Buffy Sainte-Marie

By Rick Garrick

Buffy Sainte-Marie enjoyed working with fellow Polaris Music Prize winner Tanya Tagaq on You Got to Run (Spirit of the Wind), a new song on her latest album: Medicine Songs.

“It was fun — we recorded for one day in a studio in Toronto called the Orange Room, which is one of my favourite studios,” says Sainte-Marie, a Cree musician from Saskatchewan whose songs have been sung and recorded by Janis Joplin, Elvis Presley, Donovan, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. “We had a ball. Tanya and I like each other a lot — we go back a long way and we’ve always wanted to work together. So for us it was kind of a dream come true. I’m singing lead and she’s doing throat singing, but she’s also singing along on the choruses with me and it just kind of beefs it up. It was two Indigenous women who know what is going on in Indian country and yet we’re both kind of on the edge of the star system in show business. So we have a lot in common and we like working together and I hope we get to work together again.”

Sainte-Marie says You Got to Run is about encouraging people to do something to improve the world.

“It’s really about being a champion, whether you are running for office to make things better or whether you are running in a marathon for good health and to support something that the marathon is about,” Sainte-Marie says. “It’s about being a champion inside yourself.”

Sainte-Marie says You Got to Run is also about breaking the cycle of war, oppression, inequity, violence, bullying and other issues from the past.

“I see young people who are really eager to break the cycle,” Sainte-Marie says. “So You Got to Run is about that too, it’s about believing that we can do better than what has been handed to us from the past.”

Sainte-Marie says the Medicine Songs album features new recordings of her activist songs and songs of protest, including Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Generation, Universal Soldier and The War Racket.

“They are songs that I have written over the last 50 years, and they are not all protest (songs),” Sainte-Marie says. “Some of them are very positive, like Star Walker and Carry It On and the one I did with Tanya Tagaq.”

Sainte-Marie says there was a “great” response during the Medicine Songs tour, which includes stops in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Ontario as well as in Australia and Europe.

“I just feel as though people are ready for help, positivity, encouragement,” Sainte-Marie says. “The records been out for two days and it’s selling like heck — people are buying it and loving it.”

Sainte-Marie adds that the tour features a diverse range of music, from rockabilly to rock and roll to acoustic songs.

“People are usually dancing by the end, but there’s a lot of hard hitting material too, like My Country ’Tis of Thy People You’re Dying, which is the first use of the word genocide,” Sainte-Marie says. “I wrote it in the 1960s and people just didn’t believe it. They said: ‘Oh, she must be mistaken.’ I try to make songs like that bulletproof so people will find out that they are true and try to find out more and to make things better.”

The album was released on Nov. 10 and is available from iTunes, True North Records, Amazon and buffysainte-marie.com.