When Calgary singer Akina was a little girl, she was given a version of “O, Canada” that had been translated into Cree.
“When it was gifted to me from an elder, I was told that the Cree were supposed to treat it as a prayer,” Akina said. “Instead of talking about patriotism and Canada itself, it is blessing the land and thanking the creator for the land.”
That sense of meditation is reflected in a new arrangement of Canada’s national anthem performed and released on Youtube by the Calgary vocal group Revv52.
“We have things that we’re proud of and things that we’re not proud of and it’s really important right now to consider those things and to move forward in a positive way,” said Revv52 president Jennifer Matthias.
The online performance was recorded by each member individually using smartphones. Singing in group settings is not allowed in Alberta because of COVID-19.
The video opens with images of Canada’s natural landscapes as the choir softly sings over and over “Mâmawi”, a Cree word that means altogether. The poem, O Canada — A Prelude, by Richard Harrison is spoken next.
“I love unfinished things, a bookmark set between closed pages, the field that waits for seed. Canada is a place like that,” the poem begins. Later, it continues, “What was there, Canada? What was ever there on a country’s road, but times when we were glorious, and times of things no one should have done.”
“It’s important to recognize that not everything is glorious in the country’s history and Richard’s poem is pretty special in that it’s able to capture that,” said Revv52 artistic director John Morgan.
Morgan says the vocal group is also working to address a lack of diversity amongst its current members.
“We are not that diverse a group — not by choice, of course, but we looked at ourselves and thought, how can we engage artists Indigenous artists, people of colour?”
When Calgary R&B singer-songwriter Justine Tyrell was invited to take part in the group’s rendition of “O Canada”, she immediately said yes.
“I know for myself, growing up, when I didn’t see myself represented in a lot of things, it (was) consciously disheartening but it’s also subconsciously disheartening,” said Tyrell. “I think the more we can see ourselves reflected just the more included you feel.”