on hand was Mi’kmaq rapper QO52 (aka Quentin Condo) from Gesgapegiag. Q readily admits to being an activist as well as a musician. His dad was a chief elected at the tender age of 21. Though his dad was a musician, who taught Q to play the guitar, music wasn’t what he wanted for his son. Q gave in and served as chief councillor under his dad for two terms. 

“I was raised in politics,” Q said but finally had to tell his dad it wasn’t for him. “The way I wanted to move things was through different means and I felt I had a stronger voice through music.”

Q said that the constraints of having to speak and act in certain ways were part and parcel of being a politician, but “with art I can say whatever I feel I have to say without ruffling feathers.” It was all about getting the message out to a broader audience and informing them of the issues and needs of First Nations Peoples. That is why even though he does songs in Mi’kmaq he uses English to reach the non-Native population.

“The Black community has laid out a sort of blueprint for us in the way they do their music and achieved social change,” said Q. 

Being a victim of injustice cannot mean having to be silent is his belief. “We have to look at what has been done before, look at that and move forward. We have to make change and inform people. If we all work together, we can find a way to reach that point,” Q said.

Q is right and it shows that while culture and arts may influence the direction of a society it can go beyond that. While First Nations issues have their 15 minutes of fame in mainstream media, perhaps a song will beat in a person’s heart for the rest of their life. We can only hope.

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.