Celeigh Cardinal: singer, songwriter, storyteller, artist

Ceiligh Cardinal champions Indigenous musical representation | Photo by Megan Kemshead

Drawing from rock, blues, soul and folk influences, Celeigh Cardinal’s commanding voice and detailed personal lyricism centre her varied – and often arduous – experiences in her music. Cardinal champions Indigenous musical representation by way of her own presence and by uplifting fellow Indigenous artists. The Edmonton-based singer-songwriter has been awarded the 2020 Juno for Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year.

Cardinal has loved to sing for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Grand Prairie, Alberta, she would sing every week at church service, and ended up performing her first solo there at the age of four. And for the past six years, after putting music on hold to focus on working and raising her son, Cardinal has continued to grow as a singer, storyteller and artist.

Music continues to speak to Cardinal’s soul like nothing else. In fact, she says it has always been that way for her.

“I think what probably drew me to it was as I performed, I could see that I was having an effect on the people who are watching me,” she says. “I don’t think I knew then what it meant to me, but as I’ve gotten older what I’ve really recognized is that I am somebody who’s a very much a feeling person. It’s really important for me to connect with people on an emotional level and to help people to express [themselves].”

Another important part of becoming an artist for Cardinal was Indigenous representation. Because she wanted to be a singer growing up, she followed artists, celebrities and awards shows, but didn’t see many people that looked like her. For her, winning a major Canadian music award herself marks a huge step in becoming the very representation she had sought out.

“I always felt like my nose was too big or my hair was too dark or my eyes were too small. And I don’t want people to have to live through that,” says Cardinal. “I want to be that representation on stage in music that people can see themselves and feel like they can do this too. I want to be this version of myself that’s very ‘me’ and that allows people to feel okay with being themselves. That was really important to me.”

Cathartic connection

Her role as an Indigenous artist, and as someone who makes space for those whose stories are outside of the spotlight, has extended into her own music as well. Cardinal feels it’s important to speak truthfully and earnestly about her life experiences, and for others to feel seen and know they are not alone.

“One of my songs has a line that mentions a miscarriage that I had. It’s very subtle and you wouldn’t know unless you were really hearing it. And I think that that’s touched a lot of people, but only people who are in the know. I think that kind of stuff is important to continue to do because it makes people feel seen. It may be a little tricky for me, but I feel like I need to keep doing it,” says Cardinal.

Cardinal says her relationship with her music must always be meaningful and personal, whether it’s complicated or cathartic.

“I’m not necessarily sure that’s the healthiest way to do it, but at the same time, as time is passing, I certainly feel like these things are healing. And so, talking about these things becomes a little bit easier,” says Cardinal. “My music is always gonna come in a very authentic way as an experience that I’m living, as opposed to me trying to tell someone else’s story.”

Moving forward, she hopes to get back into performing live when possible. After all, it’s sharing her music and connecting with others that makes it all worthwhile.

“I’m hoping to do more than just live streaming performances or pre-recorded videos and get back to my favourite thing about performing, which is, you know, having an audience in front of me and making them laugh, seeing them cry and sharing this experience,” says Cardinal. “That’s the thing that I just can’t wait to do again.”

For more information, please visit www.celeighcardinal.com.