Having grown up in Thunder Bay and being of Ojibwe heritage, singer-songwriter Marc Meriläinen has always tried to incorporate the issues facing Indigenous people through his work under his Nadjiwan stage name.
That’s especially important for him in today’s environment.
“Now when a story happens, the news cycle is so fast that we’ve moved on to something else and we’re no longer talking about those important topics,” said Meriläinen, who now calls Toronto home.
“Those issues are something that I’ve been trying to focus on with my work over the last 30 years.”
However, Meriläinen has evolved how he delivers that message over time.
“I realized at an early age that you can’t bash people over the heads with facts and statements,” Meriläinen said. “People kind of sort of have to discover the knowledge on their own.
“Part of that process for me was putting these messages into easily digestible music and songs. If you like the music, the cool lyrics or the chord progression, that’s great.
“However, if that inspires you to learn more about subjects, pick up a book by an Indigenous author or an album by one of our great Indigenous artists in Canada, then we have definitely achieved our goal.”
Meriläinen’s latest work is with the instrumental group Sultans of String, who collaborated with Indigenous artists on their new album Walking Through the Fire.
The group is currently on tour in support of the record and is performing in Geraldton, Thunder Bay, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Kenora and Fort Frances from Oct. 13-19.
“It’s been great,” Meriläinen said ahead of a recent performance in Brantford.
“You never truly know how everything is going to turn out, especially as we are dealing with some sensitive subjects such as residential schools and other issues that Indigenous people are dealing with here in Canada.
“It comes down to the music and the songs. They are wonderfully composed and we got some great guests on this tour, so it’s not a total surprise to see how the audience has been liking the shows up to this point.”
Sultans of String bandleader and violinist Chris McKhool said that the project came together after the band worked with Elder and poet Dr. Duke Redbird to convert his poem Power of the Land into a song for their Refugee album, which came out in August 2020.
“That was a very powerful project where we honoured the contributions that immigrants and refugees have made to Canada,” McKhool added. “After that came out, Dr. Redbird said to me ‘What are you going to be doing something for Indigenous awareness after what you’ve done for immigration issues?’
“Once he said that, I knew that this was going to be the next project. We had some idea dating back from 2015 to 2017 about doing something like this, but once Dr. Redbird asked me about it, we pretty much kicked things into high gear.”
In addition to Meriläinen, the group is joined on stage by Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk of the Métis Fiddler Quartet and Coast Tsm’syen singer-songwriter Shannon Thunderbird.
Dr. Redbird, the Northern Cree pow wow group and Inuit throat singers Kendra Tagoona and Tracy Sarazin are also part of the show through a virtual element.
“We had our first show in Markham (on Sept. 28) and that was a huge turning point for all of us,” McKhool said. “It’s a very powerful performance, which we felt on the stage, but to have that translate through the audience has been really exhilarating.”
McKhool says he’s excited to perform in Northwestern Ontario, especially in the smaller centres.
“Whenever a band rolls through, you can tell that it really brings everyone together,” McKhool added.
“We love that intimacy of being close to the audience and they bring so much energy when they are clapping and singing along. It can be a very joyful thing.”
Sultans of String Tour Dates
- Friday, Oct. 13 – Geraldton (Geraldton Country Club)
- Saturday, Oct. 14 – Thunder Bay (Bora Laskin Auditorium)
- Sunday, Oct. 15 – Dryden (Dryden Performing Arts Centre)
- Monday, Oct. 16 – Sioux Lookout (Sioux North High School)
- Tuesday, Oct. 17 – Red Lake (Red Lake Legion)
- Wednesday, Oct. 18 – Kenora (Seven Generations Education Institute)
- Thursday, Oct. 19 – Fort Frances (Townshend Theatre)
All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. local time.