Fri, Mar 17|
Morgan Toney & Keith Mullins
Enjoy this extraordinary beautiful Mi’kmaltic (Mi’kmaq + Celtic) music all the way from Cape Breton!
Time & Location
Mar 17, 2023, 8:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Kitchener, 122 Frederick St, Kitchener, ON N2H 2L9, Canada
About the event
The IRL Festival is proud to present Morgan Toney and Keith Mullins for an extraordinary night of Cape Breton and Mi’kmaq music!
Music’s an almost alchemical force to Canadian Mi'kmaq fiddler and singer Morgan Toney. From the first time he really heard music, sitting on the floor of his uncle’s house transfixed by a DVD of Phil Collins, to 2022 where he’s one of the most in-demand young fiddlers and singers in Atlantic Canada, was nominated for three East Coast Canadian Music Awards, and his debut album, First Flight, is being reissued by Indigenous record label Ishkode Records. In just a short amount of time, Toney’s been able to invigorate both the Atlantic music communities and Mi’kmaq communities by bringing together the fiery fiddling of Cape Breton Island with the old songs of the Mi’kmaq, one song dating back up to 500 years. He calls this fusion Mi’kmaltic (Mi’kmaq + Celtic) and it's his way of celebrating his language and heritage. He’s honouring the elders who’ve taught him the songs and the language, and he’s taking his place on the front lines of Eastern Canada’s cultural divide.
Though Toney’s fiddling has been celebrated across Canada, including special appearances with Ashley MacIsaac, Jimmy Rankin, and more, it might make sense that his first instrument were the drums. Just a kid in his uncle’s house, Phil Collins’ drumming sparked something inside him. Later at home with that DVD, Toney pulled the pots and pans out of the cupboard to play along and never really stopped. Though he was born in We'koqma'q First Nation on Cape Breton Island, Toney credits the move when he was a teenager to Wagmatcook with the start of his musical and spiritual interests. At a school that featured smudging ceremonies, prayers in Mi'kmaq, and the Mi’kmaq Honour song, Toney was surrounded by the culture. From the drumset, he moved to the First Nations drum, learning the songs from elders directly in talking circles. An example of Mi'kmaq governance, the talking circles are often led by elders, with whoever is holding a feather given enough space to speak, tell stories, or sing. “It gives everyone a chance to say what they have to say in a respectful manner,” Toney explains. “In every talking circle I’ve been to there’s always a song. It’s either a song I know that I can sing or a new song I hadn’t heard before. I never walked away from the talking circle without learning that new song.”
A chance encounter at the Baddeck restaurant where Toney was working at the time introduced Toney to Cape Breton artist and producer Keith Mullins. The two bonded quickly over music and have been inseparable ever since, operating as musical partners and pushing each other to craft bigger arrangements and to try bigger ideas. Mullins heard Toney sing the “Ko’jua”, a Mi'kmaq social song, and knew he had to record it. The Ko’jua is a song family from deep in Mi'kmaq tradition, dating back 500 years or more. Inspired by the unusual example of local fiddler Vincent Joe who had learned the Mi’kmaq Honour Song on the fiddle, Toney figured he could do the same thing with the more difficult Ko’jua song. “There are two worlds of Mi’kmaq music,” Toney explains, “song and fiddle. They had never come together before. People knew of each, but never had I ever seen a collaboration between Celtic and Mi'kmaq culture before. It was either play Mi’kmaq songs with a drum or record a Cape Breton fiddle album. I knew I could sing, but me and Keith really had to think how we could give something out to the world that was different and made sense at the same time. We did that, we blended the two together and it’s been crazy. It’s like an explosion. It’s so fresh, but also familiar, and people can connect with it on a personal level.” Now Toney’s shows are full of both Mi'kmaq and Cape Bretoners reveling in a shared culture, and he’s created a new sound that bridges two worlds, drawing a sense of pure love from both.
With all the accolades and attention he’s been receiving recently, it’s easy to forget that Morgan Toney is so new to the music, having only played the fiddle for a few years. But there’s something deeper at work here. When he brought his fiddle back to the same uncle whose Phil Collins DVD first inspired him, Toney’s relative let him know that Toney actually comes from a long line of fiddlers. His great-grandfather and three of his great-uncles were all Mi'kmaq fiddlers of renown in the community. In a sense, Toney’s coming back full circle. And circles are something he understands. “We are living in circles,” he says. “The earth is a circle. The drum is a circle, how we move around is a circle, and how we greet each other. The talking circle is huge.”
Presented with support by the Region of Waterloo Arts Fund.
Cash bar available.
Morgan Toney$25.00+$0.63 service fee