Aysanabee: Live In Ottawa


With the arrival of spring comes the opportunity to finally break free from the shackles of Old Man Winter and hit the road for some live music adventures. Team GDW hit the road last week for an extended break to Canada’s capital, and with tickets in hand to several shows, we made sure to satisfy those music cravings. Rest assured that we have plenty of ammunition for concert recaps to post over the coming weeks.

With three shows over three consecutive evenings, our first event would take place at the National Arts Centre in downtown Ottawa – catching up with recent GRAMMY recipient Allison Russell (touring to support her “The Returner” album). Purchasing those tickets the moment they were announced, we would later learn that Allison was inviting an ON-based supporting artist to join her on the Canadian leg of the tour – leaving us beaming upon learning that Oji-Cree singer-songwriter Aysanabee would handle such honors.

With a 40-minute set, Aysanabee received a huge welcome from the crowd when walking onto the Babs Asper Theatre stage (the second largest performing room within the NAC) – and as we witnessed when catching up with this artist last summer, was keen to discuss his inspiration and musical journey frequently between songs. Offering gratitude to Allison for this opportunity, one such thread centered around his first encounter with Allison during the Mariposa Folk Festival, and how he was lured to the stage when hearing her voice from afar.


Progressing seamlessly into “Miracles,” Ayasanabee recalled writing this song around that time he and Allison appeared on that festival bill. “I was invited to an Indigenous Awards ceremony, and they asked me to write a song for it, and I remember just staring at this piece of paper for weeks,” he shared. “I was going to be in this room of Indigenous excellence where no-one had ever heard of me, and I was going to go and play something I wrote for them.” He would add that it took an overseas trip and some advice from other songwriters to finally get the song down with very little time to spare.

Discussing his recent feature on the long-running CTV show “W5,” Aysanabee shared humorous insights from behind the scenes, stating he “was happy to learn that there are no skeletons in my closet,” and adding that “they don’t like you to see what they’ve put together… I stole food in college…” Continuing his tale, Aysanabee informed the room of how the show focused on where he grew up and where he learned to play guitar, adding that he was so nervous about performing in front of people, that he moved into a camper and played to an audience of nine cats.


With time for a couple of remaining songs, Aysanabee asked if there were any requests. The audience were quiet, until somebody had to ask for “Freebird” (numerous jokes about this being the most requested song when asked by any artist). Acknowledging the humor, Aysanabee shared that he had received a request for “Ego Death,” taking time to discuss how the song resonates still because it appears on his debut album that he dedicated to his grandfather. “I had these conversations with my grandfather, and I started recording these conversations, and so all the songs on the album have little clips of these conversations followed by songs that inspired them,” he explained. “This song was one I had written for myself, this regret that I had about not hearing these stories a lot sooner when there was more time.”

Closing with his popular album track, “War Cry,” Aysanabee offered a confession prior to the song. “I’m gonna spill the beans on this one. Miracles, that song I played second has the exact same chord structure as this one,” he commenced. “I didn’t realize that until I was preparing for the set, and I was like, I ripped myself off.”  Both artist and audience burst into laughter. “I was just gonna put them so far apart that maybe you wouldn’t notice,” he added in jest. “It’s one of the first ones I wrote for this record. All the songs are inspired by different stories that my grandfather told me, and the one story he told me, we talked about his experience in the residential school, which was something we never talked about. He grew up in a lot of small towns where sharing was not a thing, and he told me this story about how he and his friends would get together and share their own language at night when the priests and the nuns were asleep.”

Set List:

  1. Ocean Breath
  2. Miracles
  3. The Dawn
  4. Somebody else
  5. Ego death
  6. War Cry

Photo Credit: Ishkode Records (Official Images)

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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