Musical artists Leonard Sumner

Outdoor concerts inspire local First Nations

Pacific Rim Arts Society partners with aboriginal artists for music experiences in Ahousaht and Hitacu.

NORA O’MALLEY

nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

There’s no better way to enjoy live music than from the comfort of your own backyard.

The Ahousaht and Ucluelet First Nations recently welcomed musical artists Leonard Sumner and Kinnie Starr to their traditional territory for a cozy, open air concert.

The Aboriginal artists were brought to the West Coast by the Pacific Rim Arts Society (PRAS) in collaboration with the 28th annual Pacific Rim Summer Festival and the ‘Arts Connect’ project, an initiative that aims to bring art experiences to the more isolated First Nations communities in the region.

“Originally, this whole idea of bringing performers out to the reserves, specifically First Nations performers, came about during our cultural heritage festival,” PRAS president Mark Penney told the Westerly News.

“Leonard Sumner was kind enough to come out. He played eight performances in five days. He visited so many kids, so many reses, all the schools, everywhere. He even played in my kitchen. We were really lucky he came back as part of Summer Festival.”

This year, Juno award-winning producer and Juno nominated artist Kinnie Starr accompanied Sumner on the Summer Festival tour.

“I realize that communities, especially kids, need to see people like Leonard or me, that are working, but are not flashy. A lot of kids only have access to the flashy side of music through the internet and YouTube and stuff like that. It’s really important that kids see that artists can be working and doing their thing without being super blingy,” she said.

The folksy hip-hop singer gave a friendly, barefooted performance at the Hitacu community centre last Wednesday (July 6) and sang for Ahousaht locals the night before.

“The performances were great. Hitacu was a little bit easier than Ahousaht. I’ve been performing for nearly twenty years and I still get really nervous,” Starr said.

“I’d love to come back. I’m hoping that PRAS will want to bring me back into the community.”

Penney reinforced the need to bring quality musical performances to remote communities.

“It’s an unfortunate effect that it’s difficult and expensive for our locals to travel. It’s really important that we bring those artists out here,” he said.

“We have enough people and enough interest and enough of a market from both our locals and our visitors. There’s no reason we can’t have fantastic musicians playing live all year-round.”

Young Ahousaht/Tla-o-qui-aht singer songwriter Kalilah Rampanen took to the stage in Hitacu between performances by Starr and Sumner.

The sixteen-year old sang three original acoustic songs about environmental issues.

“I didn’t know I was going to perform. They just asked me,” said Rampanen, who wrote one of the songs she performed when she was 11.

PRAS executive director Jacqueline Chamberland said incorporating Rampanen into the festival lineup was something that happened organically.

“Sumner was very taken by her,” said Chamberland. “And I think having someone like Rampanen involved with future Summer Festivals will help bring out more youth.”

Chamberland said that over the last three years, the ‘Arts Connect’ project has become an aboriginal cultural exchange for artists from across Canada.

She added not only did the artists perform and give music workshops in Nuu-chah-nulth territory, they shared stories about their own culture with the audience.