Canadian project gets new name and tighter focus

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TORONTO – So many musicians responded to a music video program started last year by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network that the venture is being relaunched this year with a new name and a tighter focus.

The new First Tracks project will select up to six Canadian aboriginal musicians or groups to have a music video produced from a song featured on a current or soon-to-be-released CD.

The response to last year’s Open Call contest was amazing, said Marty Ballentyne, APTN’s western region programming manager, in a telephone interview from Vancouver.

“We had so much response and such a depth and breadth of talent. … We had over 100 entries and we ended up upping the amount of videos we’d be making, from five to seven.”

The lucky finalists range from established names like Dene singer-songwriter Leela Gilday, who last year won a Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy), to newcomers like Samian, a Metis rapper from Quebec.

Another winner was Friendly Fire, from an Algonquin community in northern Quebec. “They’re a punk alternative band, which you don’t see a lot of coming out of Indian country at this point,” Ballentyne said.

Darrell McBride; his sister, Kelly; and their lifelong friend, Alison McBride, have been playing music together “forever” but came together as Friendly Fire in 2001, Alison McBride said in an interview from the Temiskaming First Nation office, where she works on land claims research.

She describes the group’s sound as hard-edged with a melodic core. The lyrics, mostly written by Darrell McBride, can be challenging, as in songs like “Residential School Syndrome” or “Gaza Square Dance.” “We try to motivate people to delve into things,” she said.

The Open Call videos were produced by Big Soul Productions, a Toronto-based aboriginal production company. To be aired this fall, the series also features:

•M’Girl (pronounced “ma-girl”), an aboriginal women’s ensemble from Vancouver, British Columbia. Renae Morriseau, Sheila Maracle and Cheryl L’Hirondelle blend R&B, blues, folk/roots, house and world beat with traditional aboriginal song forms and rhythms.

•Beatrice Deer, an Inuit from Quaqtaq in Nunavik, who performs with her husband and main collaborator, Charles Keelan.

•Shane Yellowbird, a Cree country singer from Hobbema, Alberta, who’s had four consecutive Canadian Top 10 country singles from his debut album, “Life is Calling My Name.”

•Andrea Menard from Flin Flon, Manitoba, a Metis artist who sings jazz, folk and country and is also an award-winning actor in film and television.

In reviewing the program for this year, APTN made some changes. The new name – First Tracks – is more indicative of its purpose, to give emerging artists a chance at exposure before a national audience, Ballentyne said.

And new criteria will exclude established stars, limit the contest to artists who have released no more than one album/CD prior to the one that the submitted song is from, having had sales of not more than 25,000 units.

The program will provide up to $20,000 towards the production of each video, to be filmed in 2009. Applications must be in by Aug. 29.

APTN, the world’s only national aboriginal television network, was launched in 1999. It brings Canadian aboriginal drama, documentaries and current affairs programming to 10 million Canadian households as well as to audiences around the globe.