Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
August 12, 2000 - Issue 16

Native Voices, Rock 'n' Roll Style
by Li Robbins
photos: Gary Farmer, Lucie Idlout, Keith Secola

It all started in Auckland, New Zealand. At least, the inspiration for the kind of aboriginal radio system Gary Farmer hopes to some day realize started there, and by virtue of that, the impetus for the first annual Rock and Roll Celebration Tour 2000.

The tour features a lineup of some of the hottest aboriginal acts today, including Derek Miller, the 1999 Canadian Aboriginal Music Award winner for Male Artist of the Year; Keith Secola, the acclaimed singer/guitarist, and Lucie Idlout, up and coming rock/blues artist. It is touring First Nations communities across southern Ontario and New York State now through Aug. 16, 21 dates in all.

Farmer, an actor, publisher, and indefatigable champion of aboriginal media and arts, sees the tour as being inextricably linked to radio.

"The tour is in communities that have radio; most have public stations. What I'm trying to show is that once you create a listenership then you can feed that listenership with concerts, or whatever you'd like to expose them to," he said by phone from Kahnawake. "We're trying to see if the radio stations have the audience to sustain one-night stands of aboriginal talent -- which has never been able to sustain itself really, except local bands playing weddings and that kind of thing, but not in terms of creating venues and offering entertainment to a community that's going to pay for it."

Farmer was one of the key organizers behind the successful application for the 106.5 signal on the FM band in Toronto, which, if all goes well, will launch on March 21, 2001, as Aboriginal Voices Radio. The prototype was MAI-FM, a Maori-run station in Auckland that has existed for 10 years. Farmer spent six weeks studying MAI, and saw how the Auckland station connected 26 Maori-operated and Maori-programmed stations across New Zealand, providing some programming all the stations could share. He sees the potential benefits of a similar scenario here.

"It's all about expanding the horizons and imaginations of our people. For us the biggest experiment we're doing with the radio is, I think, the most significant -- for the first time we'll be tying the urban community to the rural community. The city Indians and the reserve Indians have two different experiences. The two meet at
some levels, but there really is no interaction, and I hope the radio acts as that tool."

The idea for a music tour was sparked by Farmer even before his New Zealand trek with the inception of the radio station at Six Nations reserve near Hamilton.

"I knew right off the kick when we put that station on the air 10 or 12 years ago, that the thing we should sell as a public station is the music that we're playing -- we could bring concerts to the communities. But it never happened."

Now that it finally is happening, with the promise of 106.5 as incentive, Farmer sees it as an opportunity to develop talent. Each radio station at each stop on the tour has been advertising a contest for local musicians. The winners get cash prizes, but more importantly, 20-minute sets as opening acts when the tour rolls in.

The tour is also a first for the headliners. "These musicians have been playing for years but they've never had a tour. They're getting to play 21 dates back to back -- it's a big deal."

The concerts are being recorded for a documentary on the Aboriginal People's Television Network, airing later in the year.

Although he does hope the tour will break even, the financing is largely personal, from Farmer's own finances as well as some of his colleagues at Aboriginal Voices. Farmer considers himself fortunate to be able to make his own living from acting.

"I haven't been paid for eight years, I get my money from being a bozo actor in a Robert De Niro film," he joked, referring to his most recent role in The Score, a movie being shot in Montreal.

Although Farmer clearly enjoys talking about his acting, the conversation inevitably turns to the issues that lie closest to his heart, like the Rock and Roll tour. "People are playing music, it's all good. We're gonna be doing this forever."

Find out more about the tour and Aboriginal Voices

Aboriginal Voices

[In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

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