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Record-setting Indigenous musician Aysanabee performs July 4 in Whistler

The Oji-Cree artist is part of the 2024 Whistler Summer Concert Series
Juno award-winning musician Aysanabee.

Aysanabee is only three years into his music career, but he’s already made history. 

On March 23, the Oji-Cree singer songwriter became the first Indigenous person ever to claim a Juno Award for both Songwriter of the Year and Alternative Album of the Year. Receiving both honours was Here and Now, a six-track EP containing a number of highly personal stories. 

“The biggest thing [about winning two Junos] was being recognized by my peers. Those people who sit on juries are all within the music industry,” Aysanabee says. “The fact that they can look across a really massive range of artists and decide that what I'm doing is worthy of those wins … it feels good. 

“I don’t go out and try to [make music] for the awards, but not going to lie: it’s great to get them. Not sure if ‘validation’ is the right word, but it definitely fills my cup and gives me some energy to keep doing what I already want to do.” 

Sandy Lake First Nation is brimming with pride for one of its favourite sons, who initially grew up in Northern Ontario without running water or electricity. Aysanabee’s family moved to the Thunder Bay area when he was four, and he eventually picked up a guitar lying around his childhood home. 

The young man set up shop in a backyard camper van to write his first songs… whenever he wasn’t toiling away in a remote mining job. One day, Aysanabee fell through thin ice while attempting to cross a river and had to fight for survival as his boots and pants filled with water. 

 “If I get out of this, I’m not going to waste any more time. I want to go and give music a real shot,” he remembers thinking.

Aysanabee made it across that treacherous river and found himself Toronto-bound three months after that. He was 19 years old. 

‘True to myself’

There were a few more twists and turns in Aysanabee’s path. He ended up going to school and working five years as a digital content editor with CTV News. During this time, he briefly played in a band with former CTV anchor Lisa LaFlamme at Newzapalooza: Toronto’s recurring battle of the media bands.

Aysanabee’s music career began in earnest when he signed with Ishkōdé Records, one of Canada’s first labels owned by First Nations women (Amanda Rheaume and ShoShona Kish, to be precise). His debut album, Watin, is an intimate retelling of phone conversations with his grandfather: during which Aysanabee learned much about Watin’s experiences on the reservation and in residential school. 

Here and Now, conversely, was borne out of the multi-instrumentalist’s own genuine self-reflection. 

“Everything I write is true to myself,” Aysanabee explains. “It's something I've experienced within my own life, whether it's super serious or fun and silly. I don't think there's any right or wrong way to write a song, but people can definitely tell when you’re putting on [an act], and I don't think that's something I do.” 

The fast-rising star has been compared to artists like Kings of Leon, Matt Corby, Hozier, Bon Iver and Kim Churchill. He’s come a long way from being the teenager who played in the backyard because he was too nervous to let people hear him in the house. 

“Everyone’s got their different thing which makes them tick,” says Aysanabee. “Some people love doing yoga, some people love watching films, and I really get this emotional release when I perform … putting everything on the line and being vulnerable. I used to have terrible stage fright, but I think people really connect with authenticity.” 

Aysanabee is eager for his inaugural Sea to Sky trip. Some of his childhood pals once skied and snowboarded in Whistler, though he didn’t have the money to join back then. Even so, he’s awestruck each time he witnesses mountains because “they never look real” to him. 

DJ Peacefrog will open the show on July 4 at 6:30 p.m. before Aysanabee graces Whistler Olympic Plaza at 7:30 p.m.

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