An Offering Through Song

Juno-award-winning musician Jerry Alfred has been keeping his Selkirk First Nation traditions alive since breaking into the music industry in the early 90s, and, after about 12 years off, he’s returned to the recording studio for his fourth album, Asuun (meaning “Changes”).?The title suits the 12-track album and the voice behind them, since Alfred has been through a lot during his time off, including becoming a councillor for his Crow Clan last April. He said the main reason for deciding to record in his native Northern Tutchone language stemmed from his father’s encouragement.?”He told me we had to help our people and promote their language, their culture. He said he was hearing all about Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, but he wasn’t hearing much about our music.

“He thought that if I could do that I could not only help myself, but my people and many others, so I went and started doing that and people heard me and told me I should go onstage. I’d never been onstage before. Was too shy to,” Alfred expressed.?In 1994, Alfred released his debut album, Etsi Shon (meaning “Grandfather Song”) and followed it up two years later with Nendaa and Kehlohn, in 1998, with his band, Medicine Beat.

When Alfred received the call about being the 1995 recipient of the Juno award for Best Aboriginal Recording, he thought it was a prank and initially hung up on the bearer of good news.?Although he’s managed to have success and receive awards, he felt that time off from the music scene would be beneficial.

“After a while, I sort of walked away from everything because it was too much pressure. I just couldn’t stay home or go out on the land anymore; my culture side of me was disappearing along with my spiritual side.

“I didn’t pay too much attention to the things inside of me or my health, so I was in a situation with music where I left it for about 12 years and went into street life. But I got out of there and just recently started to get back with Lewis McKenna, one of my old buddies. He wanted to bring me back onstage with music and make a CD, so now we’re making a CD.”

Alfred said that, this time around, recording has been less stressful and more comfortable: “Everyone is sitting around a table making music and getting it recorded.” His sound has been described as reaching many listeners from young to old alike.?He has learned, over his 30 years of playing and singing, not to take his talents for granted after being placed in the residential school system, at age five, and can’t think of a time when music wasn’t part of his life.?”We’d always sing with my parents and go along with them. Wherever they’d go, there would be people singing … and it was native music. Now there’s not much of that.

“When I was in the residential schools I was still singing, although we’d get punished for singing our own songs, but it didn’t stop me. Whatever I learned back when I was a kid, it all stayed with me.

“But a lot of the people, it ended up bothering them. They ended up getting drunk, committing suicide, all sorts of stuff happened. They went down the wrong road; they let it bother them too much and they never tried to let it go.

“I’ve come to find that, when you let go of stuff, you forgive what was done to you and find a way to move on. And it’s hard, but it’s what you have to do,” said Alfred.

Alfred plays drums, guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, mandolin, violin, bass, harmonica and even a little bit of the accordion, and he says that, so far, he’s beyond artistically satisfied with his latest album, for which he thanks his partner Brenda and friends. He said he’s spent more time on this album than he has on other albums.?”It kind of grabs a hold of you; it starts to pull you in … It’s like hearing the news and all of a sudden you’re tuned into the CD player … You don’t want to go; you want to hear it all,” said Alfred of his latest recording.?Although a release date for the album has yet to be scheduled, Alfred expects that touring will happen shortly and that he will be one of the musicians heading to Vancouver for the Olympics as part of the First Nations 2010 initiative.

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