Full Circle First Nations Performance
The 12th Annual Talking Stick Festival
A Circumpolar Soundscape + an interview with Aboriginal artist Diyet

Dates and Venue 23 February 2013, 8pm | Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre

Featured performers Diyet, Leela Gilday and Nive Nielson

Musicians Sarah Hamilton viola, Bob Hamilton electric guitar, Graeme Peters drums, Thomas Desmet bass, Jan de Vroede guitars

Reviewer John Jane

Ahh, the sweet sound of sisters singing. Leela Gilday, Nive Nielson and Diyet are solo aboriginal musicians who came together two years ago as a quartet (Silvia Cloutier from Nunavut was originally in the line-up, but recently dropped out after the birth of her child) to form the collaboration of Circumpolar Soundscape.

They acquire their ‘sisterhood’ by virtue of their common attachment to the subarctic region. What many of us city-dwellers see as bleak, they see as beauty. Where we might find the lifestyle ascetic, they find it abundant. They take the audience on an aural journey through this magnificent landscape with an eclectic mix of roots, folk and popular music.

The three women welcomed the audience appropriately with “Song of Welcome” sung in the Inuktitut language. The trio were then joined on stage by the five piece band for Leela Gilday’s “Dene Love Song” about an old woman who sings of her devotion to the husband who has passed way. The melody is actually quite cheerful, despite its melancholy theme. A native of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, Gilday is a seasoned performer with a powerful wailing voice that would be just as convincing singing jazz or blues.

Next it was the turn of Diyet to take on lead vocals with the emotive “Fearless Heart” which just might be the title track of her forthcoming album. This young songwriter has one of the purest voices you’ll ever hear. Like many of her compositions this song is inspired by life in a close First Nations community.

Nive Nielson, who accompanies herself on a bright red guitar-ukulele, exhibits a natural coquettish charm, though, it’s her slightly husky, reedy voice that works so well on “Uulia” sung in Greenlandic. Nielson is an Inuk Eskimo from Nuuk, Greenland with a unique style and sound that is distinctively her own.

The compelling “Anthem of Inuit Pride” featured the throat singing of Leela Gilday. Gilday, at this point, acknowledged the contribution of missing member Silvia Cloutier, perhaps indicating that she had performed the song in previous concerts.

‘Circumpolar Soundscape’ ended fittingly with the apocalyptic “North Star,” a rousing anthem-like rock opus and a comme-il-faut finale to an intriguing exploration of the North Country.

photo courtesy of Creative North

An Interview with Aboriginal Artist Diyet

Interviewer John Jane

The last time that I saw Diyet (then Diyet Johnson) was at her class of ’95 graduation from Argyle High School in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver. I remember that she didn’t dress up in the typical cloak and cap like most of her fellow students, but proudly wore her aboriginal regalia hand-made by relatives from her village in the Yukon.

I caught up with her after the Circumpolar Soundscape concert last Saturday evening (Feb 23) at the Roundhouse Community Centre. I was curious to know what had brought Diyet from high school to being a part of the Talking Stick Festival. “After I graduated, I went to UVic to study voice, but after getting my degree I felt that my musical direction didn’t lie in conventional forms.” She continued, “I moved to Holland where I lived and worked for a while and eventually met Robert (van Lieshout) who seemed to have similar musical sensibilities as myself.”

Robert van Lieshout collaborated as co-writer on Diyet’s debut CD The Breaking Point. They are now married with two children, a nine-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter.

Diyet speaks English, Dutch and Southern Tutchone, the language of her heritage, and judging from the performance earlier in the evening she is also able to sing in Inuktitut.

In 2005 Diyet returned to Burwash Landing to re-immerse in her aboriginal culture. Burwash Landing is a small community on the Alaska Highway in the Yukon, along the southern shore of Kluane Lake, roughly halfway between Whitehorse and the Alaska border.

“I believed that the time was right to go back home and return to my roots” She confided. “It was certainly helpful in terms of creativity.” One might suppose that life in such a small community would be unhurried, even languid. Not so, says Diyet. “Balancing music and family doesn’t leave much free time -and then there is touring.”

What’s next for this contemporary aboriginal artist? “I have a couple of concerts coming up in the Yukon with Nive (Nielson) and one with Susan Aglukark.” Diyet and Robert still have work to do in completing her as yet untitled second album.

© 2013 John Jane