Five Questions With Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

Photo Credit: Artist Supplied

It’s always a pleasure to chat with someone we have yet to hear about, and this is the case with Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson. She released her third solo album, Grizzly Bear Town on August 11, and you should certainly check it out if you have the chance. While you’re checking it out, also read our Five Questions With segment and find out more about this Haida singer, songwriter, dancer, activist and environmental lawyer.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is gid7ahl-gudsllaay lalaxaaygans Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson. One of my Haida names was owned by my maternal grandmother Susan Williams, a song custodian of my village. The other is a name she gave me, which translates to “beautiful sound.”

I’m a musician, artist, activist, and lawyer. I’ve been an advocate of Haida music since I was 13 years old and have a new album recorded with Bill Henderson and Claire Lawrence, called “Grizzly Bear Town.”  It’s an album that blends ancient Haida knowledge with contemporary music. I also have an exhibition featured at the Haida Gwaii Museum called “Out of Concealment” that is a multi-media storytelling exhibit about ancient Haida female Supernatural Beings. I’ve written about the Beings in a book published by Heritage House Publishing, and the book and the songs on our new album convey oral traditions about these Beings and their lessons and teachings for today.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.

It’s a blend that totally reflects who I am and what I believe in. I pull all aspects of my being into the creative process. I like to think of our music as “cutting-edge ancient”, bridging history with the present day, and bridge cultures. In this way, I hope that the music connects people of different backgrounds in the spirit of true reconciliation.

In this album, it was important to honour the generations of Indigenous Peoples caught between tradition and colonization. Both of my grandfathers played in a “brass band” in the early 1900s. My father sang big band songs with my Uncle’s band, the Percy Williams Orchestra, during a time when Haida music was suppressed and potlatches outlawed. I think previous generations struggled with identity but resonated with music because we are a musical people. I resonate with jazz because improvisation is similar to the magic of the moment that occurs during potlatches. In my writing, I draw upon knowledge of Haida culture, Haida laws and the songs I learned as a young girl, and collaborate to incorporate modern influences in the hopes of creating something new that resonates with people.

Do you have any upcoming shows? For someone who has yet to see you live, how would you explain your live performance?

We are holding an album release party (and the launch of my book – “Out Of Concealment”) at the Cultch in Vancouver on August 27th.

Our live performances are fairly intimate. Our live performances are an invitation to come explore new territories, a place the audience didn’t know existed, and a sound to summon feelings and images that flow from the Supernatural Beings. We like to help build bridges of understanding and, to have some fun on the way.

If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be?

This is a hard question because our songs are so diverse, but here are some sketches:

  • Cutting-Edge Ancient: “Foam Woman.” It tells of the time before humans populated the earth and the birth of the Supernatural Beings that became the ancestresses of the Haida people. The chorus lyrics and the 5/4 timing survived from that time and that ancient feel is captured in drone electric guitar, and stunning flute and background vocals.
  • Transformation: “Red: Indigenous Rising.” It’s a bluesy song to encourage Indigenous Peoples to find the power of generations found in the land and sea; to step into the light, rise and transform.
  • Transforming Meditation: “Grizzly Bear Town.” A meditation about Canada’s history with Indigenous Peoples, and our journey of finding a place of peace from which we can move forward.
  • Relaxed Groove: “My Mind is Relieved”. The song was writtenn by my husband, artist Robert Davidson. He composed it to celebrate the completion of a tremendous undertaking, such as a potlatch. He gifted it to all Haida Peoples at the end of his potlatch in October 2016. When we play the song live, people really resonate with it and sing along in the rounds. It reflects the true spirt of our music: sharing and celebrating together to honour ancient Haida cultural ideas.

Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?

I have so many favourite Canadian artists! From popular artists like Leonard Cohen, kd lang, and Sarah McLaughlin, but I also indie bands like the Strumbellas, the Be Good Tanyas, and Ruth Moody. And of course, I’m inspired by fabulous Indigenous musicians, such as Digging Roots, Leela Gilday, George Leach, Murray Porter, Crystal Shawanda, Buffy Ste Marie and Tanya Tagaq—and the uber-traditionalists, my husband Robert Davidson, Guujaaw, William Wasden and my great-grandmother, Susan Williams.

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