A Conversation with Angel Baribeau - Cree, Queer, Non-Binary Artist
by Robert Flis / August 20, 2020
We continue our Summer Edition of Music Industry Talks with a very special artist whose message of love and acceptance can be appreciated by anyone. Angel Baribeau is a queer, non-binary singer songwriter who is originally from the Cree community of Misstissini, Quebec and joins us to talk about their musical journey which has lead all the way up to their debut solo album "For Those I Love(d)". Although they now live in Montreal, Angel spent most of their life in Misstissini and their first language was Cree. That culture is something Angel is striving to reclaim by re-learning the language and continuing to build relationships in the community through music.
How was music introduced to you?
Angel’s grandmother was one of their first introductions to music growing up. Even though she was hard of hearing, she played the guitar and never lost her love for creating music. Angel also spent long car rides listening to music with their father as he travelled for work, many of those artists becoming Angel’s heroes. But the point that Angel really identifies as the moment they acknowledged themselves as an artist was when their now-manager David Hodges came to their school with his mobile recording studio to put on a workshop for the students. Recognizing their talent – and the fact that they would never attend the workshop alone – Angel’s friend dragged them to the event where they had the opportunity to share lyrics and record their voice for the first time. That was the moment that made Angel say “I am a singer!" says Angel. “That was the first piece put into place. It really was just the beginning because I was only 13 years old. I had no idea what the music industry was.” From there Angel was fortunate enough to be enrolled in an arts concentration program which saw artists from all over doing residencies and teaching students in the community about their various disciplines. Angel was the first graduate of the program, and coming full circle, came back later to do a residency of their own and teach a new generation of students about their craft.
Who or what is the biggest influence on your music today?
Angel’s grandmother is still one of the biggest influences on their music, and they describe her as being one of the strongest women they know. One of Angel’s recent songs is directly inspired by her. Written from the perspective of someone having lived an entire life, it looks back on that experience while simultaneously looking forward to what lays ahead. “She’s definitely someone who’s influenced me and who continues to influence me,” says Angel. “Even though I haven’t seen her in probably about a year, I still pray about her and I still think about her all the time and the implications of what her life meant to mine and to my family’s.”
What challenges did you have to overcome growing up to get to where you are now?
“I think the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is myself,” says Angel. “My own mentality, my own belief in myself – I questioned it all the time.” Angel’s father often said that they were the only one standing in their way from achieving great things. What really opened Angel’s eyes to this reality was the realization that they actually wanted to achieve great things and that all they had to do was allow it to happen. “Depression definitely had a role to play in that,” Angel continues. “To this day I’m still somebody who suffers with that kind of mental illness [...] Because I’m a real person just like everybody else. Every day is like a continuous process of choosing to better my life, of choosing to live for all those people that died and prayed for their children to have good lives. That’s what I’m trying to be about!”Angel credits a great support system for helping them make it through their struggles with mental health. Between amazing social workers and several strong mother figures guiding them, Angel was fortunate to have many people in their life who only wanted the best for them. Surrounding yourself with the right people is something Angel views as absolutely essential for anyone working through depression. “That’s the only way to heal, is to want to heal yourself and to surround yourself with things that you feel are healing,” says Angel. “For me, that healing was looking for elders to give me cultural lessons and teachings because that was something I felt I just didn’t get.” Searching for cultural and spiritual wisdom is something that keeps Angel going even today. “That’s my journey, and it could be the same for other people,” they continue. “People who are searching for that ancestral knowledge and that reconnection. That’s super important too, it doesn’t matter what ethnicity or race or colour or whatever, those things are just as powerful.”
What is the message that you want to share with your music?
Angel’s message is relatable for anyone, but particularly people within the LGBTQ community who may be having difficulty finding or accepting their identity. “It’s ok to take up your space!” Angel exclaims. One of their mothers was the first person who opened Angel’s eye to this simple but important truth when she asked Angel what pronoun she preferred. As a non-binary person, Angel had always felt that they/them was the best fit, but never bothered to openly tell anyone. It was after that conversation that Angel realized "it’s ok to take up that space and ask others to respect who you are."
The new album "For Those I Love(d)"
Many of the songs on Angel’s recently released debut solo album touch upon themes of love. From the previously mentioned song about Angel’s grandmother, to songs about self-love and having to make hard decisions for yourself, the album really encompasses all facets of love for people both in the past and the present. The song “Savage” is a highlight of the album and it speaks to oppressed minority groups. “I wrote it specifically with indigenous people in mind,” explains Angel, “but then when I was listening to it, it really occurred to me it’s not just for indigenous people, it’s for anyone who feels like their power was taken and is continuously taken.” The song is meant to empower and remind people that they’re stronger when they stand together in the face of adversity.
How has the pandemic affected you?
Unfortunately, Angel was forced to cancel or postpone several shows due to the pandemic. Their album release was pushed from April to July and the release took place online with a Facebook Live event where Angel was able to give their fans an intimate look into their creative space. Angel sees this shift online as a largely positive thing, allowing more inclusion for people who otherwise wouldn’t have had been able to attend a physical event. They maintain that how you present yourself online is one of the biggest and most important things for a creator, and it is something that they have placed a lot of focus on this year. Angel also credits government grants for being something that has saved her project during the pandemic and recommends that artists and creators take advantage of these resources as much as they can.
What advice do you have for emerging artists?
“In these periods of lull when there’s nothing you can tangibly see that is happening, you have to remind yourself that everyone’s got their ups and downs,” Angel says. “Especially during this climate, things are scary. There’s a lot of uncertainty going into the future, but no matter what just stay true to your art and keep developing your craft.”
Angel is currently working on an acoustic session and is planning a music video for October. They are also working on collaborations with other indigenous artists and are open to working with anyone who expresses interest and shares the same values and message.
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