Keeping the Song Alive

Sonny Assu, Live from the ‘Latch, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Keeping the Song Alive

Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, Vancouver, BC - To Mar 19

by Robin Laurence

Complemented by ceremonial regalia, films, historical photographs and contemporary art, the focus of this rich and resonant exhibition is an astonishing collection of traditional potlatch songs. Sung by the late Kwakwaka’wakw chiefs Billy Assu and Mungo Martin, they were recorded many decades ago by ethnomusicologist Ida Halpern. A Jewish immigrant to Canada who fled the Holocaust, Halpern “understood the impact of cultural erasure,” says guest curator Cheryl ’Ka’kaso’las Wadhams. The sacred Kwakwaka’wakw songs endure.

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