Hitting the Right Notes

Celeigh Cardinal reflects on her career and heritage as a recipient of the 2020 Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund

Celeigh Cardinal is sitting at her kitchen table making music. “I’m sitting here listening to myself sing one song like, 20 times and picking the best from each take,” Cardinal explains. She is a singer/songwriter who uses music to tell the stories of her life.

Cardinal’s 2019 album was called Stories from a Downtown Apartment.

“When telling my stories is it important to me to speak openly about feelings like grief and love, that is what my last album was. These days, life is pretty slow and I have been considering and writing about other topics,” Cardinal says, describing how COVID-19 has made changes to her writing process.

“I am working on my next album so that is what I am trying to put my time into. But I can’t stop working, I’m not good at standing still, so I decided I needed to work on a few other projects as well. I am constantly creating new work for myself, for better or for worse,” says Cardinal.

She’s been using space at an Anglican church for a stage, explaining, “It was an experiment in taking space while recording. I am more comfortable performing vocals on stage than in a vocal booth.”

Cardinal, who is Métis, uses her songs to tell the stories of Indigenous people in Canada too.

“Part of the Métis experience is living between worlds and for me, I felt like I didn’t really belong anywhere … I think that feeling is always there,” says Cardinal. She grew up disconnected from Indigenous communities because her father grew up in foster care.

“I tend to perform in a really emotionally vulnerable space. That’s how music best resonates in my body,” says Cardinal.

She says the theme for her next album is euphoria. “It’s about that feeling when you were sick and then you when you start to heal, you feel euphoria. A lot of things happened to me this past year that made me really look at where I am at in the healing process,” says Cardinal.

Cardinal has won a lot of awards lately, at the 2018 Western Canadian Music Awards, and most recently, in 2020 she won the Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year.

She also keeps busy in her community, helping others through her love of music. Brayden Treble, a bandmate as well as the person who nominated her for the Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund — a joint project between the Edmonton Arts Council and the Edmonton Community Foundation — says that Cardinal has always been a mentor to others in the music industry.

“She is incredibly, incredibly talented but she is full of humility. She is always down to help out.”

“She does a lot for representation of Indigenous people in the music community,” says Treble. Cardinal has told him of young girls coming up to her, excited to see someone like themselves singing and making music.

“She has a radio program on CKUA highlighting Indigenous music, called Full Circle. That is a really big deal, I think and she has done a fantastic job of it,” says Treble.

For a while, during COVID, her band was still able to travel, isolate, and then perform as a cohort. “We were fortunate that way but I have postponed a European tour, for two years in a row now, and also had to cancel Australian showcases,” Cardinal says.

”I still really believe that those opportunities will be there when the world opens back up, and I’ll be readier than I’ve ever been.”

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