The music of community and culture

Come Toward the Fire’s celebration of Indigenous musicians

Music’s universal connection allows people the chance to explore another nation’s cultural heritage. UBC’s Chan Centre, situated on Musqueam territory, hosts Come Toward the Fire – a Sept. 16 daylong celebration of Indigenous cultures with artisan showcases, food vendors, and musical performances.

Amongst the line-up of Indigenous performers set to take the stage are Black Belt Eagle Scout and Francis Baptiste. For both, the love of music began in their childhoods and remains rooted to cultural heritage.

Musical imageries of cultural heritage

Black Belt Eagle Scout, the stage name of Katherine Paul who also goes by KP, is a Swinomish and Iñupiaq musician well recognized for her indie rock songs.

Black Belt Eagle Scout. | Photo by Nate Lemuel of Darklisted Photography.

Paul’s connecting of music with cultural histories and familial roots is highlighted in her latest album, The Land, The Water, The Sky. Focused on themes of family, personal identity, and returning home, this album’s debut song and one of its singles poignantly illustrates how music grounds Paul to her hometown, Swinomish.

“My song My Blood Runs Through this Land is about connecting to my family and ancestors, and quite literally just the feelings I have when I am in that connection process: being on the beach, touching the rocks, holding the waters,” says Paul.

Growing up in a musical family, Paul participated in cultural singing and drumming at a young age. She then decided to explore other types of music, including rock and jazz. The feelings of rootedness, says Paul, are best depicted through a hectic and strong guitar solo that takes place in the middle and end of her latest album’s first song, bringing forth the energy of her ancestors connecting with nature.

“Essentially, the sound is meant to reflect a scene – my ancestors running through the woods, on the beach, on water – I meant to put the energy in the guitar line, to emulate what that visual is for me,” says Paul.

For Paul, inspiration does indeed arise from sounds, and she will bring this creative power to her set at Chan Centre.

“We’re planning on a beautiful melodic set that is heavily guitar focus,” says Paul. “I hope people have fun, and we’ll be able to talk and share space with one another.”

Black Belt Eagle Scout is scheduled for the ticketed nighttime concerts.

The language of music in cultural preservation

Baptiste is an Indigenous singer-songwriter celebrated for featuring Nsyilxcən in his songs.

Learning and using the Syilx people’s language (Nsyilxcən), says Baptiste, which is also his own native language, in his songs has not been an easy feat.

Francis Baptiste. | Photo by Jack Madeley.

While there are online language resources available, Nsyilxcən remains an endangered language, making Baptiste’s musical contributions to cultural preservation and revitalization all the more important.

“I like to incorporate a lot of storytelling these days,” says Baptiste, while highlighting how some of his songs are titled in Nsyilxcən. “I like to tell people and educate people about the language and vocabulary.”

Growing up in a musical household, Baptiste was 14 when gifted his first guitar by his family. From the beginning of his connection with music, it has been a source of emotional support and expression – even through difficult times, including a separation that got him to focus on thinking about family and heritage, themes of his first album.

“I’ve always used music as a form of therapy,” says Baptiste. “It’s one of the only ways I can accurately express my own emotions and work through [them].”

For his performance at Come Toward the Fire, attendees can look forward to storytelling, humour, and of course, music. According to Baptiste, despite the heavy themes his music explores, he tries to have fun on stage and hopes people will do the same.

“For me, the purpose of writing is to get through hard times of my life,” says Baptiste. “I always hope that people in the audience will be able to relate to it.”

Baptiste performs at the free admissions daytime stage.

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