Cree Composer Andrew Balfour (Kristen Sawatzky photo)
MUSIC GROWN FROM INDIGENOUS ROOTS
Vancouver vocal choir musica intima wins a Western Canadian Music Award for Nagamo
“Music as a story and a message is so important,” says composer Andrew Balfour. “These stories need to be told, and the only way I know how to do it is with music,” he tells magazine La Scène musicale/The Music Scene. The stories he speaks of are his own and those of his indigenous sisters and brothers. As an infant he was taken from his Cree mother, becoming one of 20,000 children stolen in Canada’s Sixties Scoop and placed for adoption with mostly non-indigenous families.
These roots inspired Balfour to use his musical gift to compose work with an indigenous outlook. His latest contribution is the award-winning album Nagamo commissioned by Vancouver’s renowned vocal ensemble music intima. Released last year, Nagamo – which means ‘sings’ in Ojibwa – won Classical Artist / Ensemble of the Year at last week’s Western Canadian Music Artistic Awards hosted in Kelowna, BC. The album was also nominated for a JUNO Award this year.
In the liner notes Balfour writes: “NAGAMO (Sings) reimagines history and the concept of nation-to-nation respect and musical dialogue between the nations of the so-called New World and Old World. During the beginning of the 17th century, several Chiefs and esteemed Indigenous leaders journeyed to Europe in the hope of forging alliances. In many cases, they were treated as respected ambassadors. NAGAMO explores the fantastical idea of what might have happened if the sharing of music, and the respect of culture had contrived, and how a different history might have played out.”
La Scène writer Catherine Kustanczy describes the collection as “a stirring reimagining of the choral works of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, and Orlando Gibbons, with the original sacred Latin texts reworked by Balfour into Ojibwa or Cree.”
Whole Note magazine says, “The beautiful album captures 12 crystalline, skilled voices working their way through motets and Elizabethan choral music reimagined into Cree and Ojibway languages, alongside a duo of fine original pieces by Balfour with a Scottish Gaelic text.”
musica intima (photo from their website)
Formed in 1992 this innovative and respected 12-member choir has distinguished itself as a Vancouver vocal gem. Collectively run, musica intima has embraced a wide range of genres and seen more than 100 singers come through its ranks. A constant in their repertoire is the work of Estonian composer Veljo Tormis whose work was based on historical Estonian folk music. “It is not I who makes use of folk music, it is folk music that makes use of me,” is one of his famous quotes.
The ensemble plays all types of classical and minimalist music collaborating with top musicians from around the world and touring internationally. It has commissioned 27 choral compositions from Canadian composers. The group has recorded 10 albums garnering three JUNO nominations and a variety of Western Canadian Music Award nominations and wins.
music intima currently has three year-end concerts scheduled. I’ve heard them in live performance and they deliver pure harmony and pure joy! Do check them out.
21 October 2023