Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson
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Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson

Vancouver, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2016

Vancouver, Canada
Established on Jan, 2016
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“Throughout the immaculately produced and played album a clear sense of space and time is evoked …this is an exceptional album”
— Stuart Derdeyn, Vancouver Sun Music Review

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson: Grizzly Bear Town (Raven Calling Productions): A contemporary singer-songwriter, Williams-Davidson has made it her life’s work to preserve both her Haida culture and language. On her third album she sings almost entirely in Haida and makes clear in the English opening tune, Red: Indigenous Rising, that she’s got things to say. Songs such as Foam Woman, Have a Light Heart on Your New Journey and Peace Making Song display her working in the oral traditions with modern topicality. Throughout the immaculately produced and played album a clear sense of space and time is evoked. This makes sense as Terri-Lynn is also a principle lawyer at White Raven Law Corp., involved in the area of Aboriginal-environmental law besides cultural preservation. The singer calls her latest record “cutting-edge ancient,” and with Chilliwack guitarist Bill Henderson and saxophonist Claire Lawrence backing her songs of land stewardship, spirituality and place, this is an exceptional album.

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson (with Bill Henderson and Claire Lawrence) - Vancouver Sun


Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson can laugh at the memory today, but recording on Anthony Island in Haida Gwaii was no easy feat.

Williams-Davidson, who was born and raised in the area, knew an outdoor session on a mobile recording unit would add something special to the two songs destined for her new album, Grizzly Bear Town.

What the singer did not fully anticipate, however, were the logistical and mechanical problems associated with hauling a battery-powered mobile recording unit into a dense forest.

The White Rock-based performer travelled to the village of SGang Gwaay last year with bandmates Bill Henderson and Claire Lawrence — of Chilliwack fame — to record Cedar Sister among the cedar trees.

During the same trip, the trio (along with recording engineer Julia Graff) made the impromptu decision to record Canoe Song: Cycle of the Supernatural Beings in a nearby ravine.

The sessions, with Henderson on guitar and Lawrence on saxophone, were inspiring, but exhausting, prompting Williams-Davidson to consider calling one of the songs The Battery Blues, due to the difficulties they endured.

“Lugging these battery packs over beaches and logs, it was a good workout,” Davidson said with a laugh. “But we found a way around it, although I think I’ve blocked out how we got around it.”

Williams-Davidson, who lives part-time in the Haida Gwaii village of Masset, certainly had a plan in mind for Grizzly Bear Town, the bulk of which was recorded at Creation Studios in Burnaby. The album is one of three artistic statements made this year by Williams-Davidson, in an effort to preserve Haida culture.

The other two, an art show and exhibition staged at the Haida Gwaii Museum at Kay Llnagaay and subsequent book, were presented under the title Out of Concealment: Female Supernatural Beings of Haida Gwaii.

The idea to integrate the ancient oral traditions of Haida Gwaii with contemporary music — the results of which she calls “cutting-edge ancient” — came to Williams-Davidson early on. Since her early teens, she has been a tireless promoter of Haida culture and heritage, stories and songs that were passed down to her from her great-grandmother.

The task became both a personal and professional mission for Williams-Davidson who, as a principal lawyer with Vancouver’s White Raven Law Corporation, has been the legal counsel for the Haida Nation since 1995.

Williams-Davidson continues to pursue both music and law with aplomb. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in law at the University of British Columbia while touring to promote Grizzly Bear Town. “There’s very little West Coast traditional-based music in the Canadian music scene,” she said of her commitment to the cause.

Grizzly Bear Town was intended to be exclusively about the supernatural beings of Haida Gwaii, Williams-Davidson said. But what began as a concept album quickly got sidetracked by her other two massive projects. It was during her research for the art installation and book that she began writing lyrics for the songs on Grizzly Bear Town, which eventually became a 10-song collection inspired by traditional music from the northwest coast of B.C.

