Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Adam Daigneault, an award-winning Métis fiddler from Saskatchewan, will showcase his talent at the 16th Annual Coastal Dance Festival beginning March 2 and running until March 5 at the Anvil Centre in New Westminster, B.C., hosted by Dancers of Damelahamid.
It might seem odd for a flatlander to be chosen to perform at a coastal dance event, but Margaret Grenier, festival executive and artistic director, has good reason for inviting Daigneault to participate.
His practice stems from far back in Indigenous history and his style of music brings extreme joy and happiness to people across all ages, she said.
“It brings that feeling of community, of fun and lightness, and we are looking forward to having that,” she said.
While the festival is rooted in the practices of the Northwest Coast, Grenier said “I think it is important to hear the voices of the Indigenous communities beyond that.
“We share similar or parallels of colonial history, (with) all of the work that has been done to strengthen language, to strengthen a cultural, an ancestral, knowledge through the practices of song and dance. When we share those stories with others and see that work that others are doing, it strengthens ourselves and the work we are doing and what we see is possible.”
As part of the show, Daigneault will explain the history of fiddling and, specifically, how Métis fiddling came to be.
“Métis fiddle music comes from two cultures, European culture and Indigenous First Nation culture,” he said. “The tunes and the rhythms come from classical music. Mozart, that kind of stuff. And the other half of the music comes from the First Nations beats and rhythms. Métis fiddle music adds beats, adds notes and takes some away here and there.”
The Indigenous people originally inhabited this land, Daigneault said. When the Europeans arrived, they began establishing fur trade routes with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
“How the fiddle music began was they had voyagers in these big giant canoes that used to paddle freight on the river systems from the east coming this way to the west. These canoes had anywhere from 10 to 20 to 30 men at a time paddling and manning these canoes to get the freight down the river.”
It all had to be done in unison, where the voyagers had to hit the water with their paddles at the same time to keep everything balanced.
At one point some of these Scottish men would bring out their bagpipes and sit in the back of the canoe and play a tune to keep time for these voyagers so their paddles would hit the water at the same time, he said.
“It would be kind of like a soldier marching, but instead of marching you are using a paddle on top of the water,” said Daigneault.
Eventually, those travelers realized the violin was more expendable than a set of bagpipes and “that’s how the fiddle music came about,” Daigneault shared.
For centuries, Métis fiddle music has been a staple at dances and events in Métis communities across Canada.
This is how Daigneault, himself, was introduced to the music, and his passion for it has grown over time.
When he was very young, he had picked up a guitar. When his grandfather had asked Daigneault to try the fiddle, at first he thought it was old-timers’ music and that the guitar was the only “cool” instrument to play.
But over time and with a quick stop at a pawnshop in Regina, Daigneault decided to give the traditional instrument a try.
His grandmother and grandfather would take him to community dances where he would square dance with his grandmother and listen to the techniques of other fiddlers.
“I’d go around to old-time dances and watch old-time fiddle players and I would basically copy them. I would have to say, it is more learning from watching and doing and seeing, stuff like that,” he said about developing his skill.
At first, he struggled with trying to get the right sound, the right rhythm.
“It was really difficult. The very first time it sounded like two cats having a fight,” he joked. “Then I got upset and I put the violin back into its case, and I thought maybe my grandfather was right. ‘It’s so hard’.”
With some guidance from community members who showed him how to hold a bow and how to tune the instrument, eventually he began to get the hang of it.
At 45 years old, after more than 30 years of playing, he said it is important for him to continue to practice daily, not only for his strength, but also for his spirit.
“Playing music for me personally is good for my soul, it is something that is needed. Some days I don’t feel like playing, but I force myself to, even 10 minutes… I play for my spirit, for my soul, because it’s good stuff. It helps me get things out. It helps me feel good,” he said.
Spreading joy through his music is one of the main reasons Daigneault is looking forward to participating in the upcoming Coastal Dance Festival.
“When I play I look around at the people in the crowd and usually right before a gig I will spot some people that are not smiling. They’re frowning. They’re sad or they’re bothered. I will warm up my fiddle. I’ll start playing some good music, some good fiddle tunes, and then, boom, I will look at those people again and now they’re smiling. They’re tapping their toes on the floor or clapping their hands or even laughing out loud with other people in the crowd… It’s powerful in that sense. The music itself, it has that kind of power.”
For more information about the Coastal Dance Festival, visit Coastal Dance Festival : Dancers of Damelahamid
In addition to Daigneault’s performance, audiences will have the opportunity to see Indigenous artists from New Zealand and Australia too.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.