Haida singer Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson not afraid of heavy lifting


What: Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson with Bill Henderson and Claire Lawrence

When: Saturday, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)

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Where: Alix Goolden Performance Hall, 900 Johnson St.

Tickets: $30 at Ticketfly.com

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson can laugh at the memory today, but recording on Anthony Island in Haida Gwaii was no easy feat.

Williams-Davidson, who was born and raised in the area, knew an outdoor session on a mobile recording unit would add something special to the two songs destined for her new album, Grizzly Bear Town.

What the singer did not fully anticipate, however, were the logistical and mechanical problems associated with hauling a battery-powered mobile recording unit into a dense forest.

The White Rock-based performer travelled to the village of SGang Gwaay last year with bandmates Bill Henderson and Claire Lawrence — of Chilliwack fame — to record Cedar Sister among the cedar trees.

During the same trip, the trio (along with recording engineer Julia Graff) made the impromptu decision to record Canoe Song: Cycle of the Supernatural Beings in a nearby ravine.

The sessions, with Henderson on guitar and Lawrence on saxophone, were inspiring, but exhausting, prompting Williams-Davidson to consider calling one of the songs The Battery Blues, due to the difficulties they endured.

“Lugging these battery packs over beaches and logs, it was a good workout,” Davidson said with a laugh. “But we found a way around it, although I think I’ve blocked out how we got around it.”

Williams-Davidson, who lives part-time in the Haida Gwaii village of Masset, certainly had a plan in mind for Grizzly Bear Town, the bulk of which was recorded at Creation Studios in Burnaby. The album is one of three artistic statements made this year by Williams-Davidson, in an effort to preserve Haida culture.

The other two, an art show and exhibition staged at the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay and subsequent book, were presented under the title Out of Concealment: Female Supernatural Beings of Haida Gwaii.

The idea to integrate the ancient oral traditions of Haida Gwaii with contemporary music — the results of which she calls “cutting-edge ancient” — came to Williams-Davidson early on. Since her early teens, she has been a tireless promoter of Haida culture and heritage, stories and songs that were passed down to her from her great-grandmother.

The task became both a personal and professional mission for Williams-Davidson who, as a principal lawyer with Vancouver’s White Raven Law Corporation, has been the legal counsel for the Haida Nation since 1995.

Williams-Davidson continues to pursue both music and law with aplomb. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in law at the University of British Columbia while touring to promote Grizzly Bear Town. “There’s very little West Coast traditional-based music in the Canadian music scene,” she said of her commitment to the cause.

Grizzly Bear Town was intended to be exclusively about the supernatural beings of Haida Gwaii, Williams-Davidson said. But what began as a concept album quickly got sidetracked by her other two massive projects. It was during her research for the art installation and book that she began writing lyrics for the songs on Grizzly Bear Town, which eventually became a 10-song collection inspired by traditional music from the northwest coast of B.C.

“I started drawing from their place in a modern-day context, and was trying to figure out what the lessons would be for us today — not just for Haida people, but for all people,” she said.

During the recording of the album, Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip received his terminal cancer diagnosis. As he lived out his final months, Downie took it upon himself to shine a light on Indigenous issues in Canada, to a degree that few mainstream performers of his stature have ever attempted. His efforts prior to his death this month were greatly respected and admired by Indigenous communities across Canada, Williams-Davidson said.

“Everybody has so much respect for what he did, and for his passion and drive and commitment to equality. It’s amazing that he was willing to do that.

“There are so many choices we have with our time, and that he was willing to devote his to Indigenous issues is truly amazing and inspiring.”

In some ways, Grizzly Bear Town has benefited from the increased profile Downie brought to the conversation, she added.

“A lot of things happening across the country have made people more aware of it. If we had realized this project four years ago, people wouldn’t be as interested in learning more about it.”

Williams-Davidson has been doing similar work for decades. In 2000, she founded the Haida Gwaii Singers Society, and she has been awarded several trophies for her solo work, including several Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. She has also been nominated for several Western Canadian Music Awards, Aboriginal Peoples’ Choice Awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards and Native American Music Awards.

“I want to help people to see the value of Indigenous laws and Indigenous world views and knowledge so that they find a place in Canadian society.”


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