Music industry

Amanda Rheaume talks about a new album, decolonizing the music industry

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Amanda Rheaume

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When and where: 8:30 p.m. May 25, Fourth Stage, National Arts Center

Tickets: nac-cna.ca

The Spaces In Between, the fifth album by Ottawa singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume, is out May 27, two days after her 40th birthday, the Ishkode Records, the Rhéaume label founded during the pandemic with an indigenous musician friend, Shoshona Kish. Co-written with a talented cast of friends and recorded with Juno Hill-winning producer Kourkoutis, the passionate new songs explore themes of identity and belonging as Rheaume continues to find inspiration in his Métis environment.

In this edited interview, she talks about the Métis elders who helped her find her voice and how amplifying Indigenous voices is helping to decolonize the music industry.

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Q: Congratulations on the new record. Is this a pandemic project?

A: Basically, yes it is. We recorded in Toronto in July 2021, masked all day, every day, temperature checks, filling out forms, each being in different rooms. It was definitely different from the other records, but the fact that we made it was really awesome.

Q: What about songwriting?

A: Well, when 2020 came along and everything started to shut down, I quickly became friends with (singer-songwriter) Sierra Noble. The whole pandemic has been such a journey – I’ve had a really hard time losing work and it’s been scary and unfamiliar, and we’re like, ‘Let’s write some songs on Zoom.’ We tried it several times, then I decided to start writing for a new record.

Q: What is the first song you wrote?

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A: Around the same time George Floyd was murdered and everyone started talking about Black Lives Matter, so we wrote Death of the American Dream. It wasn’t a pandemic song, but it became a moment for me about what was happening in the world, and it led me down that path.

Q: Is this the process that led to your interviews with Métis elders? Tell me about it.

A: Yeah, I had been thinking so much about identity and all these different struggles, so that was kind of the culmination of everything that was going on. I decided I wanted to go back to some of my Métis elders and guides and have a few conversations.

Q: Who did you interview?

A: I spoke to John Arcand, Tony Belcourt, my friend Jaime Koebel about Métis identity, and those interviews all turned into inspiration for the songs, for the most part. I also ended up using some of the Tony Belcourt interview audio because he spoke so well. We don’t talk a lot about the history of the Métis in particular. There are so many things about the experience that are the same as other Indigenous nations in what we call Canada, but there are also so many things that are different. I felt so inspired talking with Tony, who was a very close friend of my grandfather. The songs kind of all fell into place and kept rolling, and they felt very thematically connected.

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Q: You didn’t grow up with a strong connection to your Métis heritage, did you?

A: Growing up in Barrhaven, it wasn’t something I talked about or knew about like I do now. My grandfather was a pretty amazing man, but it wasn’t until later that I realized he was super connected to his Aboriginal identity. We never called it a half-breed thing; we just did stuff together. It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized he was a proud Red River Métis.

Q: You explored your Métis roots on the 2014 album, Keep a Fire. What’s different this time?

A: I think the difference is that Keep a Fire was based on family stories – because I think we have to look back to understand where we are and where we’re going – but that’s very much about my experience and my questions on identity, being Métis, being gay, being a woman. Being all those things that people like to categorize. It’s a record that really talks about it.

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Q: A song that jumped out at me was Do About Her. What inspired him?

A: Identity politics, of course. The first line is “She’s not quite an Indian girl, not quite a white girl either.” There are a lot of conversations about identity going on in the online space and it’s certainly about asking the question, “How do we want to treat each other?” I really see a lot of these conversations about identity as a symptom of colonization and what Sir John A. MacDonald and governments have since wanted to do: divide, conquer and categorize people. “You’re pretty Indian, but you’re not. This song is really meant to be a jumping off point for a conversation to unfold in a hopefully different way than what’s happening right now.

Q: You not only made a record during the pandemic, but you (and Kish) also launched a record label for Indigenous artists, held an international Indigenous music summit, and set up a national Indigenous music office . Is it safe to say that you are working to decolonize the music industry?

A: Yes, colonization is literally a virus inside everyone, not just indigenous peoples, and it’s going to cause a lot of damage. We’ve worked hard to raise awareness, build bridges, and create conversations, and I truly feel this is part of my life’s work – working for the community and amplifying their voices, as well as my own stories. It’s my way.

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