"Music, songs, they're like therapy for me. They helped me hang on and get through difficult times in my life," says singer-songwriter Laura Niquay, who hails from the Atikamekw community of Wemotaci near La Tuque in Mauricie.
Niquay hopes to inspire young people in her community and other First Nations members. "I was born to be a messenger," says the artist, who chose to express herself through music and song.
Raised in a family of musicians--her father played many instruments and her mother played guitar and sang--Niquay has been playing guitar since she was 11 and singing since she was 16. But she's the only one from her family to pursue their musical talent, she points out.
"I always wanted to sing, but I never thought I would go so far," she says, adding that she simply followed her instincts. She also acknowledges the importance of singing in Atikamekw, her native language. "It's the most common Indigenous language in Quebec, but it's being lost among our youth. The songs help keep the language alive or even allow some to relearn it," says Niquay, adding that she included a French summary of the songs on her last album.
Messages of hope
Her words, delivered with a unique voice over music that varies from indie to folk to rock, tell a story about her Indigenous roots and, more specifically, the harsh reality in her community and family. But above all, they convey a positive message of hope.
"Living conditions in the community are difficult, with many problems of addiction and suicide. But I talk about life through a prism of hope, perseverance and resilience," explains Niquay, who has been immersed in music since her very early years.
Last spring, she released her second album, Waska MatisiwinExternal link. This link will open in a new window., which means the circle of life. It's an album about resilience, she says, admitting she's dealt with substance abuse issues of her own and wants to use her voice to raise awareness among youth.
One of the songs, Mostekano (The Paths of our Ancestors), which also has a music video, speaks to the importance of the values that elders instill and teach younger generations. It's about proudly following the path forged by her ancestors, using the symbolism of moccasins and snowshoes. "Snowshoes stop us from sinking," explains the 39-year-old singer-songwriter, who was recently invited to sing at the Festival d'été francophone de Vancouver and will soon be performing at the Festival de la chanson de Tadoussac.
Niquay was the first Atikamekw artist to perform at Francofolies in Montreal in 2012, and made a name for herself with her first album, Waratanak, which she released independently in 2015. Her latest album was produced in collaboration with Musique Nomade, an organization that works for the development and recognition of Indigenous talents and identities in music.
The Musique NomadeExternal link. This link will open in a new window. team, which offers free recording and production, travels to meet Indigenous artists and share its promotional expertise. The organization, which receives financial support from Desjardins, also helps artistsExternal link. This link will open in a new window. by offering creative residencies and networking activities. Musique Nomade prides itself on preserving the digital memory of traditional Indigenous languages and music.
What does September 30 mean to you?
"I always talk about resilience in my songs, and that day is precisely the opportunity to overcome challenges and move forward. I hope that people from all communities learn to better understand and get to know one another."
Is there someone who inspires you?
"I have a lot of respect for Florent Vollant. He paved the way and was a big inspiration and role model in my growth as a singer and musician," says Niquay, while also stressing the great wisdom of the Innu guitarist and singer-songwriter from Maliotenam, near Sept-Îles, who first became known in Quebec as part of the musical duo Kashtin.
Is there a particular achievement, something you've done, that you're proud of?
"The birth of my daughter and my last album."