Creating the music for “Gifts from the Elders,” by Jason Chapman.
The score for Gifts From The Elders required a diverse set of sounds including traditional film score sounds, such as orchestral strings, electronic sounds and native instruments and vocals.
We started the score by collecting sounds. The indigenous instrument sounds that we needed are just not available in conventional sample libraries that composers typically use. A typical composer would call up sounds in a computer, such as piano and orchestral instruments, and begin scoring the video with an assortment of sample libraries and digital sounds. Gifts From The Elders needed these “western” sounds, but also needed aboriginal instruments and sounds. The entire score is original and about a third of the instruments you hear in the film are sounds created just for the film from recording sessions.
Jonah Mamakeesic, my assistant on the film, recorded a variety of sounds such as turtle rattles, rawhide rattles, wooden rattles, footcuffs, apron sounds, hand drums, big drums and more in Victoria, B.C. and sent the files to me in London, ON. I processed the rhythms played and altering them to match the tempos and time signatures used to synchronize the music to what was happening on screen. Jonah also recorded his own male vocal phrases and melodies heard in the film.
Mary Lou Smoke, with her kind and gentle spirit, recorded several drum and voice songs and additional solo voice and solo drum recordings. With both the material from Jonah and Mary Lou, samples were edited into small clips and assigned to notes on a MIDI keyboard. These recordings could now be played from a MIDI keyboard and recorded into the computer. Jonah and Mary Lou’s voices were now virtual! Their drum and percussion sounds were now digitized and virtual also! This allowed for vocal phrases and percussion to be triggered from the keyboard without the need to recall musicians every time a cue (section of music) changed. Some of the original recordings were also layered as audio files within the computer and combined with the digital sounds. The score became a combination of audio recordings, orchestral and other instrument samples, synthesizer sounds and our own unique native instruments sampled sounds.
The combination of traditional western and native sounds further escalates the interplay between the two cultures as seen in the film. Synthesizer sounds play an equal role sometimes providing the middle-ground sounds that are neither western nor native. This changes throughout where synthesizer sounds are used to show the future generation or for tension and buildup as one culture is injected and imposed on another.
Additional songs provided by award-winning First Nation musician-performers Jerry Alfred and Wayquay.
Jerry Alfred (born 1955 Mayo) is a Northern Tutchone musician living in Pelly Crossing, Yukon. He received a 1996 Juno Award for his recording ETSI Shon (Grandfather Song) in the category Aboriginal Recording of the Year.
Alfred was born in the community of Mayo, Yukon in September 1955 into traditional life and speaking the Northern Tutchone language, a skill which he kept alive in spite of having been sent to residential English speaking schools at the age of five. Alfred was born into the Crow Clan and inherited the title of “Keeper of the Songs” from his father. This position gave him the responsibility of collecting traditional songs and performing at ceremonial events of his people, the Selkirk First Nation. Alfred’s position also involved his representing the clan at potlatches, or meetings with the broader Yukon Aboriginal community.
He was named “Keeper of the Songs” at birth, an honourary title which he has made into a career, updating traditional Tutchone music by adding twentieth century Western influences. Alfred’s musical training began when he was placed in a choir while at the residential schools. His parents bought him his first guitar when he was seven, and he began learning in earnest in his teens, probably due to the influence of Bob Dylan, an influence which still lives in Alfred’s music today. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Alfred played a large role in negotiations with the Canadian government over the Selkirk people’s Land Claim, which culminated in an agreement in 1995. In 1995, he received a Juno Award as Jerry Alfred & The Medicine Beat for Aboriginal Recording of the Year.
In 1994, Alfred’s father made a special effort to engage Alfred in his people’s songs again, and when his father died, Alfred was inspired to release a record, 1994’s “Etsi Shon”, or “Grandfather Song”, which served the dual purpose of keeping alive the music and the language of the Selkirk people. Alfred has since released two other albums, “Nendaa” (Go Back) in 1996, and Kehlonn in 1998, with his band, Medicine Beat.
Today, Alfred hopes to pass the position of Song Keeper to his eldest daughter, Cenjeya (“Cute one”), who along with his youngest daughter, Saanuwa (“precious one”), he is teaching the traditions and music.
Of Ojibway, Anishnabe descent, Wayquay, raised in rural America, set off to NYC to find herself with a few dollars in her pocket and a 3-D vision. Soon, this progressive musical poet and pioneer wrote and directed a comedy play at Harlem’s Landmark Apollo Theatre and participated in a compilation album & concert for Kobe earthquake survivors. Fast forward…& now her “SOULIN’” style, merging the rhythms and chants from her Indigenous background with the grooves of blues, funk, hip-hop, rock, poetry and nature, keeps her with one foot in the past, one in the present and an eye to the future – retracing steps on the path left by her Ancestors to bring messages of simplicity, sharing and honor…
By taking it homeland and abroad — to reservations, cities, arenas, colleges & schools, organizations & corporations, conferences and festivals – simultaneously combusting art with heart work and involvement in Native American rights and remedy programs, as a corporate and community liaison and ambassador for youth and elder empowerment, conflict and gang resolution – Wayquay’s music and vision, uniquely American, has crossed-over into multi-media outlets.…she’s been touring, breathing, moving earth, learning, losing, giving, getting, living & letting since her album “Tribal Grind” hit Billboard Magazine, garnered 5 NAMMY nominations and snagged the award for Best Music Video with that American Indian Film Festival winner “Navigate” — her “wicked rhythm packed song” which made Billboard’s Top 15 Video Hits, was featured on “Heartbeat Alaska” and the CNN College Television Network while “Tribal Grind” the album, highlighted in Wayquay’s feature film debut “Dreamland”, directed by Robert Hein, continues to be featured on commercial radio, the 35 AIROS stations of the Native American Radio Network, more than 100 college radio stations, XM Radio and Internet radio.