Tomson Highway Interview

A member of the Order of Canada, Tomson Highway is one of Canada’s greatest artists. Named as “One of the 100 most important people in Canadian history” by Macleans’ Magazine, Highway’s many awards include the Dora Mavor Award for Best New Play and Best Production, the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award amongst others.

We asked Tomson to tell us a little bit about Songs in the Key of Cree which he presents at CanadaHub during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as part of the 2019 Indigenous Contemporary Scene programme. 

Over to you Tomson…

What was your inspiration for ‘Songs in the Key of Cree’?

“The inspiration for the show was the beauty of the spirit of the Indigenous people of Canada. As with every people on the face of the Earth, there has been sadness, yes, and loss but there is also beauty. And no matter what happens, the human spirit will never lose that beauty. That’s what artists are here for: to keep it alive. I want the audience to take away a sense of joy and hope for the future.”

What are the themes which run through the show?

“The theme of the show is love; love is touched on a lot within the course of the show. Political? No. Educational? No, not really. It is, in the end, about entertainment, first and foremost — it will make people laugh, it will make people cry — but entertainment with a very strong social conscience. The show does not preach. It gives its message of joy and hope by opening hearts, by lifting spirits. And they will, indeed, be opened. And lifted.”

What sets this apart from other Festival shows?

“The use of the Cree language. The author’s Native tongue, it is the Indigenous language of the 90 or so that exist in Canada that is most well-preserved, that is most still alive where most have died, or are in the process of dying. That is to say, this may be the last chance for European audiences to hear a language that may be dying, a language that has some powerful insights into the world and the way it functions, especially vis-a-vis such as issues as climate change and the environment, the preservation of the planet beyond the end of the 21st century.”

Does the show call for change?
If so, what would you like to see happen?

“As I say, the show doesn’t preach but it does touch on encouragement for humanity to include nature in the great circle – not straight line but circle, on which Indigenous languages are based – of life, including the inclusion of not just two but many genders on that circle, the idea that Earth is both male and female at one and the same time.”

Songs in the Key of Cree runs 31 Jul – 18 Aug at CanadaHub – book tickets