Wolves Don’t Live By The Rules

Written by Arianna Benincasa

The stars aligned at The Opera House on the night of December 20th, 2017 for the New Constellations Show. The event is the first of its kind, celebrating the intimacy of song and storytelling. Created by Jason Collett of The Basement Revue (a music and literary variety show with surprise collaborations of well-known artists of every form), Jarrett Martineau of Revolutions Per Minute (RPM: a global new music platform, record label, artist collective, and live music presenter celebrating Indigenous music culture), and poet Damian Rogers.

“New Constellations is a nation-wide tour of music and arts, featuring special guest appearances by an interstellar lineup of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists.”

Along with the touring show, a digital mentorship program was offered supporting emerging Indigenous musicians, producers, songwriters, and vocalists with mentorship from established artists across the country. Mentors included Anishinaabe electronic musician DJ NDN, Iraqi-Canadian hip-hop artist/educator Narcy, Afro-Colombian and Indigenous musician Lido Pimienta, Cree/Dene musician Iskwé, singer Jasmyn Burke (Weaves) and songwriter Raphaelle Standell-Preston (Blue Hawaii/Braids).

There were also workshops in six cities (including two indigenous communities) where mentorship was provided by BeaatzBilly-Ray BelcourtBoogey the BeatCody CoyoteCris DerksenDamian RogersJana-Rae YerxaJeremy DutcherLeah Fay and Peter Dreimanis (July Talk)Leanne Betasamosake SimpsonMob BouncenêhiyawakNick Sherman, members of Red Rising, and Waawaate Fobister.

“Besides being a rotating roster of festival-style performances, New Constellations is an intimate opportunity to listen to voices of resurgence — of what is clearly an Indigenous Next Wave,” said Jason Collett, musician from Broken Social Scene. “The momentum is palpable, and it’s inspiring to be a part of such a special celebration.”

I had the pleasure of attending their last night on tour! The entrance was a little disorganized which was surprising for an event that had toured across the country, but the room felt warm once I was finally inside. I looked up at the big paintings of flamenco dancers on the wall and felt their pride. They were an indication of the power that was present throughout the entire night. The vibes were positive all around, so much that there was no swarming to the front of the stage and audience members were giving each other neck massages. The night revolved around collaboration and casualty. Each group played 3 songs each and every act surprised you more than the last.

The show began with Jason Collett singing an original tune, accompanied by Peter Dreimanis of July Talk and Feist on drums. Yes, Feist on drums.

Sofia Nolin, a sweet voice from France told funny stories with quaint acoustic songs. Her sincere demeanour charmed the pants off guests.

David Mariandy read a passage from his book Brother and enthralled the audience with stories of his hometown Scarborough.

Then there was Jeremy Dutcher. He came on like a beacon of hope and sang the songs of his ancestors. A Wolastoq vocal artist and composer, he sang to his heart’s content and even supported his peers by playing drums for multiple songs. His operatic vocal skills and multi-instrumentalism reached higher than the constellations, and at the end of his performance, his preach shook our souls. He pushed his mic away opening himself up to his song, then leaned over and buried his face to sing to the strings of the piano. His voice reverberated the strings and you felt his urgent cries for equality and freedom.

Elisapie was the sunshine. “I’m the pregnant one” she told us. An Inuk performer who was proud to have her duality and she let you know it. With a stomping beat and Nirvana-esque vocals, she went on to tell us, “I’m from the Arctic. We’re a little bit crazy…a little bit wild.” Her honesty and budding personality made you feel at one with her and her community.

Feist: Canada’s Monarch was next. Three acoustic guitars were set up for her, and on one of them were three mountains made out of red tape. Her performance represented the essence of the elements. There’s nothing like seeing one of your favourite artists stripped down and have the bare bones of their compositions be the heart of everything you still believe in. She held true to her indie rock roots. With a blue knit scarf delicately slung around her, she was ready for her first strum but before doing so, she switched her bracelet from her strumming hand to the other. Her preparation for the impending journey signified that she was ready to play it hard.

Festival founder Damian Rogers was next reading a poem about a letter her mom wrote to her estranged father. Every line ended with the word “song” and you could feel the words coming straight from her heart.

One of the most intense moments of the night was when Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis from July Talk performed. Normally a full rock band, it was just the two of them, with Peter on grand piano and Leah delicately gracing the stage with her entrancing gaze that reached the very depth of your soul. She hopped off the edge of the stage and floated into the crowd looking into the eyes of her on-lookers. She was singing the words of Emily Haines’ (lead singer of Metric) song called “Winning.” Witnessing the worlds cross of these two women that I so dearly idolize left me feeling so inspired. She looked me in the eye through my camera and as I so badly wanted to capture it, a part of me felt guilty for having a device between us at that intimate moment.

Leanne Simpson reminded me a lot of Patti Smith. Her vocals were hypnotizing as she mumbled poetry in the verses before coming up for air at the chorus. During the performance, the on-stage cellist called on her new fiancé to come on stage and share in an embrace. That night they were celebrating their bachelorette party. It was beautiful to see love and acceptance all around that night.

The incredible Desmond Cole came on stage and gave a bone-chilling speech about one’s origin. He met a woman with the same last name as his mother’s maiden name and talked about how one can feel so connected to a stranger. He got arrested for speaking his mind but then later won an award for it.

Next was the care-free 2017 Polaris Prize-winning Afro-Indigenous singer Lido Pimienta. Her character owned the stage. With an eclectic wardrobe and colourful hand-sewn fabrics attached to her percussive and beat-making companions, she threw herself on the stage and was completely taken over by her music. Contrasted with heavy beats and cat-calling vocals she can just as easily soar into Bjork-like melodies. She urged those of the African and Indigenous communities to come up to the front and that they were welcome here and not segregated. She demanded it.

The last performance of the night was by the incredible Weaves art-rock band. They tore up the stage like a Jackson Pollock painting – thrashing paint of all colours and tones and textures. What was left was a beautiful mess that seemed to slowly drip off of you. Their music took me on a journey through the planets.

The most incredible moment of the night was when all of the performers were together on stage at the end. A pack of wolves that had toured the country together for a month now drew their event to a close. They sang the words “Wolves don’t live by the rules”, and at the end of it, I felt so inspired with enough love in my heart to spread it around.

All photos shot by: Arianna Benincasa