MORRISBURG – “It’s going to be so exciting to be on a stage again, to again be in an energy sharing experience with a live audience, to again be sharing our musical love.”
Juno award winning singer/songwriter, Leela Gilday is coming to the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage on Friday, April 8, at 7 p.m. SLAS president Sandra Whitworth said “I’ve seen Leela perform several times now at Folk Music Ontario showcases and she is an absolute powerhouse of a singer…Her voice is not just strong, it’s deeply evocative.”
I had the opportunity to talk to Leela Gilday about her upcoming Morrisburg performance.
She was born and raised in the Northwest Territories, is a member of the Dene Nation and currently lives in Yellowknife – where it was still -30 on March 25 when we talked. She laughs she is looking forward to the temperatures in Morrisburg. Her appearance at the Playhouse will also be her first indoor concert venue in nearly three years.
“COVID caused a big shift in my life. I was profoundly impacted, obviously in some negative ways, but oddly, also in some positive ways,” she explained. “The whole music industry literally collapsed overnight: I had to develop a new learning curve. I needed to buy new equipment, to learn how to produce professional shows and to change to creating on line concerts.”
Still, she is eagerly looking forward to again connecting directly with a live audience. Music has always been her life.
“I came from a musical family,” Leela said. “My dad was a musician and a composer, my mom loved music, my brother is a professional singer, my sister a visual artist. There was always music, singing and playing in my home. Singing seemed a natural career path for me from the very beginning.”
She performed in choral groups, sang as a solo artist at age eight, and even studied classical opera. “Yet I began to feel, in my teens, that I needed to pay attention to my own creative voice. I needed to reflect my own worlds as a woman, as a Dene woman, and as a Northerner.”
That musical journey of exploration has led to five acclaimed albums since 2002, including 2019’s North Star Calling: Leela Gilday’s Love Letter to the Healing Power of the Natural World. It has also led to world tours and to a 2021 Juno award as Indigenous Artist of the Year.
Leela Gilday’s voice is powerful. Her music is passionate and moving. Some have described her as a folk artist, some as a country artist, some even as a “warrior.” “My love for music has always been constant,” Leela said, “and very much the focus of my life. As a writer, my songs have become the vehicle to share my stories, my world view, even my political views. As a Dene woman, I really feel that I have a unique world view and a unique voice that needs to be heard. I want to share my authentic stories, and perhaps reach people’s hearts. So there are many pieces that go together to make up my identity.”
She draws from the rich story telling traditions of the Dene. Knowledge and traditions were always shared orally by the Dene, and passed down through the generations in stories. “I guess you could call my music Indigenous Folk Roots,” Leela said. “I am inspired by traditional Dene music and I am also a story teller who shares her thoughts and tales.”
Her Morrisburg concert will reunite her with her three band members, “who I haven’t seen live since before the Pandemic,” Leela laughed. “My bass player and drummer have performed with me for years. My guitarist just joined me in 2020, so this really will be her first tour. It will be wonderful to be back together again. We will be sharing some of my new songs in Morrisburg. I have a recording coming out later this year, and the first time some of the music on that recording has been heard live on stage will be at the April 8th concert. I have heard wonderful things about the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage and its audiences. I am really looking forward to performing here. I even have family members coming to the show. And I look forward to sharing stories and songs from my own authentic voice.”
Gareth Auden-Hole may be better known to audiences as Jack Pine. An exciting musical artist who first appeared at the SLAS in an Intimate Acoustics Showcase in 2017, he released Jack Pine and The Fire in 2011. He will be opening for Leela Gilday, who he got to hear and know when he worked as sound person at major events like the Grass Roots Festival. He is delighted to be returning to the SLAS as part of her show.
An accomplished and noted musician on the guitar and mandolin, Gareth will be soloing at the concert.
I asked him about his musical “style.” “Well,” he laughed, “ I try not to stay in one genre. My music tends to go to alt folk, or Canadiana or other genres that I kind of make up. I don’t try to be sentimental in my music: actually the term ‘quirky’ is often tossed at me. I would say I try to walk the line between serious and not so serious themes. I try to represent the underdog, singing about important topics without, hopefully, beating anyone over the head.”
His most recent album came out in 2017, an album “written on an island in Northern Ontario, surrounded by nature preserves, where one of the big themes was isolation.” Then, of course, COVID arrived.
“Suddenly nothing I was used to was working,” Gareth said. “I had to push myself to make things happen on line. In a way, I actually found myself pivoting back to my first passion, which had actually been recording. I did have a full album written before the pandemic: still the last two years have not been an inspiring time. Yet I have found ways to fill the gap.”
Almost ironically, Gareth got into performance through that personal passion for sound recording.
“I actually recorded my first album as an opportunity to showcase my production skills. And then that album and my vocals were really well received. I found myself sucked into becoming an artist,” he laughed. “I hadn’t actually intended to become an artist, but my passion and my creativity just emerged naturally in the process.”
He likes the Morrisburg SLAS. “The audiences are really attentive, and I love being part of a volunteer organization. I have some newish songs for the show – one just debuted two weeks ago. One is Rich in Time, about doing what you love, and not being stuck in ruts (written, of course, when I was in a rut.) Another is Who Do You Love, where the message is really yourself. Some are going to be more uncharacteristically on the uplifting side,” he said. “I’ll do some early songs,” he added solemnly, “built around quirky rhythms, social commentary and me singing as loud as I can.”
Mark Friday, April 8th, 7 pm on your musical calendar. Singer/songwriter Leela Gilday in concert, with Gareth Auden-Hole opening, is definitely going to be a musical night to remember at the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage.