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Buffy Sainte-Marie's "Power in the Blood" won the 2015 Polaris Music Prize. (CBC Music)
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This article was published originally on CBC News' On The Coast on November 7, 2015.

Buffy Sainte-Marie on her Polaris win, music and the election

Sainte-Marie has done a lot in her 51-year career. So what's changed in that time?

By On The Coast, November 7, 2015 , cbc.ca

Less than two months ago, Buffy Sainte-Marie took home the Polaris Prize for best Canadian album for her latest recording, Power in the Blood.

It's just the latest honour in her 51-year career that has included Junos, an Oscar, Order of Canada and honorary doctorates.

This week, she was in Vancouver to perform at SFU's We The City event, and then she spoke to On The Coast's Gloria Macarenko about her career, her changing sound, her activism and her thoughts on the federal election.

Power in the Blood has a very different sound from earlier days. Did you decide early on to always evolve your music?

Actually, no. If you listen to the records I made in the last 20 years or so, but you were thinking of me as a folkie like Judy Collins, you'd be very surprised, I guess. But I started in the '70s doing some of the songs that are on this album. Of course we couldn't get any airplay in those days because we had a political administration that didn't want outspoken singers to rise to the top. I just write what comes into my head and try to record it the way it sounded in my head.

How did it feel to be recognized for the best Canadian Album of the year?

I was really surprised! I was genuinely surprised. I'm interested in new music, and music prizes, and music awards and shortlisting, it's one place to shop for new music and new sounds and what people have to say.

Canadian singer Buffy Sainte-Marie has been a fixture on the Canadian music scene for 51 years. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Social issues are a big part of your music. Has that also evolved over the years?

It's pretty much the same. My very first album had love songs, had folk songs, had country songs, and also had Universal Soldier and a couple of other social issues songs. I write about things I'm passionate about, but it might be very ordinary things. Things we see every day, like trees in the countryside, or it might be about political things.

I was lucky enough to come up in the folk music era. In the '60s, it a lot like now. For a long time it was silent. The playlist was very small. There was a lot of payola. But in the '60s everything opened up, so everyone was listening to each others' music. Now, I think after a real long and repressive time in music, we have the Internet and people can find each other again. People can find music from all over the world, and I think it's great. I feel very at home.

How close were you following the federal election?

Very close! In fact, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was very nice to me. The fact that Justin Trudeau won the election and we're finally done with an administration that I really feared because of being indigenous, because of being female, because of my stance on freedom and equity, I think a lot of people felt passionate about it and I really share their passion that we needed a new day.

"No matter who we elect, it's really up to us to keep an eye on whoever we elect."

—Buffy Sainte-Marie

But on the other hand, no matter who we elect, it's really up to us to keep an eye on whoever we elect. You can't expect to elect the most wonderful person in the world and not have their daily life greatly impacted by the grease that is in the political pipe.

What about indigenous engagement in this election?

I think Idle No More helped a lot. It's not a hierarchical European pyramid of oppression. It's more group decisions, life in a circle. It's quite, quite different. I think a lot of people have learned from Idle No More. I think a lot of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people have caught a glimpse of another way to be effective.

Buffy Sainte-Marie (left) visited CBC Vancouver on Thursday for a conversation with Gloria Macarenko (right). (Liam Britten/CBC)

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