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Aysanabee is Here to Stay

The Oji-Cree singer songwriter returns, making anthems for a broken heart.

by Adriel Smiley

Photo by Kaela Leone

Fresh off his album release party, Aysanabee is preparing to join Juno Award-winning musician Dan Mangan on the east coast leg of his Going Elsewhere tour. Aysanabee signed with Ishkōdé Records in 2021, and it’s been almost a year since his last album, Watin – which was also his debut. The last track “Nomads” was a huge success, charting on both CBC Music and college radio. Named after his grandfather and including snippets of their phone conversations, the album itself shot up the charts as well. 

Aysanabee is Oji-Cree, Sucker Clan of the Sandy Lake First Nation in northern Ontario. His grandfather was a survivor of residential schools. At the time, he had no idea these phone calls would be anythingand the more they spoke about the past, the deeper their relationship grew. This birthed a beautiful record that helped his grandfather resolve some of his own feelings. “He found closure. This record was able to kind of give him this closure which is something residential school survivors don’t get,” Aysanabee says.

The reach of the album was boundless, and soon everyone around Watin knew more about him and who he was. “Suddenly he was able to just talk more about these things,” he says. “Some of these survivors going around for decades being like ‘This happened,’ and everyone just looking at them like they’re a crazy personso to have that validation.”

Aysanabee’s new project Here and Now takes a different tone. His follow-up is a self-proclaimed ‘break-up record.’ The end of a romantic relationship is never easy, especially while everything in your life is changing.

He was quickly becoming a role model, someone Indigenous people were seeing themselves in. Earlier this year, he became the first Indigenous artist to hit number one on Mediabase, Canada’s Alternative Rock Chart. Aysanabee started to get a sense of awareness of a bigger picture, and seeing it through meant less time spent in other areas of his life. “We were becoming a part of this really important conversation, this piece of Canada’s history,” he says. “Important work that needed to be done, and so much at the sacrifice of my personal life.”

Here and Now goes through the many difficult stages of a breakup. The song “Waste My Time” captures those initial feelings of anger and frustration when the separation is fresh. Later on in the project, “Alone” discusses the idea of losing yourself while trying to keep another person happy. 

Aysanabee worked with Ali Milner and Derek Hoffman on the song, which, according to him, turned out to be a really good trio. Milner was one of the first people Aysanabee started to write with, and the chemistry made things comfortable in the studio. “Ali has a calming presence, it just makes the room feel like this space where you can just, you know, spill your guts,” he says.

Here and Now quenches the appetite as a sequel. Although the context of this record is different, the authenticity remains. Like a true artist, Aysanabee is always experimenting, growing and putting his heart into the music. “I have definitely dated people who are like, ‘Why are you like Spock? Why don’t you have any emotions?’ I do,” he says. “I just put them on the songs now. I am shelved for a bit, but I’ll be back.”