Leela Gilday has spent the last five years creating her most vulnerable piece of work to date.

In her most recent album, North Star Calling, Gilday said stepping close to the microphone and setting aside the vocal gymnastics is what really connects with listeners.

The new album was recently nominated for Juno Awards in two categories: Indigenous Artist of the Year and Contemporary Roots Album.

North Star Calling portrays themes of connection to the land and destigmatizing mental health. Gilday says the album is about facing fears, standing in the pain, and living with courage, boldness and joy. Google Screenshot.

Though Gilday’s 2006 album Sedzé won the Juno for Aboriginal Recording of the Year, and her 2002 album – Spirit World, Solid Wood – garnered a nomination for Aboriginal Recording of the Year, this is Gilday’s first nomination outside of an Indigenous artist category. It is also the first time she has been up for two Juno Awards at once.

Gilday has also been nominated for two Canadian Folk Music Awards – Indigenous Songwriter of the Year and Single of the Year with song K’eintah Natse Ju. That awards show will take place this weekend.

In North Star Calling, Gilday touches on themes of connection with the land and destigmatizing mental health – two points of focus that have become increasingly important throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, she said.

“With our lives being shifted completely, with separation from loved ones, there’s a lot of really hard stuff that people are going through in this past year and a half,” Gilday said. “I’ve relied a lot on music as something to buoy me and to heal me and I’m just glad that other people can find that in my music as well. That’s a big part of the reason that I’m a public artist, to reach out and connect with people and uplift them.”

Before putting this record together, Gilday said she had taken a step back from writing and recording music. Moving away temporarily from the album cycle, Gilday returned to the studio once she felt she had “enough important things to say.”

North Star Calling Deepest Body of Work

Gilday calls North Star Calling her “deepest body of work.”

She credits producer Hill Kourkoutis with bringing out a vision that Gilday herself hadn’t found.

Kourkoutis “encouraged me to sing in a way that was without artifice, and very vulnerable and very honest,” Gilday said.

As a producer, Kourkoutis said her job is to listen to the artist. The vulnerability in Gilday’s lyrics called for a more introspective sound, she said. She explained that albums evolve naturally through a series of conversations and check-ins. While she may have challenged Gilday to try things differently, Kourkoutis said she was just looking to support the story Gilday had already created in her songwriting.

“Because of the trust and friendship we had built, we intuitively found our way for creating the album,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to tell the stories, and tell them honestly and hope that people connect with them. I believe Leela is such a beautiful storyteller and beacon of light, and I’m really happy her work is being acknowledged.”

In their first collaboration, Toronto-based producer Hill Kourkoutis says the trust and friendship built with recording artist Leela Gilday helped to create an honest and vulnerable album.
Photo courtesy of Hill Kourkoutis

The Juno Awards will take place on May 16.

Even though the ceremony is virtual, Gilday said she still plans to dress up at home.

After such a tumultuous year, doing so will make her feel good to bring memories of “normalcy,” she said.

Plus, having an opportunity to show off Dene fashion is a bonus, Gilday said.

Natalie Pressman

Reporting courts and cops and general news, Natalie started with NNSL Media in 2020. Before moving to Yellowknife, Natalie worked as a community radio trainer in Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First...

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