By Barb Nahwegahbow

Carmen Jones of Serpent River First Nation

Carmen Jones of Serpent River First Nation

TORONTO – It’s about journeys and changes and life’s experiences, says Carmen Jones about her music.

Her recently-released CD, Can You See It? , is a compilation of jazz, bluegrass and folk songs. Mandolin, fiddle, piano and banjo accompany her lyrics. Music is in her blood.

“Back home,” she says, “everyone would play a guitar, mandolin, the organ. But as a child, all I did was watch and listen and stepdance.” It was only later that she told her grandmother, ‘I’m gonna play this thing,’ referring to the guitar.

Her roots are in Serpent River First Nation, but Jones grew up in Garden River.

In 1997, she began going through many life changes including the breakup of her marriage. It was a time of reflection, she recalls, and “a time for me to look at our teachings. I could hear the Grandmothers singing.” She was compelled to write her first song, The Time Has Come. It’s the first track on her first album.

Her song Famous for a Day tells the story of two singers aspiring to fame and fortune. On a whim, armed with their CDs, they tour First Nations in southern Ontario, offering to sing at radio stations in Cape Croker, Oneida and Six Nations. It’s a trip Jones took with her friend, the late Archie Cheechoo from Moose Factory. At their “date with fame” in Cape Croker, they stopped in at a restaurant and heard Jones’ voice playing. Excited, she stood up and told the patrons, “Hey! That’s me. I’m singing on the radio.”

Jones hasn’t been idle since. She’s been gathering stories.

The first song on her latest CD is called She is a Warrior. “It’s about all us women,” says Jones. “We may not be leaders in our community, but we are warriors because we are the ones who raise the children. We are the ones that keep the language. We are the ones that pass the culture. People think of warriors as only being men, but women are warriors too.”

Mogoowin is a song that came to Jones as she stood at the podium welcoming international delegates to a world conference on breast cancer in Nova Scotia. She was then Director of Cancer Care Ontario and the conference was organized by First Nations. The women entered the conference from the four directions to the sound of the drum. “When I was standing there,” recalls Jones, “the line I had in my head was, I see their faces, life has done them wrong, and it’s about their beauty yet. That’s all I heard along with the sound of the distant drums.”

Elder Shirley Williams from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve gave Jones the word for cancer. That’s what she named the song. It’s haunting, sad, and “it’s very powerful” says Jones.

Can You See It? is available on iTunes and available at in their on-line store where it’s catalogued under Folk.