THIS STORY IS FROM THE 2015 VAULT
Buffy Sainte-Marie was 23 when she released her first album, It’s My Way, in 1964, and 51-years later the title track serves as the leadoff to her new album, Power in the Blood. “I’ve got my own path only I can go,” she sang all those years ago, and that path has been filled with conviction and a life spent as an activist — through songs, actions and teaching.
Back then, the singer-songwriter, born on the Piapot Cree First Nations Reserve in Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan, was named Billboard magazine’s Best New Artist. Two of those early songs, the war condemnation “Universal Soldier” and addiction confessional “Cod’ine” became folk classics, the former covered by everyone from Donovan to Chumbawamba and Jake Bugg; the latter also by Donovan, Janis Joplin and Courtney Love. “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone,” about the confiscation of Indian lands, includes the lines “Oh, it’s all in the past you can say / But it’s still going on here today,” and decades later she is still writing about Aboriginal issues.
The topics don’t really change on Power in the Blood — war, government greed, Native rights and respect. Samaritanmag talks with Sainte-Marie about them all, and more.
You’ve had over 50 years of activism! And in your music too. Some artists like Bryan Adams — who just got a humanitarian award — is an interesting case because he’s so socially aware and such a big humanitarian but he made one album only that addressed political and social issues and then kept those views out of his music. Why is it important for you to do both? You have love songs and social activism or criticisms.
Because I can have something like ‘Universal Soldier’ pop into my head as a big idea, but then I sit down and, unlike a love song, I’ll work on it because I want really to give it to other people intact. And I feel as though the art of a three-minute song is a great skill.
“Well thanks for recognizing both. And there’s a lot in between those two extremes. But it all just comes naturally to me. If a song pops into my head, who am I to send it away? So the kind of writer I am, it’s like if you go to sleep at night you don’t know if you’re going to dream. And you couldn’t possibly figure out what you’re going to dream. So songs have come to me — they still come to me in the same way— and they’re about everything. They’re about happy things and sad things and everything in between. So I’ve always written about the countryside, like ‘Piney Wood Hills’ and the ‘Farm in the Middle of Nowhere,’ but I’ve always written about hard things like ‘Power in the Blood,’ ‘Universal Soldier,’ and love songs too. But you work on them differently. It’s a different process. Because I can have something like ‘Universal Soldier’ pop into my head as a big idea, but then I sit down and, unlike a love song, I’ll work on it because I want really to give it to other people intact. And I feel as though the art of a three-minute song is a great skill.”
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