“I started drawing from their place in a modern-day context, and was trying to figure out what the lessons would be for us today — not just for Haida people, but for all people,” she said.

During the recording of the album, Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip received his terminal cancer diagnosis. As he lived out his final months, Downie took it upon himself to shine a light on Indigenous issues in Canada, to a degree that few mainstream performers of his stature have ever attempted. His efforts prior to his death this month were greatly respected and admired by Indigenous communities across Canada, Williams-Davidson said.

“Everybody has so much respect for what he did, and for his passion and drive and commitment to equality. It’s amazing that he was willing to do that.

“There are so many choices we have with our time, and that he was willing to devote his to Indigenous issues is truly amazing and inspiring.”

In some ways, Grizzly Bear Town has benefited from the increased profile Downie brought to the conversation, she added.

“A lot of things happening across the country have made people more aware of it. If we had realized this project four years ago, people wouldn’t be as interested in learning more about it.”

Williams-Davidson has been doing similar work for decades. In 2000, she founded the Haida Gwaii Singers Society, and she has been awarded several trophies for her solo work, including several Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. She has also been nominated for several Western Canadian Music Awards, Aboriginal Peoples’ Choice Awards, Canadian Folk Music Awards and Native American Music Awards.

“I want to help people to see the value of Indigenous laws and Indigenous world views and knowledge so that they find a place in Canadian society.”

Mike Devlin - Time Colonist, Victoria, BC


It’s always a pleasure to chat with someone we have yet to hear about, and this is the case with Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson. She released her third solo album, Grizzly Bear Town on August 11, and you should certainly check it out if you have the chance. While you’re checking it out, also read our Five Questions With segment and find out more about this Haida singer, songwriter, dancer, activist and environmental lawyer.

Care to introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is gid7ahl-gudsllaay lalaxaaygans Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson. One of my Haida names was owned by my maternal grandmother Susan Williams, a song custodian of my village. The other is a name she gave me, which translates to “beautiful sound.”

I’m a musician, artist, activist, and lawyer. I’ve been an advocate of Haida music since I was 13 years old and have a new album recorded with Bill Henderson and Claire Lawrence, called “Grizzly Bear Town.” It’s an album that blends ancient Haida knowledge with contemporary music. I also have an exhibition featured at the Haida Gwaii Museum called “Out of Concealment” that is a multi-media storytelling exhibit about ancient Haida female Supernatural Beings. I’ve written about the Beings in a book published by Heritage House Publishing, and the book and the songs on our new album convey oral traditions about these Beings and their lessons and teachings for today.

Tell us a bit about your music and writing style.

It’s a blend that totally reflects who I am and what I believe in. I pull all aspects of my being into the creative process. I like to think of our music as “cutting-edge ancient”, bridging history with the present day, and bridge cultures. In this way, I hope that the music connects people of different backgrounds in the spirit of true reconciliation.

In this album, it was important to honour the generations of Indigenous Peoples caught between tradition and colonization. Both of my grandfathers played in a “brass band” in the early 1900s. My father sang big band songs with my Uncle’s band, the Percy Williams Orchestra, during a time when Haida music was suppressed and potlatches outlawed. I think previous generations struggled with identity but resonated with music because we are a musical people. I resonate with jazz because improvisation is similar to the magic of the moment that occurs during potlatches. In my writing, I draw upon knowledge of Haida culture, Haida laws and the songs I learned as a young girl, and collaborate to incorporate modern influences in the hopes of creating something new that resonates with people.

Do you have any upcoming shows? For someone who has yet to see you live, how would you explain your live performance?

We are holding an album release party (and the launch of my book – “Out Of Concealment”) at the Cultch in Vancouver on August 27th.

Our live performances are fairly intimate. Our live performances are an invitation to come explore new territories, a place the audience didn’t know existed, and a sound to summon feelings and images that flow from the Supernatural Beings. We like to help build bridges of understanding and, to have some fun on the way.

