Indigenous Artist Spotlight: Celeigh Cardinal

Ontario Presents and its member presenting organizations recognize the importance of presenting Indigenous artists, stories and culture as part of their presenting practice. As we continue to encourage the respectful presentation of Indigenous art, we will be featuring an Indigenous artist each month in our e-newsletter and blog. Our sincere thanks to Denise Bolduc for conceiving of and continuing to support this Spotlight Series. 

Started in 2018, the Indigenous Artist Spotlight series is intended to foster greater awareness and understanding of the strength and diversity of Indigenous art available in Ontario and beyond. As Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists face an incredibly difficult time, we will continue to spotlight inspiring Indigenous artists. 

Find all of our past Spotlight interviews here.

Celiegh Cardinal headshot

This month we spoke with Juno-winning singer-songwriter Celeigh Cardinal.

To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your music?

I’ve been singing on stage since I was 4. I knew from a young age that singing was a way to express and exchange love, and to this day, that is the reason why I do it. The songs I write are expressions of my experiences. I write whatever I am compelled to write and when I’m compelled to write, so the singer/songwriter Celeigh Cardinal is very much sporadically productive, but, authentically me.  

You’ve said previously that you think people relate to your music because you’re very literal – you say what you mean. Can you talk a bit about that and the inspirations behind Songs from a Downtown Apartment?

Most of the songs from Downtown Apartment document my life during the past few years when I first lived in my Edmonton apartment. There was heartbreak, grief, breakups, but also love and joy. It’s a few chapters of my story. 

I say that I’m literal because I truly “tell it like it is” and really don’t hold back on much. I think that kind of bluntness can resonate with people who have felt similar feelings.

Like the song “Do You Know?” where I wrote a song to a woman who was with the person I was in love with, but I didn’t even know if she I knew I existed (in that way). I felt like he had hidden me away, while telling me that he loved me, and the decided she was the better choice for him. Turns out he was lying to many people, and I was just one of many. But that story is laid out in all its vulnerable honesty. It’s true, and it’s painful. I think the realness of that hits home for some folks.

You’ve also referenced the importance of connecting with other Indigenous artists as you developed your career- how did you make those connections when you first moved to Edmonton? Do you have any advice for young Indigenous artists looking to build their own network?

Yea, it wasn’t until I moved to the “Big City” that I started to find connections that were meaningful to build community with. I was on my own, as an Indigenous person and as an artist for a long time. I was actually sought out by Leela Gilday, an incredible Dene artist from NWT, who invited me into the Indigenous community she was part of. 

As soon as I was with people who were like me, not even just Indigenous people, but artists, or folks who were once disconnected from their heritage, I was empowered to reclaim my own heritage and it gave me a whole new type of grounding. I would suggest to any young artist to seek community – but specifically, one where they feel like home the minute they step into it. Never stop searching for it. Once you’re there, you’ll feel a whole new sense of freedom and support.

You’ve talked previously about how important Indigenous representation is to you – have you seen changes in representation in Canadian media in recent years? Do you think that people’s narrow ideas of what an Indigenous artist can do (which you’ve also referenced) are starting to broaden?

I’ve certainly seen changes in Canadian media in the recently years, and more specifically, since the Black Lives Matter protests, I’ve seen more folks seeking out artists of colour to support and uplift. It really was about white people being able to see past their own experiences and believe black and brown people when we express what’s happened, happening, in our history and our communities. The gaslighting of BIPOC is written in history, our curriculum, it’s everywhere. There is a lot of work to be done.

This question is floating around a lot these days, but it’s so important – what lessons from this pandemic time do you hope we as the performing arts sector carry forward into the future?

I’m learning what makes me feel in optimum health, I’m learning how to manage my depression, and I’m learning to create a stable, comfortable sanctuary at my home to keep me grounded. Truly I’ve learned so much this last year, and I’m grateful for all the silver linings that have come from a really difficult time.

What’s next for you? I believe you’re working on your next album?

I am working on a new album, slowly. That album will be a bit of a process, so I’m letting it unfold as it needs to. But, I’m also going to be releasing a couple of songs in the spring, just some stuff I felt compelled to work on, and there will be some videos with it, which I’m excited about. As much as I love the process of the album, I also love instant gratification, so Spring 2021 – watch for me!

Find Celeigh on: Website | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube | Twitter

Thank you to Celeigh for sharing with us!

Photo by Emilie Iggiotti