By David Burke
The name conjures images of proud Mi’kmaq hunters, silently searching the forest for deer or paddling ocean-going canoes to fish in abundant ancient waters. Centuries of European emigration and North American settlement may have removed such images from modern life, but the Sons of Membertou are living once again, in the old ways.
The Mi’kmaq people are now in the midst of a cultural revival and expression of their spiritual life centers around the drum. Ever since the elders of Membertou made Darrell Bernard keeper of the drum in 1992, that culture has come alive through drumming and song.
In the endless circle of life, the drum represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth. “It’s like a spiritual connection between the earth and the people,” says Bernard. To come to the drum one must be drug and alcohol-free, respectful to the elders and others, and respectful of the drum. Before any music is played, each drummer goes through a purification ceremony using burning sweet grass, and offerings of tobacco are offered to the spirits. When the singing starts, songs honoring the creator, ancestors, veterans and nature bring joy and hope to the gathering.
Late in 1994 Wapna’ kik (“The People of the Dawn”) was recorded at Island Recording in Frenchvale. Accompanying Sons of Membertou on this album were well known Cape Breton musicians Kyle MacNeil, Richard Burke, Tom Leadbeater, Gordie Sampson, Lonnie Jones, Fred Lavery, Jo-Ann Rolls and Al Bennett as well as the Weka’ Tesk Singers from Membertou, who contributed songs, poetry, and art work for the cd.
The album has attracted quite a bit of attention to this group, who have been touring on the international Pow Wow circuit, and performing on major concert stages like the East Coast Music Awards show and the G7 Summit in Halifax. It gets world wide, in-flight play on KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines), and national airplay on CBC. Darrell Bernard says, “It’s hard to keep up when everything is happening so fast but that’s OK ’cause people in the music industry get to do cool stuff all the time.”
In the spirit of Cape Breton music, this album of traditional and original music and poetry transcends cultural boundaries. The lyrical content speaks a universal message that is as relevant to the non-native community of Cape Breton Island as it is to the Mi’kmaq people. It is about the spiritual connection between the land and the people. It’s about honour and respect and celebration. It is music about Unama’kik (Cape Breton).