Beverley McKiver: Our art is political by its very existence.

We are excited to have Ottawa-based pianist, composer and storyteller Beverley McKiver in this year’s festival with her musical suite Boozhoo Manoomin, presented in collaboration with vocalist Nicole Joy-Fraser and musicians Ruhee Dewji (flute), Steafán Hannigan (percussions) and Saskia Tomkins (strings).

The title of the piece is a combination of “boozhoo”, a greeting in Anishinabemowin, and “manoomin”, the sacred food of the Anishinabeg. “I have had a lifelong fascination with manoomin (wild rice). It was often served as a favourite casserole dish at parties in Northwestern Ontario in my childhood. I began reading everything I could find about the plant and was later elated when someone showed it to me growing in the wild. As I gradually came to understand the relationship between my ancestors and manoomin, I felt compelled to musically explore that rich legacy.”

The manoomin harvest is currently under threat as a result of human industrial and recreational activities. The sustainability of manoomin is indicative of the state of our planet’s health and well-being. Through this musical exploration, McKiver hopes the audience will not only learn more about the plant, but how it is intertwined with our past, present and future history on Turtle Island, and our responsibility as habitants of this land.

McKiver believes that our understanding, relationships and health are strengthened by sharing our stories, and Boozhoo Manoomin is one of the multiple ways she wishes to teach, remind, and bring us together.

Following the premiere at Water is Life (But Many Can’t Drink It) conference in September 2017, McKiver develops the piece beyond music for Weesageechak by incorporating dance and storytelling. “Weesageechak’s focus on Indigenous performing arts inspired me to apply. I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with other artists who will bring their creativity to add new dimensions to my work. I am excited to meet other Indigenous artists and witness their stories and visions.”

Catch Beverley McKiver’s beautiful musical suite Boozhoo Manoomin on Wednesday November 21st.

More about Beverley McKiver

What piece are you looking forward to seeing at W31?
As many as I can while I’m here!

Who is your Indigenous role model? How do they inspire you?
I have too many to count, but I am inspired by the ones whose names I do not know. They are the ones who passed on the flame to the next generation in the darkest times; the ones who whispered in their languages to each other when it was not safe to do so; the ones who kept alive the knowledge of food, medicines, and ceremonies; the ones who kept dancing when it was illegal; the ones who gather around the kitchen table to plan and dream for future generations.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
From a fortune cookie: Let your creative side shine through.

Do you have any advice for young Indigenous creators just coming onto the scene?
Take risks and embrace each opportunity that comes along. It’s never too late to follow you passion or try something new.

What are your thoughts on addressing political topics through Indigenous art?
Indigenous art is political by its very existence since it was supposed to be extinguished.

What does art mean to you?
A lifetime of discovery and a legacy for future generations.

What are you craving right now?
A good walk in the sunshine.

What is coming up next for you?
I am working on a new suite of piano compositions.