Indian Chants & A Seductive CelloSunday, March 25, 2007
When I first started working at Tilden-Rent-A-Car on Alberni Street some 30 years ago I was told not to rent cars to anybody whose last name was John or George. When I pressed the manager for details he said, "Just don't rent cars to Indians." I could not understand why, so when a large man with long hair, called Moving Rock showed up for a station wagon I gave it to him I gave it to him even though his driver's licence was suspicious. The vehicle appeared in Arizona a couple of months later and I was almost fired. One of my better clients was a black pimp from Seattle called Johnny Stone who never gave me any trouble. The manager told me to stop renting to rocks, boulders and stones.
I am from a generation that remembers the map of Africa being full of countries that had red borders as they were British territories. In that youth of mine maps showed men in conical hats planting rice in China, a Mexican would be sleeping under a cactus and Germans would be wearing short leather pants with a feather in a cap. All was hermetic and logical. Mexicans lived in Mexico and Argentines in Argentina.
After having read so much about "red Indians" I was astounded to see my first "Indians" in Vancouver. I found them odd as they were Mexicans who did not understand my Spanish. My wife Rosemary had never seen an Indian in her native New Dublin, Ontario. Her first sighting of a totem pole had been the one in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City.
After Moving Rock I rarely ever had a contact with an Indian. In the years that I worked as a stills photographer at the local CBC I never spotted an Indian. I asked around and was told, "They are not interested in working here." In fact the only Indian I then saw at the CBC was the one who was a character in the Beachcombers.
It was about 25 years ago when people seemed to give parties and Rosemary and I would drive to them on Saturday nights. More often than not the program on CBC was Our Native Land. This radio program featured native Canadian culture, songs and news. I enjoyed listening to it except Rosemary was not tolerant of anything that sounded like chanting and she would demand I turn the radio off.
Through the years I have had a few situations where I have photographed such people as Chief Dan George and his son Chief Len George. I photographed several members of the Sparrow family but I have never managed to connect past the photograph.
Last week I was fascinated by the Native Canadian influence in Karen Jamieson. Last night Rebecca and I went to an evening at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre that featured assorted groups of which only Kokoro Dance was familiar. Rebecca and I were blown away by half-Cree cellist Cris Derksen and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
During my session in my studio with Cris Derksen, Derksen had asserted, "Tanya Tagaq is pure sex." She was right. I was exhausted by Tagaq's performance and Rebecca told me, "My throat hurts from just listening to her."
In the end both Rebecca and I enjoyed Cris Derksen, best. She did a little singing which was a blend of the avant-garde and what sounded like traditional Native Canadian chanting. Dersken started with an amplified version of Bach's Suite No 1 for cello. From there she degenerated beautifully into sounds we had never heard before.
We were both seduced.