Now in its fourth year, Diverse as this Land – an ongoing performance series at The Banff Centre focused on First Nations land issues – has shifted to the south seas.
This year’s performances, taking place June 30 and July 1, will include the music of Moana and the Tribe, a Maori group from New Zealand led by Moana Maniapoto.
Sandra Laronde, the director of Aboriginal Arts at The Banff Centre, started the series three years ago.
“(The series) is looking at how land informs and shapes cultural expression and song,” she said. “We’re taking it more from the vocal angle and this year we decided to go with more of an international mix.”
The program has two components, said Laronde.
“There’s a five-day voice intensive for participants coming from across Canada. Twelve singers will come and learn more about composition and performance technique,” she said. “And at the same time, they’ll be exposed to professionals in the two concerts that we have.”
The concerts will also feature musicians Tracy Bone and J.C. Campbell (Ojibwa/Cree) from Manitoba. Winners of an Aboriginal People’s Choice Award, their music fuses blues, country and rock for a dynamic sound.
“I noticed very interestingly that land is a great informer of cultural expression, of song, of movement, of tone, of so much that we don’t really see how much it informs,” said Laronde. “From all the different places, from the Canadian Rockies to the prairies to the tundra, all of that has its own vast character in terms of artistic expression.
“It’s one way to look at the diversity of land within Canada, and within that diversity of land is a diversity of different nations.”
The first year of the series the performance was called Songs Above the Treeline and featured northern music, mostly of Dene and Inuit cultures. The second year focused on mountains and the third on woodlands.
“Another diversity is within the spectrum of indigenous music today, which incorporates traditional, contemporary, electronic, avante garde – there’s all different kinds of diversity within that as well in terms of the musical genres,” said Laronde.
Maniapoto is Maori from the tribes of Ngati Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa, as well as of English and Irish descent through her mother. She is a law graduate and freelance writer who has worked extensively in television and radio as a presenter, actor and political commentator.
“I’ve been singing most of my life and while I’m not a prolific writer, my music reflects the political, cultural and social environment I move within as a contemporary Maori woman,” she said in an interview by email. “I’ve loved the challenge of fusing aspects of traditional Maori culture with contemporary – chanting, dance, language and poetry, musical instruments.
“Music has also been an important vehicle for me to express my Maoriness, including the values and traditions important to us,” she explained. “I’m proud to lead a group of awesome musicians and performers, all experts and leaders in their own right – and when the groove and vocals kick in, its an unbelievable feeling.”
Maniapoto was invited to perform at The Banff Centre by Laronde.
“I’ve always wanted to visit Banff, as my husband attended a film event there years back and was struck with its beauty,” said Maniapoto. “My strong interest is in performing and presenting our music to diverse audiences, but particularly to connect with our First Nations brothers and sisters, and we are honoured to be invited into Blackfoot Territory. My expectation is that we will meet beautiful people that live in a beautiful place.”
Moana and the Tribe has toured extensively, with over 250 international performances. Highlights include the Cultural Olympiad in the lead up to the Greece Olympics, playing clubs in Moscow, Istanbul and Berlin, performing on the back of a truck on the coral atoll of Oouvea (Kanaky), against a rainforest backdrop at the Sarawak World Music Festival in Borneo, around Taiwan, and in front of thousands of rockers at St. Gallen Open Air (Switzerland).
“We are blessed to perform at conventional festivals and clubs, but also to be invited to unusual places – we are currently negotiating to play in Papua, New Guinea, which I visited last year – for a big reggae festival featuring Shaggy and Ziggy Marley.”
Being invited to Banff is a great honour, said Maniapoto.
“I’m rapt to bring my band to Canada – just thrilled,” she said. “I have many friends in Canada through the film industry and am a fan of Canadian artists. I’m looking forward to hearing the other artists on the bill.”
Laronde is tight-lipped on what next year’s performances will involve.
“One encounter informs the next,” she said. “I have ideas, but I want to see how I can build from what’s happening. I don’t want to impose completely.”
For more information about the performances, visit The Banff Centre’s website at www.banffcentre.ca