The Spiritual Warriors keep Lil'wat language alive in new album 

Mount Currie reggae group releases new album, Ancestors

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Leroy Joe and his daughter Daisy are two members of The Spiritual Warriors.
  • Photo submitted
  • Leroy Joe and his daughter Daisy are two members of The Spiritual Warriors.

Leroy Joe was determined to make another album.

His band Kalan Wi released their debut record, Celebrate, back in 2012 and it went on to win Best Historical/Linguistic album at the Native American Music Awards, as well as earn a nomination for Best World Recording, followed by another nod in the same category at the Western Canadian Music Awards.

But while the Mount Currie-based band was garnering fans and gaining recognition, they hit a few bumps—namely the departure of their female lead vocalist.

"I was talking to my wife saying, 'I don't know what we're going to do. We have a gig coming up and we need a singer,'" recalls Joe, vocalist and guitarist for the group.

That's when his daughter Daisy—who was just 14 at the time, but is now 20—volunteered for the job. "It's amazing to me," Joe says. "It's a dream come true ... I've been playing music my whole life and she's been in voice and piano and clarinet training since she was three."

Slowly, a new group started to take shape. Today, the lineup under the new name The Spiritual Warriors also includes Rich Doucet on djembe, Mike Rowe on bass and Chris Britt behind the drum kit.

Earlier this spring, the group released their record Ancestors, which mixes reggae beats with their traditional Lil'wat Nation language, creating an entirely unique sound. The goal—aside from putting out top-notch tracks—is to help keep their language alive and represent all St'at'imc people, Joe says.

"Unfortunately a lot of our fluent speakers have passed on," he says. "We're really making an effort to revitalize it. It is a beautiful, wonderful amazing language."

To that end, it's been fulfilling to watch people develop a relationship with the language by singing the songs, which include both chants and lyrics. "When people hear it and it sounds good, they sing it and they feel good about it," Joe says.

The tracks on the record share a common reggae thread, but alternate between tackling political topics—like standing up for Indigenous rights and celebrating culture—and offering a modern-day spin on songs that have been part of the Lil'wat Nation for thousands of years (namely the first track, "Welcome Song.")

"To get the CD off the ground, I didn't even care if anybody bought one—I'm so happy it's done. It needed to get done," Joe says.

Fans are, however, buying it—even in an era when many people opt for streaming over purchasing physical records. "Actually, I think I've sold 300," Joe says. "The last (record) was 3,000 copies. Here, we have a niche market. First Nations people are supporting First Nations musicians. The music here is world music and everyone loves it, especially the rainbow tribe and the hippies and freethinkers. Nobody is doing what we're doing. I think once they find out, there's a chance we could get some success at it."

Indigenous music of all genres is on the upswing in Canada—from A Tribe Called Red to Snotty Nose Rez Kids (who just performed in Whistler on Wednesday as part of the World Ski and Snowboard Festival).

"The Aboriginal music scene is rap, it's country, it's hip hop—not so much reggae," Joe adds. "I'm representing St'at'imc and Lil'wat—all our St'at'imc people. I'm proud to be doing this ... I think it's important for people to see and hear us."

The record is available for purchase at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre in Whistler, the T'szil Learning Centre in Mount Currie and at the Mount Currie Gas Station. It's also available on iTunes, Spotify and the band's website at thespiritualwarriors.net. You can also find the video for the track "The Spiritual Warriors" there as well.

Meanwhile, they're slowly spreading the word about the new record while applying for awards and booking summer shows.

"I've already written songs for the next project," Joe says. "It's going to be even more, not dark, but have a lot of messages in it."

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