Aysanabee: Telling Family Stories Through Songs

Aysanbee at the 2023 Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Photo by Paula E. Kirman.

by Paula E. Kirman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

(ANNews) – Listening to family stories isn’t just a way to make great memories – it can also be the inspiration to write great songs.

Aysanabee, a singer/songwriter based in Toronto who is Oji-Cree, Sucker Clan of the Sandy Lake First Nation, released an album of songs inspired by conversations with his grandfather in November of 2022. Watin is named after his grandfather’s first name, while Aysanabee is the family name the performer has reclaimed. The album features the song “Nomads,” which should be familiar to anyone listening to popular radio in the past year.

His latest single, “Somebody Else” is also getting a lot of airplay. Aysanabee, who reclaimed his family’s name under which to record and perform, is becoming known for his artistic songwriting and musical approach which has earned a Juno nomination and being short-listed for the 2023 Polaris Prize.

It was also a busy summer for Aysanabee as he was on tour throughout the country. He performed at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in August, his first time at the festival – but definitely not his first in the city. Prior to the Folk Fest, he was performed on the CP Holiday Train, at The Aviary as part of his headline tour, and for the Juno Awards broadcast.

“I have been to Edmonton the most out of all cities in the last year, and people have shown up and appreciated music each time,” he said in an interview via email. “My trajectory of shows in the city is somewhat uncommon. But following the festival, I received so many messages of kind words from Edmontonians.”

Aysanabee’s conversations with his grandfather took place on the phone with the two of them being more than 1,000 kilometres apart during the pandemic. Some of the things his grandfather spoke about included life on the trapline at Sandy Lake First Nation, love, and his experiences as a residential school survivor. The conversations, and subsequent album, proved to be a healing process for his grandfather. When asked what his grandfather’s reaction was to hearing his stories interpreted through the songs, Aysanabee replied that “He was proud. But three months before he passed away in May, he decided he was ready to forgive and move on with his life. For him to find some sort of closure through this process is the greatest thing I could have ever hoped for, that’s the most precious takeaway from this album for me.”

When asked about advice for aspiring Indigenous songwriters, Aysanabee suggests: “Music conferences, social media, finding a team who believes in you and is willing to work from the ground up, but overall, don’t give up and believe in yourself because no one can do that for you.”

Aysanabee’s new single “Alone” is now out. October is going to be another busy month as he has a new EP being released on October 20, and will head on the road with Dan Mangan. As for the future of his music career, Aysanabee aspires “to continue growing and evolving and experimenting. Musicians are their own worst enemy, and you can spend an eternity writing a song, so just finish it and move on. You’re going to write a thousand bad songs, but if you write one great one, it’s all worth it.”

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