Words have power to sway an individual.
To change a life.
For Inuit singer-songwriter Willie Thrasher, those powerful words came from a stranger. An old man.
At Grollier Hall, a residential school, Thrasher was cut off from his culture – forbidden to speak his language.
The stranger heard Thrasher playing, with his Inuit band the Cordells, and spoke to him about embracing and exploring his roots.
“He was the one that got me thinking about our culture. He knew how to hunt and live off the land. He knew the legends and stories more than we did,” said Thrasher.
The old man encouraged Thrasher to connect with his culture and express it through music.
He never saw the man again. Never knew his name. But the stranger became a muse – a memory of inspiration that settled in Thrasher’s mind.
“That’s how my music began, because that old man bringing me back to my culture and bringing me back to the path of my life,” said Thrasher.
Thrasher’s song Medicine Man has hints of the stranger in the lyrics.
Thrasher started as a drummer. One day when he was practising, a guitar player named Louie Goose, heard him and invited him to jam. Their meeting led to the formation of the Cordells, one of the first Inuit rock bands. Eventually the band split and Thrasher went solo.
“It was a sad time when we all split. It’s just memories, but good memories,” said Thrasher. “It was so much fun … we were wild under the northern lights.”
The Nanaimo resident, born in Aklavik, N.W.T., has been gaining international attention lately. Thrasher’s songs Spirit Child, Old Man Carver and We Got to Take You Higher are included in the compilation album, Native North America, Vol. 1. The album was recently nominated for a Grammy award for Best Historical Album. Thrasher and about 20 other singers featured on the album are eager to attend the Grammys.
“We want to go. We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” said Thrasher, sitting beside his partner Linda Saddleback. “Now I’m getting internationally known. It is overwhelming.”
This attention comes on the heels of the musician’s reissue of his 1981 album, Spirit Child.
The musician has recently been working on another album with Saddleback. The two met during an event at the Nanaimo Harbourfront and have worked together for 11 years. Saddleback often walks on the waterfront with her son.
“We would walk the seawall and one day I heard this great music I had never heard before with this great voice,” said Saddleback.
She had a prophetic dream where she was singing with Thrasher and four years later it was a reality. At a concert in the park they met again when he took a seat beside her. They started talking and were soon singing partners.
When Thrasher and Saddleback aren’t travelling across Canada, people in Nanaimo can hear them singing on the seawall during the summer.
For more information about Thrasher’s Spirit Child please go to http://lightintheattic.net.