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This article was published 19/8/2015 (2175 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is easy to forget Ali Fontaine is only 21 years old. The Anishinaabe singer-songwriter has accomplished an incredible amount in her short career — she released two albums before the age of 20, picked up a ton of awards (including the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards for Most Outstanding Manitoban in 2011 and Female Entertainer of the Year in 2012) and is already hard at work on her third record.
Fontaine will be performing Friday afternoon at the Austin Street Festival as part of Aboriginal Music Week — the annual music festival with a focus on indigenous artists started Aug. 18 and runs until Aug. 22 — and as someone who is very involved in the indigenous community, she couldn’t be more pleased to be involved.
"Aboriginal Music Week is just great opportunity for aboriginal artists to associate with each other and for their music to be heard," says Fontaine. "It’s really nice, because we have people from all different communities coming out and they get to be exposed to it, so I’m glad I get to be a part of it this year."
Fontaine’s recent single, Free, released in July, is the first new music she’s put out in a couple of years, but don’t be fooled into thinking she’s been kicking back and relaxing. She recently moved to Winnipeg from her home on Sagkeeng First Nation in order to attend the University of Winnipeg to begin work on a bachelor of arts in indigenous studies. She is also actively involved as a mentor for the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, a non-profit organization that provides recreational, social, health, educational and employment training programs and services to people of all ages.
Though she’s far from home, Fontaine says music has helped her stay in touch; it has also helped her find a sense of belonging in Winnipeg.
"All my family lives back in Sagkeeng, so I’m living in Winnipeg alone. Music has connected me… helped me to make friends and to build a community around that as well," she says. "But my community back home has supported me throughout the years; they helped me win the APCMAs, I keep them in mind all the time. I have a couple of songs that I wrote specifically in relation to back home."
Her new single, however, focuses more on what the world would be if there were less of an emphasis on things and the money it takes to buy them.
"It’s kind of ironic, because it’s a song about materialism, but it’s called Free," she says. "I was trying to imagine what it would be like if the world were free, what we would be able to do. But then I get serious with it…
"A lot of wars are going on in the world over money and there’s a lot of conflict that rises over that, so I’m trying to write with a perspective of saving the land and resources… to reduce conflict."
Fontaine is writing songs for her third album, which she hopes to release next year. She says the process is going slowly, but steadily — she’s been waiting for inspiration to strike before she attempts writing anything new.
"Right now, a lot of my songs are written from experiences, so I often don’t just sit down and say ‘OK, I’m going to write a song,’ " she says. "I often am inspired by something... Right now they’re coming very naturally — I’m not forcing it — so it’s going to be interesting to see how this album turns out."
She says she intends to inject some other voices into the project. She plans to work with her friend William Prince, a singer-songwriter and Aboriginal Music Week performer.
"I’m hoping to start collaborating — and actually collaborating in songwriting, which is something I’ve never done before, so I’m excited to try that," she says. "I’m probably going to do a duet of one of his (Prince’s) songs, and we’re hoping to co-write a song together."
Fontaine has a lot on her plate, but she’s handling it all with a cool confidence. She’s determined to keep her past success from having an effect on her future.
"I don’t necessarily feel pressure," she says with a laugh. "I’m just going at my own pace and it’s working well for me. I’m happy with where I am right now."
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Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
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