Hip-hop artist Wally Bernard says his older brother encouraged him to take part in the 2015 Aboriginal Youth Songwriting Camp last weekend.
“It’s something you should do,” Bernard recalls. “Try it out, right, because songwriting is important to keep going.”
Bernard, 24, from Membertou First Nation, was one of seven Mi’kmaq youth who participated in the songwriting camp which was held at the Ovens Natural Park near Lunenburg, N.S. September 25-27.
The participants included:
- Kendrick Bernard from Wagmatcook, N.S.
- Wally Bernard from Membertou, N.S.
- Ryan Googoo from Wagmatcook, N.S.
- Tevin Nicholas from Waycobah, N.S.
- Shayleen Paul from Membertou, N.S.
- Nevada Pierro from Wagmatcook, N.S.
- Talon Simon from Elsipogotog, N.B.
The camp was organized by Blue Dory Productions with the support the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre in Halifax and Morley Googoo, Assembly of First Nations vice-chief for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
The Ovens Natural Park is owned and operated by Steve Chapin, brother of the late American singer-songwriter Harry Chapin, and his family.
The youth spent the weekend working with musical mentors such as Anishnabe artist Leonard Sumner from Winnipeg and Stewart MacNeil of the musical group, the Barra MacNeils, to create new songs.
The participants were then encouraged to perform their new songs to a larger group following breakfast on Sunday.
One of the exercises, Bernard explained, was to create a song in two hours based on a word or phrase written on a piece of paper and pulled out from a hat.
“The word I drew was ’never’ and you know, it’s only one word. It’s kind of hard to come up with a concept, I guess,” Bernard explains.
“But I did a little native chant and wrote, put some hip-hop in there with my own little take on things because they kind of told us to mix it up, right, culturally, mix it so that’s what I did.”
Yvonne Mosley, executive producer at Blue Dory Productions, decided to organize the songwriting camp because she saw “tremendous amount of talent” among Aboriginal youth in Nova Scotia.
“And I’ve sometimes sat back and wondered as a producer, where is this talent going?” she said.
Mosley said she wanted to do her part following the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian residential schools to encourage cross cultural relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.
“And music is the international language so why not do it through music,” she said.
Leonard Sumner, 31, from Winnipeg was asked to be mentor for the camp after he performed at the Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw Summer Games in Millbrook, N.S. in August. He described the participants as “very advanced writers and also great musicians.”
“When I was younger, hip-hop artists were strictly hip-hop artists or they only used electric instruments,” Sumner said.
“These young people were playing guitar. They were playing bass. They were playing drums and I think it shows, like, the advancement for First Nations youth and the Mi’kmaq youth in Nova Scotia,” he said.
“I think they learned a lot and I had a beautiful time working with them.”
Bernard says the mentors, like Sumner, were incredibly encouraging.
“I’m taking a great experience home with me,” Bernard said. “I learned a few things about songwriting and a few things about the industry,” he said.
“I’m willing to apply what I learned here to (create) some new music.”