“I like the idea that music is bringing the gaps between people and shortening the space”
By Taylor McQuaig
Amanda Rheaume might just be Ottawa’s most recognized artist with four albums and a JUNO under the belt. Rheaume has also been recognized by the Canadian Folk Music Awards in 2014 as the Aboriginal Songwriter of the year, and won one of the 2017 REVEAL Indigenous Art Award.
Rheaume grew up playing guitar and piano as a kid and began pursuing music seriously in the mid 2000s.
She was often surrounded by women making music at Lilith Fair where her aunt worked. As a child Rheaume was given the opportunity to sing on stage at the Toronto installment of the Fair which helped to further encourage her love of performing.
Rheaume’s music style has evolved since the beginning of her career encompassing folk, rock, country and more bluesy sounds and now taking on an Americana form, which merges all of these styles. Rheaume says she was drawn to folk music because of it’s history of storytelling, even before she began to truly explore that element in her own writing.
At the start of her career Rheaume was performing with just her voice and acoustic guitar but as her style evolved she felt she needed to mirror the depth she was providing lyrically with the depth that came from a fuller sound. This need for depth and a more “rock-and-roll” sound was also pushed along by Rheaume’s participation (and win) in Live 88.5’s Big Money Shot.
Rheaume’s songwriting holds a lot of it’s depth in its confessional nature. “If I can express how I’m feeling or talk about my struggle, I hope that people can nd comfort in the fact that someone feels the same way as they do,” said Rheaume. “I like the idea that music is bridging the gaps between people and shortening the space”.
Rheaume also brings storytelling into her lyrics which she feels began in earnest while looking more into her heritage as a Métis woman.
“I realized my grandparents, and [family] were getting older and these stories and traditions were going to start to become lost,” said Rheaume. This lead her to an urgent need to tell these stories and turn as many of them as possible into song in order to make them feel a sense of forever.
Rheaume said she began to want to explore her heritage more because she felt growing up in Barrhaven she didn’t experience much of her culture.
“I had no ‘this is where I come from’ feeling, I felt that void and felt lonely,” she said. “I identify with a lot of indigenous ways and culture [but..] didn’t grow up [with them], it’s been a real journey and a challenging one because it wasn’t just readily available to me”.
Rheaume’s journey to find herself through her culture is most apparent in her 2013 release Keep a Fire, particularly in the opening lines of track “Ancient Rine” in which Rheaume sings, “Flew the northwest passage a lifetime after you/ I saw your ship The Labrador/ a ghost ship breaking through the ice that isn’t there/ so different from your time”.
Rheaume said learning about her Métis culture has allowed her to feel more connected to the earth and to herself and has brought her a better understanding about where she is in her life now. On Rheaume’s most recent album Holding Patterns, she continues on her journey to nd herself, as well as lend her voice to the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada with “Red Dress.”
The song was inspired by the REDress Project which aims to draw attention to the racialized and gendered crimes against Indigenous women through installing red dresses in public spaces. Amanda says the song is meant to sarcastically draw attention to the victim blaming surrounding disappearance of these women.
“If I can lend any kind of a voice to [Indigenous stories] when I’m on stage and I can tell people these stories who have no idea . . . that feels like a responsibility, I feel responsible.”
Amanda is performing at the NAC on July 22 as part of the Anishinabekwe with Polaris prize winning throat singer Tanya Tagaq, composer, musician and singer Sandy Scoeld, singer-songwriter Iskwe and the always poetic Moe Clark, invited by ShoShona Kish of Digging Roots, who will back each performance.
Check more of her music, tour dates and more:
This article is part of our July 2017 Issue 14: