Mohawk singer-songwriter Semiah on fear of being typecast and embracing her musical heritage
Semiah Kaha:wi Smith grew up surrounded by art.
His Six Nations home was home to his mother, a dance studio owner, and grandparents, both potters.
« Art itself has always been a big part of my upbringing, and I don’t really know any other way, » Smith says.
The 24-year-old Hamilton-born singer-songwriter, who simply goes by Semiah when on stage, is one of many artists performing Friday as part of the Unity Festival on Six Nations.
The festival begins at 7 p.m. at the Gathering Place by the Grand and will feature a plethora of artists from the community, such as Derek Miller, Lacey Hill, hoop dancer Ascension Harjo and others.
A journey to embrace singing
Smith, who is Mohawk, Turtle Clan, told CBC Hamilton that her love for singing started as a child, when she sang « really loudly in grocery stores », and eventually led her to take lessons. of singing.
At the time, it was just something she did after school, she said. Over time, she « became shy » and stopped singing.
It took him a few years to experiment with other art forms such as acting and storytelling before returning to form.
« I was in New Zealand with my mum at a Maori wedding there, and so the traditional way to introduce yourself is through a song and I was still shy back then, » she recalls .
« But when it’s for the culture, I couldn’t say no, so I was singing songs from our community and sharing there and just to see the kind of fun and the connection it brought really made me think about starting to sing again. »
Smith said she then started writing her own traditional songs, joined a trio, and started performing in the area.
« At the same time, I wanted to explore my individuality and who I am as Semiah, the person, » she said.
It was then that she started writing her own songs in English but was hesitant to share them.
During the pandemic, Smith says she found the confidence to release her first song, Nothing can kill my love for you.
The sweet, acoustic tune was released in May 2021 and produced by musician and producer Rob Lamothe. It was followed by All this timewhat she did with her cousin.
Let culture turn into art
Smith said she was always hesitant to incorporate her heritage into her English-language music.
« I always feared that if I distinguished myself as an Aboriginal artist, I would be trapped in this trap, in this stereotype of an artist. »
Recently, however, she said she has challenged herself to include more Indigenous teachings in her work.
« You have to read the lyrics and interpret [those teachings] so I try to incorporate messages like that into my music that you won’t necessarily hear the first time you listen to it, » she said.
« I’m really trying to be very tactical and get these messages out there, just so they reach a lot of people who aren’t even indigenous. »
Smith says one thing close to her heart has been the future and the kind of senior she’s going to be, which inspired her for her most recent songs.
« It’s kind of what Celestial bodies is about. It’s about that first verse going, « I don’t give a fuck about you. »
« And I really say that with my chest, like, I don’t give a damn about those politicians who, you know, told us we couldn’t be who we are, » she said.
« The overall song celebrates the fact that we’re still here… and it’s really such a miracle, that we still have what we have today and we have these places [where] we can come together and celebrate who we are. »
Learn how representation matters
Smith says she’s excited to sing for her community, but also nervous about how she’ll be received.
« The music I make is usually not what Six Nations really listen to, listen, I don’t sing things like Blues or Country. »
Smith said the performance is also a reason she’s excited to perform on Friday.
“I never thought too much about what I was doing for my community until a group of little girls said how much they loved my music and wanted to learn to play music too,” said she declared.
« It really struck me as I guess it’s really important that there is representation. »
Unity Festival creative director Jace Martin, who also performs on Friday, said in a statement that « people are eager to get back to live events and we thought this year would be the perfect opportunity to reignite that fire for get everyone together. »
Martin says the range is impressive.
“We are so proud to show off the high caliber of talent of our established artists alongside new artists,” he said.
The event takes place on the eve of the Grand River Powwow, also taking place in Six Nations, which will feature dancers from across North America and will be held at Ohsweken Speedway this year.