It’s not all fun and games for Manitoba country musician

Desiree Dorion would like to see more Indigenous artists to get radio play


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Desiree Dorion can’t wait to return to the road, even if one of her upcoming gigs is just down the road.

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Desiree Dorion can’t wait to return to the road, even if one of her upcoming gigs is just down the road.

The country singer lives south of Dauphin, near Riding Mountain National Park, and will perform at Dauphin’s Countryfest when it returns after a three-year pandemic-related hiatus June 30-July 3 at the Selo Ukraina site just south of the western Manitoba city.

Countryfest, whether as a fan or a performer, has been part of Dorion’s life going back to her childhood; she grew up only a couple of kilometres from the site.

”My mom used to let us go and take in the shows when we were kids,” the Juno Award nominee remembers. “When the festival wasn’t on, I’d ride my bike to the festival site, and I’d leave my bike in the ditch. I would climb the fence and I’d make my way down to the mainstage and I’d run around like a fool, pretending to sing to a full auditorium of people.

“I’d spend a lot of time visualizing what it was like for a mainstage artist who was performing at the festival, and it’s kind of neat when I actually got to do that in 2014; I’ve played the festival numerous times ever since.”

For the 2022 event, Dorion will have new songs to perform, including her latest single, Wouldn’t That Be Fun, a duet she co-wrote and sings with Dave Wasyliw of Doc Walker that came out April 8.

It’s a song that goes back to 2019 and the Manitoba Country Music Awards, when Dorion won the Indigenous Country Music Award.

“He’d been someone who’d been on my radar to write with,” Dorion says of Wasyliw. “I finally worked up the nerve at the after-party to ask.. and he said for sure, 100 per cent.”

It wasn’t until August 2021 that Dorion and Wasyliw were able to work together and the Doc Walker singer-guitarist would have go one to have a bigger role than just a writing credit.

“He sent me the demo with his voice on it and it became pretty apparent to me that I thought he should be the person doing the duet with me,” she says.

The up-tempo track is the second song in a row on which Dorion has teamed up with another artist. In 2021, she released Sometimes I Drink, which she co-wrote with Crystal Shawanda, who like Dorion, is a Canadian country artist with an Indigenous background.

“I had a list of titles I pitched to her, and Sometimes I Drink was one of them. We had a song within three hours, but it felt like I spent three hours chit-chatting with one of my girlfriends,” Dorion says.

”We wanted that song to be about giving ourselves, as women, permission to go out and have fun without an excuse and without having to feel guilty about that. It’s not just about going out and trying to meet somebody. Women are allowed to go out and have fun, just for the sake of having fun.”

Supplied Desiree Dorion

Sometimes I Drink reached No. 12 on the iTunes country chart and spent 16 weeks in the top 100 of Trax’s chart, which measures airplay on Canada’s 103 country music stations.

“Normally, I like really deep or sad songs, or songs with a particular personal meaning. This one is total fun and it’s outside of my wheelhouse,” Dorion says.

She hasn’t left her serious side behind, though. In July 2021, as part of National Indigenous History Month, Dorion hosted the Achimotak Series, a program of online conversations about Indigenous experiences in the music industry that was presented by the Canadian Country Music Association.

The series was planned months in advance, but the timing of its airing couldn’t have been more ideal, says Dorion, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. It was released while Canadians were in grief and shock over the discovery of 215 children’s graves at a former Indian residential school in British Columbia.

“It really happened at a divine time,” she says. “It allowed me as a host of the series to connect with artists in a very meaningful way and I think we also had the ears of many people in the country music industry who were keen to learn at that point in time because of the 215.

“It allowed me as a host, and the artists and the industry folks who participated, to humanize ourselves, so folks could see us as people first.”

She hopes Indigenous performers will get more opportunities on radio and with major recording labels. She mentions a 2021 Songdata study by Jada Watson, a musicologist and professor at the University of Ottawa, which found artists who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC) receive two per cent of the total airplay on country radio; Indigenous artists receive a small fraction of that amount.

“I consider folks like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Crystal Shawanda — and Don Amero is killing it right now in country music — and even the little country airplay I get,” Dorion says. “I consider myself very privileged to take up the space that I’ve been fortunate to take because I know the percentage of Indigenous artists who get to occupy that space is very low.”

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Supplied Desiree Dorion and Dave Wasyliw of Doc Walker teamed up for her latest single, Wouldn’t That Be Fun.
Randy Bachman
Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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