Posted By PowWows.com October 8th, 2014 Last Updated on: October 8th, 2014

Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards Best New Artist Leonard Sumner!

Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards Best New Artist Leonard Sumner!

Best New Artist! Leonard Sumner stuns audiences everywhere he performs, yet at this year's Aboriginal People's Choice Awards, this Anishinaabe artist found himself surprised with a coveted award. Leonard Sumner shares his path to victory with Powwows.com!

Leonard Sumner stylishly blends musical genres into his own unique songs!

Leonard Sumner stylishly blends musical genres into his own unique songs!

Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, PHD, Native American Culture Editor

Q)Congratulations!!! Best New Artist at the APCMA is a tremendous accomplishment! Please introduce yourself to us?

A) My name is Leonard Sumner I’m Anishinaabe from the Little Saskatchewan First Nation located in the Interlake Region of Manitoba, currently based out of Winnipeg. I am an Emcee/Singer-Songwriter that combines the lyricism and delivery of hip-hop with a touch of country/rhythm and blues.

Q) How intriguing! You have created a fascinating melange of musical styles! How do you mix music and culture?

A) I am Anishinaabe before anything else, my experience as an Indigenous person influences everything I do and works its way into my music. I feel it’s important to share our points of view and our stories. We’ve gone on long enough with outside systems trying to define who we are.

There are definitely a lot of hardships that our peoples have been through and are currently living. I don’t shy away from speaking about these topics in the songs I write. I do my best to turn negatives to positives. I am able to do this because I embrace the values of Anishinaabek Culture.

Q) How did you start performing? What are some of your favorite accomplishments? Please give us the highlight reel!

A) I started out singing at Treaty Day Celebration Talent Shows on different Reserves in the Interlake. Whether it was Karaoke or with a Band, that’s where I found out I had a skill that I could work with.

My hip-hop background goes back to about the same time. I was probably 14 when I started writing verses and freestyling. I loved old school country and hip-hop: CCR, NWA, Johnny Cash, Scarface… All of that inspired me.

When I was in my early 20s I bought a guitar… I had it for about 3 years before I learned anything relevant. Eventually I learned G, C, E minor, and D with a chord book… I learned some rhythm on Youtube and practiced A LOT before I could ever sing, chord and strum at the same time.

I don’t really know what to list as my accomplishments there’s a lot of cool things music has given me… If I had to narrow it down I guess it would be these;

· Playing Aboriginal Day Live at the Forks on June 21st 2014 – A Nationally Televised show that celebrates the Summer Solstice and Indigenous Artists.

· Winning “Best New Artist” at the 2014 Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards – the people voted this award… I am eternally thankful for this, plus the energy in the building was unreal.

· Touring the festival circuit the past 2 years I’ve played: Vancouver Folk Fest, Calgary Folk Fest, Edmonton Heritage Days, Regina Folk Fest, Harrison Festival of the Arts, Siksika Nation Music Fest, Vancouver Island Music Fest… and many more, each time there’s a new memory and something to cherish.

· I’ve traveled to a lot of Reserves as well, being able to play for Indigenous people means a lot to me. I first started making music to prove that we can be successful in any field we choose. My path involves music and storytelling, and I certainly feel like I’m proving that point.

· Independently funding, recording and releasing my album “Rez Poetry” and working with my producer Doug Cox.

· Any time I make my friends and family proud of what I do is the greatest accomplishment for me.

Q) Wow! You are so blessed! What has changed in your life and outlook, since you started your musical career?

A) When I was younger, without knowing I was in a very colonized mind-state.
I didn’t have as much of an understanding of my cultural practices as I do today. Learning about these things has helped me on my journey.

Initially, there was a void in the way I made music (early teens). I was trying to tell a story that was not a truthful representation of who I was. I would imitate what I heard from popular artists. It wasn’t until I started telling my experiences as a young Anishinaabek that I started getting recognition. I had to come to an understanding that my story is just as valid to tell as anybody else’s.

I used to write a lot when I was angry, it helped to calm me down and focus that energy into something constructive. The cultural practices I’ve picked up teach a lot about patience and understanding. I guess creatively it has taken some of the edge off of my newer songs and allowed me to speak more clearly on topics of relevance in the indigenous community without the need to rely on aggressive energy.

Q) What's your focus,culturally and musically, that you hope to share with your listeners?

A) If I had to explain it easily, our ways of life are best experienced personally with the land & people you love and trust.

I hope my music inspires people to do their best, I hope it helps when you’re feeling down. I wrote a lot of these songs when I was personally battling a lot of negative forces in my life. I wasn’t always in a good place when I made these songs. They often came from pain and confusion, but they are the result of using that energy in a positive way. They are proof that you can make the best out of the worst.

Q)That's such a positive outlook! How do you encourage young people to practice our Native cultures and traditions?

A) I encourage it by practicing it as much as I can and understanding that we live in a modern era where it’s important to have an education in two worlds.

I think practicing your culture is like taking your spirit to university.
The more you put in to it, the more you get out of it.

What I really wish is for the language speakers and older generations to start teaching young people everything they know about their languages. Everybody puts it on young people to be the saviors of the languages, but we need good teachers for that to work.

Q) What are some of the most important lessons you have learned that are helping you to overcome struggles in your own life?

A) I struggled a lot with being healthy physically. I used to weigh 360lbs, I’m down to 270 now. I’m still working on myself, every day. I don’t always make the best choices when it comes to diet and exercise, but I recently took up Jiu-Jitsu and Biking and it has helped me stay somewhat in shape. Diabetes is real yo.

Q) What do you think makes a strong performer even stronger? What weakens a strong one?

A) I think honesty, respect, craftsmanship, experience, humility and hard work are the best things you can use as an artist/performer. The music world is like NDN Country; it’s a small world. If you’re out being a jerk to someone, word gets around. You have to be respectful and understanding of situations going on.

Most destructive…
– Having an over-inflated ego
– Being too hard on yourself
– Not putting in work (Practice!)
– Having a sense of entitlement
– Treating people poorly

Q) Who are some of your favorite musicians? Why?

A) Nick Sherman – Great friend, great song-writer.
A Tribe Called Red – They’re amazing.
Samantha Crain – Watch the video “Santa Fe” or “Scissor Tales”.
Dead Indians – Dope lyricists, but no longer making music together.
Sturgill Simpson – He’s an interesting dude with an old school sound.
Johnny Cash – Self-explanatory
Kendrick Lamar – Great flow, lyrics and production.
Steve Earle – One of my favourite songwriters.

I could list 100 more…

Q) If you could offer any advice to someone who would like to learn more and possibly start performing, what would it be?

A) Embrace your gift, keep working hard, practice lots, play lots, have fun and compare your material to your favourite artists in the genre you’re playing.

Q) If you could offer any warnings to someone starting out in music, what would you caution them NOT to do?

A) I’m not sure how to answer this one. Everyone’s path is different; sometimes you have to learn things the hard way.

Q) What would you like us to know that we don't already know about you?

A) I’m a Capricorn.
My guitar’s name is Bae.
Lots of people call me Uncle.
I once played a song with James Burton who was Elvis Presley’s guitar player.
I’m on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @LeonardSumner

REZ POETRY by Leonard Sumner!

REZ POETRY by Leonard Sumner!

Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » NEW STAR ON THE HORIZON: APCMA BEST NEW ARTIST LEONARD SUMNER

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