Cultural centers

Juno Winner Leela Gilday Brings Powerful, Personal Music to the Aurora Cultural Center

Singer-songwriter Leela Gilday took advantage of the confinement in her Northwest Territories home to embark on a personal journey: reclaiming the Dene language of her ancestors

Musician Leela Gilday did not spend confinement quietly at her home in the Northwest Territories.

While some people have taken to social media to post photos of their lovingly curated sourdough starters and resulting loaves, the singer-songwriter took the opportunity to embark on a very personal journey: reclaim the Dene language of their ancestors.

The result was the Juno winning album Call of the North Starthe songs Gilday and his band will bring to the Aurora Armory on Thursday, April 7, at a concert hosted by the Aurora Cultural Center.

“I’m absolutely filled with excitement,” Gilday says of a tour after not being able to perform for an in-person audience for the past two years. “It’s been a while since I’ve reunited with my band and played in an indoor venue other than my own living room, so it’s a big step for me to get back on the road. I feel a bit anxious, but that feeling was replaced by the feeling of anticipation and excitement of being able to perform in front of a live audience and have this beautiful musical exchange.

It’s a unique voice brought to Aurora by the Cultural Center.

As Dene, Gilday is focused on creating an authentic experience in her own voice that reflects her roots in the North.

“Part of the journey of [reclaiming my language] was for me to write songs,” she says. “I’ve always used expressions in the past, but being a Dene language learner, it wasn’t in my power to get into full storytelling. I’ve written and will perform a selection of songs that are in my language and I’ve written those with collaborators who are fluent in the language, so it’s not just me with my rudimentary Dene that brings things together.

“I’m a northern person, I’m a woman who really conveys authentic experiences in my own voice. It’s been a very powerful way to reach people, not only to introduce them to new perspectives, but also for this journey of self-discovery and cultural recovery, this journey of resilience and courage and overcoming fear and barriers, oppression, and of course all the things that have been brought to the public eye over the last 15 or 20 years with residential schools.

“When I sing in my language, it’s kind of a powerful shortcut to those experiences.”

Through her work, Gilday reclaims a language she never spoke as a child. Although her mother didn’t speak English until she was 10, it was not a home language. To receive such positive feedback from her family members as she not only embarked on this journey, but embraced the creative inspiration it provided, has been nothing less than a “validation”.

“[Feedback from community members] probably means more than someone attending this trip for the first time,” she explains. “It takes courage to get your tongue back, it’s very emotionally charged and it’s a very powerful thing, but you also put yourself forward. Having positive feedback from fluent family members and community members, I can’t tell you how important that is to me.

“There is a whole worldview embedded in the actual words. write a song [in the Dene language] is not second nature to me, it takes me a while to figure out how to convey things and it’s interesting to see how it has changed my storytelling skills and perspective. I feel like I can say a lot more and convey a lot more emotions and experiences through very short sentences. It has truly been an amazing journey.

To be part of the journey and be transported by the music to what the Cultural Center describes as “the rugged landscapes and vibrant culture” that have shaped Gilday, tickets for the April 7 concert are on sale now. For tickets and more information, visit auroraculturalcentre.ca.

Show time is at 7:30 p.m.

Brock Weir is a federally funded Local Journalism Initiative reporter at The Auroran