NAC Presents: Outside the mainstream with the New North Collective

The New North Collective is Pat Braden, Graeme Peters, Jan de Vroede, Robert Van Lieshout, Diyet and Carmen Braden

What’s your perception of the North. Is it ice and snow and empty tundra? How about northern music? All fiddles and throat singing? The New North Collective (NCC) would beg to differ. The ensemble features musicians from Burwash Landing and Whitehorse in the Yukon to Yellowknife to Greenland all of whom are determined to prove that there is much more to know about northern music and culture. Their show Outside will be in the NAC’s Azrieli Studio on Friday. But before the main event, the singer-songwriter Diyet takes ARTSFILE  Outside.

Q. What is the New North Collective?

A. NNC is an ensemble of circumpolar musicians, songwriters, singers and composers whose focus is to create music together that is rooted in our own diverse and vast ideas of north. We all have our own music careers but we have created a platform and space to make music together. We have a whole lot of fun, and we try to break down some stereotypes of what a northern music sounds like and what a northern musician is.

Q. Tell me a bit about the Collective?

A. Do you have three hours? In a nutshell: I’m a singer-songwriter and have a band called Diyet and the Love Soldiers from the Yukon. I’m still based out of my home community of Burwash Landing. I’m also a student and now a teacher of Southern Tutchone, which is my native language. Pat Braden is a bassist, chapman stick, spoken word artist from Yellowknife. He also has an amazing project called Musicians of the Midnight Sun which documents Northwest Territories musicians of the 1950s and ’60s. Robert van Lieshout also lives in Burwash Landing, Yukon, by way of the Netherlands. He’s our drummer, therapist and is a Love Soldier. Graeme Peters from Whitehorse, Yukon plays guitar in NNC. He is also a music educator, workout guru and he’s also part of the rock band Speed Control. Carmen Braden from Yellowknife is a composer/performer and piano player. She’s also a new mom and does some amazing things with field recordings and music. Jan de Vroede is from Greenland and many points east, west and south of that. He is a producer, northern music scholar and part of the band Nive and Deer Children from Greenland. So we’re pretty diverse to say the least.

Q. Why was NNC formed?

A. Most of us knew each other through our other projects and through the northern music scene. We talked about how cool it would be to get together and create some music based on our common experiences. Debbie Peters, our agent/manager, was able to see the possibilities and really got the ball rolling to bring us together to write as a collective. We wanted to see what music could sound like if we got musicians from across the northern territories and the circumpolar north together.

Q. There are folks from across the arctic. How did that happen?

A. The north is vast in size but small in terms of people numbers so musicians get to know one another. We also seem to have a beacon when we are at festivals and such. We seem to know exactly who the northerners are and seek each other out. It was only a matter of time before we cooked something up.

Q. There is a mix of story telling and musical forms from jazz influences to folk. Why?

A. Why not? The expectation is that if it’s northern music then it’s coming from a traditional place, but northern music isn’t just fiddles, country or traditional Indigenous. We are contemporary artists bringing diverse backgrounds, influences, upbringings, musical education and experience to the stage.  There is such a variety of music coming out of the north and while we all love and honour our roots, we aren’t afraid to take risks. I love it when people who see the show are surprised and a bit baffled because we’ve challenged their perception of northern music.

Q. How do the traditions integrate musically? 

A. We can’t help but be shaped by our heritage and upbringing. Some of us are born and raised and some of us live in the north by choice. Our common ground is the physical environment that we live in. Quite literally we are dealing, on a daily basis, with the benefits and challenges of living in the north. The music is the platform where we address our shared harmonies, the dissonance and the conflicts. Basically we all respect and admire one another and what we bring to table.

Q. The result of all this collaboration is the show Outside. What is it about?

A. Outside is about air and space and freedom. It’s also about happiness, fear and turmoil and all the things that create community as we know it. It’s about ice and rock and tundra. These are things we feel deeply and have tried to put together in a live presentation.

Q. The North has a certain image in the minds of folks in the South, Is it hard to break through that veneer?

A. It is important for people in the “South” to catch a glimpse of the stories of life in the North. We have all the gadgets and gizmos that big cities have, but our environments are very different and that colours our perspectives. Just like it’s important for us northern territory dwellers to break our stereotypes of Ottawa.

Q. How long has Outside been on the road?

A. Our first tour was in 2017. Prior to that we had three writing retreats to create the music. We’ve recorded and documented the songs we’ve created and expanded the show with more visuals. Our recording will be available in February 2019.

Q. What’s next for NNC?

A. Sky’s the limit.

NAC Presents Outisde by the New North Collective
Where: Azrieli Studio
When: Oct. 5 at 8 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.