If you were asked to suggest only one of your songs for someone to hear, which would it be?

This is a hard question because our songs are so diverse, but here are some sketches:

Cutting-Edge Ancient: “Foam Woman.” It tells of the time before humans populated the earth and the birth of the Supernatural Beings that became the ancestresses of the Haida people. The chorus lyrics and the 5/4 timing survived from that time and that ancient feel is captured in drone electric guitar, and stunning flute and background vocals.
Transformation: “Red: Indigenous Rising.” It’s a bluesy song to encourage Indigenous Peoples to find the power of generations found in the land and sea; to step into the light, rise and transform.
Transforming Meditation: “Grizzly Bear Town.” A meditation about Canada’s history with Indigenous Peoples, and our journey of finding a place of peace from which we can move forward.
Relaxed Groove: “My Mind is Relieved”. The song was writtenn by my husband, artist Robert Davidson. He composed it to celebrate the completion of a tremendous undertaking, such as a potlatch. He gifted it to all Haida Peoples at the end of his potlatch in October 2016. When we play the song live, people really resonate with it and sing along in the rounds. It reflects the true spirt of our music: sharing and celebrating together to honour ancient Haida cultural ideas.
Canadian Beats is all about Canadian music, so who are your current favourite Canadian bands/ artists?

I have so many favourite Canadian artists! From popular artists like Leonard Cohen, kd lang, and Sarah McLaughlin, but I also indie bands like the Strumbellas, the Be Good Tanyas, and Ruth Moody. And of course, I’m inspired by fabulous Indigenous musicians, such as Digging Roots, Leela Gilday, George Leach, Murray Porter, Crystal Shawanda, Buffy Ste Marie and Tanya Tagaq—and the uber-traditionalists, my husband Robert Davidson, Guujaaw, William Wasden and my great-grandmother, Susan Williams.

Jenna Melanson - Canadian Beats


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson represents a unique artistic voice for west coast indigenous culture. She is a Haida musician, artist, and lawyer, well known for her work in aboriginal-environmental law and as a recognized keeper of traditions for Haida music. Born and raised in Haida Gwaii, Terri-Lynn has dedicated herself to the continuation of Haida culture.

 At the age of 13 she was drawn to the songs her centenarian great-grandmother sang. She subsequently helped rescue a legacy of Haida music from obscurity through her work with the Haida Gwaii Singers Society, preserving songs that might otherwise have been lost.


Her second album ‘New Journeys’ garnered a ‘Best Female Artist’ Canadian Aboriginal Music Award (“CAMA”) and numerous nominations, and stayed on the National Aboriginal Music Countdown for almost 40 weeks. Her first album ‘Lalaxaaygans: Beautiful Sound’ received a ‘Best Female/Traditional Cultural Roots’ CAMA.


Her third album, released in August 2017 "Grizzly Bear Town" is a collaboration between Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, Bill Henderson and Claire Lawrence.


"The heart of this album is to bridge cultures, by respectfully blending ancient knowledge with contemporary music to propel the conversation about past and future, history and legacy."


The songs illustrate aspects of Haida culture, including concepts of supernatural beings, spirituality, and indigenous laws. The album incorporates the endangered Haida language and music, both of which are unrepresented in Canada’s music industry. Terri-Lynn was fortunate to work with elders to translate the compositions from English to Haida.
The album is best described as “cutting edge ancient.” Each performer brings their own musical backgrounds to this compelling creation, breaking genre barriers. Improvisatory techniques are used to explore the diverse perspectives in this album, cut live-off-the-floor and in the primordial, mystical islands of Haida Gwaii. Their joy and love of this shared creation shines through their compelling performances.


The album was released on August 8 in Haida Gwaii (and iTunes) and August 27 in Vancouver.

The trio first began working together for a MusicBC fundraising concert to purchase instruments for schools in Haida Gwaii in December, 2012. They came together again in 2016 to embark on "Grizzly Bear Town".

Band Members