Leela Gilday, inspired by the land, working on Dene language album

Leela Gilday
Yellowknife's Leela Gilday is working on a new album in Dene language. (Supplied by Leela Gilday.)
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After spending more than a year in her homeland, NWT musician Leela Gilday has found inspiration to work on a new album, entirely in her native Dene language.

With COVID-19 impacting artists’ ability to tour, Gilday says she’s been able to spend more time at home than she has in a number of years, allowing her to reconnect with the land and her Dene heritage.

“This year has been really of course, challenging for many musicians, my whole industry collapsed, and I stopped touring,” she said. 

“But one of the great gifts was to be able to stay home this whole year, and after spending 25 years on the road, this is the longest time I’ve spent at home and being able to watch the seasons change and being going out on the land every day, and just being able to connect with that part of myself.”

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Working during the pandemic has been challenging. Gilday says she has had to learn new skills, pivoting to working with video so she can produce videos for her online shows and workshops she has held over the Internet, trying to find a new source of income.

“I have so much more respect for sound techs now,” she said. “I was quite creatively paralyzed for a good year, like we were in survival mode. And now, we’re still sort of in that place but I feel as though I’ve reached a kind of even keel when it comes to participating in this new industry and being able to promote myself and play shows.”

Gilday doesn’t speak Dene, and is working on the album with a team who speak the language. While Gilday has used Dene phrases in her music before, this will be her first work entirely in Dene.

In the past, this has meant writing the lyrics in English and then translating. But on this project, Gilday is writing all the lyrics in Dene first.

“It does take a little bit of bravery because there’s a lot of emotional work to be done when it comes to language loss,” she said. “It’s not just random that I don’t know my language, I don’t know my language because there’s a colonial policy put in place by the Government of Canada to erase native languages.”

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It’s been a busy year for Gilday outside of work on the album.

Gilday recently won Indigenous Artist of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and has been nominated for two Juno awards.

She has also been mentoring a few young musicians. She is also writing a show with her brother, which she plans to tour sometime around the fall of next year.

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