After years of songwriting through “some difficult times,” Dene singer Leela Gilday says her new album is an ode to Denendeh and a message of healing.
Launched on Friday, North Star Calling is the culmination of five years of songwriting, Gilday told Cabin Radio.
It has been half a decade since the release of Heart of the People, which garnered a 2015 Juno nomination for Indigenous album of the year.
Without the pressure to put out regular albums as most billboard artists do, Gilday poured herself into expressing messages she said are timely and needed for “this time in history.”
“They’re all about healing, empowerment, connection with the earth. Stuff that I feel is so important for people to hear,” she said.
Working together with producer Hill Kourkoutis, Gilday says her new album “resonated at a much higher level” than her previous musical achievements.
That’s a tall order for an artist who has been nominated for two Junos as well as a 2007 Juno win for Indigenous album of the year, for Sedzé.
In a career which spans back beyond her teenage years, Gilday has toured every province and territory as well as Europe, the United States, and New Zealand, garnering accolades including wins at the Western Canadian Music Awards.
Drawn back home
North Star Calling begins with Rolling Thunder, a rallying cry for the water protectors, in which Gilday’s powerful voice is paired with throatsinging by Tanya Tagaq. Those who attended Folk on the Rocks this year will likely remember this song from her main stage set.
Proud to be Dene and proud to be from the North, the album is also an ode to the land and people here.
Falling Stars, which Gilday calls her “love song for the North,” is based on a Dene tea dance. Gilday slowed down the traditional chant, adding several layers of harmony. Then she added her own story to the mix, as a Dene woman who spent time in the south until her return in 2009.
“I have spent many years living in the south and I have always been drawn back home,” she said. “The land is so inspiring, the people. It’s such a powerful draw for me.
“I had never written a love song for Denendeh and I thought that it was about time.”
Gilday now lives on Con Road with her husband. One night, the two were watching the night sky when they began to see stars falling.
“It was that night that I thought: ‘This, this is the right song for this time,'” she said.
‘Sometimes, music can help’
Gilday said she has never shied away from facing, head-on, the most difficult facets of life through her music. The title track of her new album is no exception. North Star Calling faces a crisis which has touched virtually everyone in the North: suicide.
“You are not alone, solid ground below,” Gilday sings. “Earth revolving, north star calls. Together we’re strong. Together we’re one. We belong.”
Having lost friends and family to suicide, Gilday said she wants to destigmatize the issue and get help to those who need it.
“Sometimes, music can help. If one person heard that song that really needed it, perhaps they might reconsider taking their own life,” she said.
Gilday said she is not a visual person, so she called on the skills of Indigenous artists from the NWT and southern Canada to bring her album to life in print and on video.
North Star Calling’s vivid album cover is designed by Anishinaabe artist Selena Burgess. Gilday asked Burgess to design something that reflected the universal connection people have to the earth.
“We are made of stardust,” Gilday said. “I just said, here’s the kind of palette that I would like, here’s the music, and please express your vision. And I thought she did an incredible job.”
Premiered online on Friday, the music video for Falling Stars is produced by the NWT’s Amos Scott. The video follows the love story of a young Dene couple, echoing Gilday’s own journey of wanting to come back home and finally doing so.
Wanting to share her new album with her community first, Gilday has an album release concert set for September 25 at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. Tickets are on sale now, and Cabin Radio will record the show for broadcast at a later date.