Echoes of tradition
By Greg Ceci
Music, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory
Kanyen’kehá heritage and traditions forge Jennifer Brant’s music, songwriting and personal journeys. Brant still resides on the family farm in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and as a girl, milking cows, farm chores, harvesting sap and prepping fields filled her days. Sundays were a day of learning, rest and music with family and friends.
Traditions were instilled early, learning social songs with the Quinte Mohawk Singers and Dancers while elders shared time-honoured tales and taught skills like beading and leather crafts. Her musical indoctrination was her Father’s doing. Brant muses, “Dad had an old Kay guitar he’d strum – he would get me to sing “Roses Are Red” and Grandpa would play “You Are My Sunshine” on a lap steel.”
At eight, her parents gifted her a Bontempi organ. At nineteen she learned guitar and later bass but her instrument of choice was always her voice. Earliest influences came from albums and the barn radio as Brant sang along to Johnny Cash, Herb Alpert and Charlie Pride while fulfilling farm duties.
Brant remarked, “In elementary school, I participated in music lessons, choir, and Kanyen’kéha music and dancing. When I was twenty both my Dad’s trio and the Napanee Old Time Fiddlers invited me to sing – from there I attended open mics to learn my craft.”
Her parents built a hall for monthly music events and a yearly festival called “Just Past The Pines Jamboree.” Jen’s focus shifted to writing and performing her own material soon after encouragement from Bernie Dobbin. It was sound advice as Brant has since released two CDs and still performs “Promises Of Love” – one of her first songs.
She also began to share and hone her skills with influential local songwriters Bob McQuaid, Stephen Medd and Lynn and Brittany Brant. When asked about songwriting she remarked, “I have an idea in my head and I start singing. Now, I grab my phone and make a recording with a voice memo but before cell phones when I got an idea for “Old Slash Road,” I’d sing and then pull over and write – it was a long drive home. Other times I let the idea sit for a day or two then grab my guitar and work it out.”
Some songs Brant has penned include “Two Lovers,” a song about their creation story, “Keep Our Water Clean” told from the perspective of the fish, and “Testani-Turn it Around” outlines the principles of peace and working together. Her latest song It’s “Wintertime Again” is a time to pass on folklore about how we impact the Earth.Brant continues to teach in her community, write songs and perform with husband Kieran and her band Mustang but traditions are lifelong echoes.
“The more I understand of our Kanyen’kéha culture – it affects my perspective and songwriting. The Earth is our mother and we have a relationship and responsibility with all of creation.”