Manitoba country singer explores barriers facing Indigenous artists

A Juno-nominated Manitoba country artist is riding high on the success of her new single, but is also promoting an important series of conversations about some of the barriers that face Indigenous people in the music industry.

Desiree Dorion’s “Sometimes I Drink”, which has landed at number 12 on Canada’s Top Country Downloads chart, was co-written by the one of the singer’s musical heroes, Crystal Shawanda, in the country music mecca of Nashville, Tenn.

“Last January, just before the shutdown, I had the opportunity to travel down to Nashville and I had a week of co-writes booked,” Dorion told Global News.

“I reached out to Crystal and — half expected her not to say yes — I asked her if she’d be willing to sit down and do a co-write with me.

“She invited me into her home… and we sat down and in about three hours we had this song. It was pretty fun.”

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A music video was released for the single Monday, and it’s a continuation of the exciting work Dorion has been taking on during the pandemic, which includes hosting the Achimotak series of conversations presented by the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA).

Read more: Manitoba Indigenous music pioneer Shingoose dies at 74

Episodes of Achimotak, which means “let’s talk about it together” in Swampy Cree, were featured online throughout June and are now all available on the CCMA’s social media.

Dorion’s guests on the show include fellow Indigenous musicians Shawanda, Don Amero, Jade Turner, Troy Kokol, and longtime music industry veteran Alan Greyeyes.

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“I think they’re powerful conversations about some of the barriers that Indigenous artists face, and even from an industry perspective… some of the barriers systemically that affect Indigenous organizations,” she said.

“(Barriers can include) everything from not having access to guitar lessons, not having access to vocal lessons, not having access to teachers readily available who can mentor Indigenous artists from a very young age.

“That sets us back a little bit, because when we get to be at an age where we can tour or at an age where we can record, we haven’t honed those skills at the same level as an urban artist who might have had that opportunity.”

Physical distance can also be a factor, she said. Artists in remote communities often don’t have strong Internet connections — if at all — and that lack of connectivity can be difficult.

“There’s a lot of demographical and logistical and geographical barriers that face Indigenous artists on a day-to-day basis.”

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