JUNO Award winners Digging Roots wow Raising Spirits

MANITOULIN—Sitting in the main hall of the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre with a couple of hundred social worker types attending the Raising the Spirit Mental Wellness Team’s ‘Self Care – A Tool Towards Building Capacity’ conference, I suddenly found myself transported back in time to the days of my evermore distant youth.

Onstage, 2010 JUNO award winners Digging Roots are delivering an incredible, powerful performance, their lyrics filled with passion, emotion emanating from each plucked string and hammered drum skin.

“Shades of Pink Floyd,” grins mental health worker Darren Madahbee, an accomplished drummer himself and a self-confessed Digging Roots groupie. “That drummer is amazing.”

They were all amazing, Raven Kanatakta and Shoshona Kish, Trevor Mills and Paul Brennan. It takes no imagination whatsoever to envision these Indie Roots innovators taking the metal home from the JUNO stage. Their biography includes not only a JUNO, but also four Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.

Their jazz, blues roots fusion sound covers a gamut of emotions with a power that practically turns the musical notes into vibrant colours flashing out from the stage with the lyrics that tap deep into the alienation and anger of aboriginal youth faced with a mainstream culture that not only deigns to condescend but continues to reinforce the impact of colonization. And they manage to pull this off while remaining uplifting and exuding a joy of life that both invigorates and inspires.

The vocals of Shoshona Kish were powerful, accented with the smooth gestures and expressions of the true professional performer, while the guitar (and ukulele and mandolin) stylings of Mr. Kanatakta inspired Mr. Madahbee’s comparison to the work of the seminal rock guitarists of the immortal Pink Floyd.

Barrie-based Digging Roots have recently recorded a new album, which should be released soon. Their last album ‘We Are’ was formulated while holed up in a little cabin on the shores of Lake Simcoe with a host of collaborators including the iconic Kinnie Starr, DJ Bear Witness and avant-garde Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.

I highly recommend you run out and buy (or I guess download from iTunes) both that album, which delves “into a unique mix of roots, alternative, hip-hop and reggae with bluesy undertones” that went on to win international critical acclaim and amassed a respectable collection of awards, and anything else these folks produce. They are remarkable.