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Indigenous musicians take stage at Fusion Fest

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David Laronde shares stories of the power of the land Aug. 26 on the stage at Fusion Fest, part of the Bay Block Party in North Bay. Photo by PJ Wilson.

Laronde, Aqua share stories of their lives

By PJ Wilson

NORTH BAY – David Laronde wants those who listen to his music to share his love of the land.

Laronde, a member of Temagami First Nation, loves the “wholesomeness and power of the land” his ancestors experienced over thousands of years.

“It’s the natural power of the land that keeps care of you,” Laronde said as he prepared to take the stage at Fusion Fest Aug. 26 in North Bay near the Dionne Home Museum.

Laronde is working on his fourth album right now, following up on his previous releases Right City Wrong Town (nominated for Best Blues Album in 2013 in the Indigenous Music Awards), Under the Raven’s Wing and I Know I Can Fly, which was nominated for Indigenous Songwriter of the Year by the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2022.

His work in progress, D. Laronde Ancestry, is a historic journey of his people from King Louis XVI of France to the present day.

Laronde hearkens back to the days when his ancestors thrived for thousands of years, living with the land, were physically and spiritually connected to Mother Earth.

“We all have the power to live free and healthy just by being aware of our connection to our ancestors,” he says on his website.

“Today’s society has been a departure,” getting away from the holistic experience of being one with nature.

He wants, through his music, to “try to reconnect people to the land.”

Laronde has intimate connections with the land. He was three days old when he was taken home to Bear Island, right after a flash freeze. He and his mother were dragged by rope in a canoe across the frozen Lake Temagami, a six-mile journey.

“Something must have happened on that trip” that cemented his love of the land, Laronde chuckles.

“There are two things in my life. Going to Temagami or being in Temagami.”

Performing at Fusion Fest, held in conjunction with the North Bay Block Party, is not only an opportunity to get his messages across to listeners, but also to experience the other performers who hit the stage, and learn something about them.

“It’s important to learn about the different agendas, experiences” in an event like this. “To hear what you hear today inspires me. It’s a collaboration of throwing different energies together.”

Also taking the stage was Aqua Bibii Waawaaskone, who performs under the single moniker Aqua. Performing her own genre of music she calls IndigiBlues, the North Bay native shares her life and beliefs in as personal a way as she can.

“When I was younger, I never kept a diary or a journal,” Aqua says. “I never trusted in the privacy that they could be kept safe.”

But those stories of her own life, of overpowering intergenerational trauma, mental health, addictions, homelessness and violance, she shares through her music.

“I grew up singing the Blues,” she says, drawing inspiration from the likes of Billie Holiday, until a cousin suggested she try to do her own writing and find her own voice.

“That was the part where my own voice came out,” Aqua says. “I grew up mimicking my idols, but when I wrote my own stories” she found her own voice.

And while many would be hesitant about sharing their stories so intimately with others, she finds it “liberating.

“Singing was the only time I could be loud. It’s so rewarding. When I show my stories, it shows others they don’t need to feel alone with their struggles.

“For me, it’s so natural to share. I wouldn’t know any other way to do this.”

Fusion Fest, a free concert, featured performers from Northern Ontario, Ecuador, Brazil, Ivory Coast, Togo, Nipissing First Nation, Wikiwemikoong Unceded Territory, Temagami Bear Island First Nation, Ireland, Toronto, and Callander.

The festival featured Indigenous singing and dancing, electronic music, Celtic rapping, guitar and mandolin styling, the mountain flute of Sunny O and the World Class drumming of Amadou Kienou.

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