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Gizhiiwemusic: A New Indigenous Record Label

Award-winning Anishinaabe singer-songwriter Ansley Simpson got tired of shopping her music to traditional labels, so the Toronto based artist decided to do something about it.

She started a record label of her own called Gishiiwemusic, which is an Anishinaabe word for speaks with, or sings with a loud voice.

Q: What experiences led you to start Gizhiiwemusic?

A: Personally I have found that when I’ve been shopping albums to labels, the experience wasn’t that good. There is a general feeling that they can just decide what to do with your work and you become a passive person involved in the process. That seems to be very common, although not true for every label.

I had specific needs and they were getting steamrolled by decisions that were monetarily based. It was more about how to get the track out to the most people without considering if I wanted to involve people from my community, or if I even wanted a video component. I felt my path as an Indigenous musician wasn’t gelling with the settler music industry.

Q: And that was the impetus for your own label?

A: I’ve been an independent artist this entire time, and I felt if I shifted to my own label format, not only could I start to release my own work into the world, I could also help other Indigenous artists release their work in the way they want it to be released.

I wanted to see if I could address a need in the industry for Indigenous artists to be represented in a way that makes sense to their individual and cultural needs.

For example, they don’t want to do a tour in Europe or perform in a bar where there’s a lot of drinking because it culturally doesn’t sit well with them. These concepts are very new to the major labels.

That’s not to say the bigger labels don’t work for Indigenous artists. I have a lot of colleagues and friends on major labels in Canada and they’re getting their needs met, but they have to have ongoing conversations explaining the choices they want to make.

Q: Would you say in general mainstream record companies are all about business only?

A: It’s hard to say. Streaming has changed the industry so much that there aren’t as many revenue streams any longer. When you find a revenue stream, there’s a tendency to want to grab it and do as much with it as you can. I found that works for some of my projects but not for all of them.

Q: Are you working on any projects for Gishiiwemusic?

A: Yes a collaboration with my sister, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. We came up with something really creative, a beautiful track that conventionally won’t fit a normal label. It’s called “Solidification.” I’m excited to find out how it will be received. It will come out July 30th, and it’s connected to an EP Leanne is working on that will be released in September.

Q: And your next steps?

A: I’m starting on a small scale. I’ll have to do a lot of behind the scenes admin because that’s what it takes. It’s the behind the scenes things to organize how you’re releasing your music that takes the most time.

And I’m hoping I can help indigenous artists define the path they want to take, and then support them with those specific needs, knowing they will vary from artist to artist.

You can find out more about Gishiiwemusic here.

And “Solidification” will stream this weekend on Sappyfest.

And you can find out even MORE right here

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