Arlette Alcock is a storyteller. Her stories are hard truths told in song, unapologetic and bare.
“I’m a vessel for the stories. I like the narrative. The stories are truths that come from the earth.”
In her second visit to the Yukon, Alcock will be one of the featured performers at the 38th annual Skookum Jim Folklore Show this weekend.
“I was in Whitehorse in 1997 and was made to feel very welcome,” she says. “Yukon winters are not so scary for someone who has lived on the prairies.”
Alcock grew up in the Kootenays and began writing poetry before going on to music. Her mother would submit her poems for publication in the local papers.
“My mom would tell me that it was my duty to tell the stories I had to tell, through my poetry and songs.”
Indeed, the stories Alcock sings evoke a sense of duty.
She wrote “Joyride” – from her 2007 CD Wolf Girl – about Kyle Tait, a young man who was shot and killed by a New Westminster city police officer after joyriding with friends in a stolen SUV.
“I hear those voices, the stories that need to be told. When I’m singing, I hear those voices,” Alcock says, calling it a form of therapy.
This therapy, as it turns out, works for her audiences as well. In 2008, she was awarded Songwriter of the Year at the Native E Music Awards in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Not all of Alcock’s songs carry the weight of hard truths. “Indian Auntie”, also from Wolf Girl, celebrates the love and protection of family.
Described as country music, her songs have the vibe of a highway road trip soundtrack, though the lyrics betray the heart of a protest singer.
“Oh sure! I grew up in the hippy era listening to Joan Baez, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson, and they’ve influenced me, definitely,” she says.
“But when you move to Saskatchewan, you’d better know some country music,” she adds with a natural, heartfelt laugh that belies the serious nature of her songs.
She even has a name for this fusion: Canadian Métis Prairieana.
Alcock is a Métis descendant of the Blackfoot people on her mother’s side and the Little Black Bear Cree on her father’s side.
When her three children were still under the age of five, she moved her young family from the Kootenays to Saskatchewan in her quest for work.
“At that time, if you wanted to get a job, you headed to the prairies.”
Besides landing work as a flag person and with the provincial Parks Department, the move was significant in another way. It put her in touch with stories of her ancestors.
After working various jobs to support her family and her singing, Alcock returned to school when her youngest was in high school. She now works as a library assistant at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, where she finds musical inspiration in the visual art surrounding her.
She also finds inspiration in her grandchildren.
“I was singing, when my granddaughter got up on stage and started jigging. She still does. Only now she’s starting to talk about a bigger cut!”
Now later in life and in her career, Alcock lauds the pleasures of being able to take time out and relax, although that won’t last for long. She has a 15-month leave of absence booked to return to Saskatchewan and work with EON Records to record her third CD.
“I’m in the best place I’ve ever been in my life, and you will hear that in the songs. They are going to be a lot happier than other songs I have written.”
The Skookum Jim Folklore Show takes place Saturday, February 5 at the Yukon Arts Centre. Other featured performers include the Vancouver-based new generation rock band Bitterly Divine and the Dakhká Khwáan Dancers.