“Music, I think, comes out our pores, and expresses itself in all sorts of ways,” laughed Raven Kanatakta, who, with partner and wife ShoShona Kish, is part of an extraordinary multi-member musical group, Digging Roots, which will perform at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m. “Music is like food to us,” he added.
Digging Roots, which originally formed in 2004, has garnered extensive critical and popular praise. Nominated for numerous awards, the group won a Juno in 2010 for Best Aboriginal Album of the Year, Best Pop Recording at the 12th annual Native American Awards and Best Blues CD at the Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards.
Bill Carriere, on the board of the SLAS, is simply awed by the musical versatility and talent of the band.
“One number finds you immersed in reggae, the next…the music is clearly blues with vocals and guitar working together. Next up one hears something that might have…been done by the Fifth Dimension. Then you’ll be treated to something that is clearly contemporary hip hop. Terrific voices, amazing harmonies…it all comes together beautifully.”
I asked Raven about the band’s eclectic approach to music.
“Well, I come from the 70’s generation, a kind of ‘hippy child’ on the Rez,” he explained, laughing. “I was always listening to the Beatles, to rock bands, jug bands, classical music. It was the same for ShoShona, growing up in Toronto.
I was attracted to a wide variety of music. Listening to music, playing music, and travelling (Digging Roots has toured throughout North America, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand), all these influences come out in our music.”
I asked Raven about the themes, the ideas, the group find themselves exploring through their compositions and performances.
“We spend a lot of time on identity and understanding the world around us. ShoShona and I fell in love in Hawaii, and one Christmas I bought her a ukelele. A uke just seems to lend itself to love songs, and we wrote a whole series of those.”
However, reflecting their rich heritage, Raven and ShoShona have also begun working on a traditional form of composition called Song Lines.
“The Anishinabe were nomadic people who often followed the rivers and waterways, camping at night on the beaches. People sang by the water, sometimes just to hand drums. By the waterside, you could look out, right or left, and see the landscape spread before you, mountains, hills, valleys, forests, and the melodies literally followed the contours of the scenery, rising and falling.
Modern chord progressions allow us to take the same approach, creating songs from the land. We take panoramic photos wherever we go to inspire our melodies. I always say that we are nomadic ourselves in our musical travels.”
Raven and ShoShona are strong advocates of the importance of introducing children to music and the arts.
On Friday afternoon, April 12, in collaboration with the St. Lawrence Stage, and with the support of the Akwesasne Mohawk School Board, they will be performing with, and for, grades 6-8 students at the Akwesasne Mohawk School.
“Holding workshops with students is vitally important,” Raven said. “This is the next generation, and the education children get dictates the kind of adults they become. I believe that exposure to music, dance, culture is important. We need to bring creativity to our schools.”
Finally, I asked Raven the origin of the band’s name.
“Well, Digging Roots is about understanding where we came from. But it also has a symbolic meaning for us as well.”
For seven years, despite conventional medical therapies, Raven’s hands caused him serious health issues. Finally he approached a medicine person on a Northern Reservation. “He took me into the bush, and said to bring a shovel.” Directed to dig up certain roots and plants, (“some in the middle of a bog!”), Raven made a special tea and began drinking it regularly. “In two months, my hands were back to normal and I was playing again. That is also why we chose our name.”
With a new album, For the Light, due to be released in June of 2014, and a cross Canada tour scheduled for the summer, Digging Roots has a very busy schedule. “We are really looking forward to the intimacy of the St. Lawrence Stage, to doing numbers from the new album. It will be fantastic,” said Raven Kanatakta.
Tickets to the Digging Roots concert April 12 are $18 in advance or $20 at the door. Contact www.st-lawrencestage.com