A lovely jazz concert filled with some in-between banter, Songs in the Key of Cree is an event to enjoy with a glass of wine. Tomson Highway – a leading Cree writer, playwright and pianist – performs the songs from his past and future (in-the-making) musicals, with the help of the Peruvian-Canadian singer Patricia Cano and jazz saxophonist Marcus Ali.
Part of the Indigenous Contemporary Scene, Songs in the Key of Cree aims to keep the language alive; however, a large part of the concept is performed in other languages such as English and French. Inclusion of these more familiar languages certainly make the event more accessible, but since music easily overcomes language barriers, it would have been nice to hear more Cree songs. It’s a beautifully sounding language and the context for the songs provided by both Highway and Cano is more than enough to understand.
Songs in the Key of Cree tells different stories. One of the most interesting songs focuses on a collection of love letters from one world (the world of the dead) to another (ours) – and is taken from the musical (Post)Mistress. Tomson Highway explains that he always writes his works on two levels, ours and the divine, and this fact shines through the show – especially through Patricia Cano’s voice. On the other hand, a song from the musical The Rez Sisters – recounting the thoughts of a young girl kidnapped by a group of men as she goes to face her death – is as disturbing and emotional as a song can get. Tomson Highway makes sure to point out how vulnerable indigenous people are to crime.
The evening of eight songs passes really quickly and is highly enjoyable. Highway says he feels most confident behind the piano and that is evident, as his improvised chat with/at the audience – usually to explain the songs – can sometimes be a bit clumsy. But all of this adds to Songs in the Key of Cree’s informal charm.