By Leonie O’Sullivan, September 17 2023—
The National Music Centre (NMC) is currently hosting the OHSOTO’KINO Music Incubator for Indigenous artists. The Gauntlet spoke with LJ Tyson, a pop artist from Saskatchewan, to learn more about the OHSOTO’KINO music incubator and the live showcase.
Tyson was selected by NMC — along with Frannie Klein, Dani Lion, and Robin Cisek — for this music incubator programme. Tyson feels honoured and hopes to fully absorb the experience and maybe even shrug off their writer’s block.
“Lately, I’ve been having such a bad writer’s block. I was joking with my friends [that] maybe it’s because I haven’t had my heart broken in a while,” Tyson said. “If anything does happen creatively, I hope it happens organically, and it’s one of those magical, out-there experiences.”
To acknowledge the Blackfoot people and the territory of which NMC resides, the music incubator was named OHSOTO’KINO — a Blackfoot phrase meaning “to recognize a voice of.” Tyson is Cree with Métis heritage from Treaty Six and hopes to learn more about the Blackfoot people.
“I really appreciate that’s what they chose to call the program. I’m all about reconciliation and reclamation, and I think creating these programs or creating any kind of thing and then putting the headline as something from an Indigenous language. I think that’s an underutilized part of reconciliation and reclamation,” said Tyson.
Tyson also spoke about the importance of specific Indigenous categories in today’s world.
“There needs to be Indigenous-specific programming and Indigenous-specific accolades because the cold, blunt truth is we wouldn’t get recognized or have these experiences [otherwise]. We’re still fighting a system that’s working against us,” said Tyson. “I want to say a big thank you to the OHSOTO’KINO music incubator for putting on this program and for recognizing the need to have an Indigenous-specific programme because we have a long way to go to level the playing field.”
Tyson released the single “Home on a Rainbow” in 2022, a reassuring message to their younger self that illuminates the difficulty of feeling different in a conservative area. The 2SLGBTQIA+ community of Prince Albert and their allies appeared in the group rally scene of the music video, where we see Tyson being entirely accepted for who they are. Tyson described their experience of releasing this track.
“It was terrifying, I didn’t want to. I was terrified to tell people that I was gay. I was like, no one’s going to play my music anymore, people [won’t] come out to shows if I start promoting this part of myself, but I had to remind myself — [I’m] always telling people how it’s great to authentically be yourself,” said Tyson. “Some people really liked [the song], and then some people sent me hate messages through social media — but that song opened up a realm of possibilities, and the worst things I thought would happen did happen, so my fear of them was taken away.”
Tyson started their career in the country music scene before naturally evolving into the pop world. They are grateful to country music for giving them their entry into music while recognizing the hardship and shortcomings of this industry.
“I’ll never knock country music. Country music gave me the start to the career that I want to have, but it was hard, especially being a younger Indigenous person who’s part of the queer community. One day, hopefully, country music [will be] a genre that’s accepting to all because there’s such beautiful storytelling in country music, and I think if we open it up to more storytellers, it would be such an amazing, powerful experience,” said Tyson.
Many assumed Tyson transitioned from country to pop due to the difficulty of being a minority in country music.
“Yes, but also, at the same time, I’m very feisty. I wouldn’t just give up. My music started moving to more of a pop sensibility, and it’s always had that pop sensibility,” said Tyson. “I think I found the music I’m supposed to be making. I could be wrong. My friends [ask] what’s going to happen if your pop record doesn’t do well? I told them I’ll have a really great country record out next year if that happens.”
Tyson has been inspired by Indigenous artists such as Marty Ballentyne, Kinnie Star and the northern Saskatchewan bands that would put on shows in their town.
“The ways they inspired me are all different, but I hope I can take that energy and their stories [and] pass it on in a good way, rather than just being some old, grumpy, jaded musician,” said Tyson.
Tyson plans on taking a singer-songwriter approach to the live showcase at the King Eddy on Sept. 14 by playing some acoustic pop songs and debuting some of their new music. Tyson is especially looking forward to seeing Frannie Kleine perform.
“I think we are living in the golden age — the renaissance of arts and live music. We [have] just come from this pandemic where we couldn’t do anything,” they said. “I think there’s a different energy in the room when we go to live events nowadays because there’s an appreciation for being together as a human race.”
Tyson emphasized that the Indigenous artists are from different parts of Canada and that seeing their different cultures will be an amazing experience. Lucky for us students, the showcase is a free event. Tyson could relate to the financial struggle endured by students.
“I was a university student once upon a time, and I was broke as a joke, so anything free I was always gonna take advantage of,” said Tyson.
To listen to Tyson’s music in the best way, you should attend a live show. The second best way is to visit LJTysonmusic.com. Tyson will release their next album in Oct. and hopefully by the time there is snow on the ground, there will be tour dates on the website