Essentials… with Kinnie Starr

Each week, Essentials allows Canadian musicians to share the things that have helped get through through the pandemic, and why they still can’t live without them.

These days, it’s all but taken for granted that artists have free rein to blur genres while at the same time drawing from their cultural backgrounds to fuel their musical explorations. However, back in the ‘90s Kinnie Starr was one of the few artists blazing that trail by combining punk, pop, hip-hop and spoken word, often in French and Spanish along with English.

The Calgary-born, Vancouver-based artist’s unique vision led her to sign with Island/Def Jam in 1997, join the inaugural Lilith Fair tour, and later collaborate with Cirque du Soleil. Still, Starr never felt comfortable in the major label world and began releasing music independently, starting with 2000’s Tune-Up. Four years later, she received a Juno nomination for New Artist of the Year (won by Michael Bublé), and was finally acknowledged in 2010 for her production work on Digging Roots’ album We Are…, which won a Juno for Aboriginal Recording of the Year.

Starr’s Mohawk ancestry has always played an important role in her creative output that has expanded into film with the original score she wrote for Edge Of The Knife, the first Haida language full-length feature, named one of TIFF’s Top 10 of 2018.

At the same, Starr has faced many significant personal challenges over the past few years, and has only recently resumed making music again at her own pace. Her new single, Right Here With You, is a tribute to her brother who died from a fentanyl overdose in 2018 and, along with being an expression of sorrow, is a show of solidarity with all who have lost loved ones to opiate addiction.

The song also illustrates that Kinnie Starr remains one of Canada’s most innovative musicians, whose message resounds as powerfully today as it ever has. For more, go to kinniestarr.ca.  

Essential Album: New Kingdom, Paradise Don’t Come Cheap (Gee Street Records, 1996)

This is my favourite album right now. It was produced and mixed by one of the biggest talents I’ve known, Scotty Hard, aka Scott Harding. Listening to it again takes me back to touring with New Kingdom during the ‘90s, before everything went online. Touring with New Kingdom was a lesson in how to get into the zone on stage. They had amazing rituals and were innovative, rebellious and spiritual. It feels good to listen to music from that time because it reminds me of life before social media.

Essential Book: Olga Mecking, Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing (Little, Brown, 2020)

I loved this book. I’d been advised recently by one of my teachers to study all my ancestral heritage, and it's been interesting digging into the Dutch side of my lineages. I had often focussed on my Indigenous heritage as a younger woman as a result of being raised in Canada. As I get older, I feel the weight of my mortality, and it makes me hungry to know more sides of myself. Niksen is actually a really cool cultural value, and to be honest I have a lot to learn from it. As a North American, I’ve taken on the not-so-favorable trait of constantly working. The study of Niksen is helping me think outside my own self-imposed cage.

Essential Movie: Get Out (2017)

I’m not up to date on movies and don’t spend much time online. But the movie that most blew my mind on the last handful of years was Jordan Peele’s Get Out. I was a huge Key & Peele fan prior to this, and the direction on this film is so seamless that I've watched it many times just to review the shots. I've always been into horror films because one of my best friends as a kid was a gore artist. I'm from Calgary, and metal and horror were deep interests of mine growing up. Get Out blows my mind because it perfectly marries the darkness of racism in the Americas with horror and humour. I imagine this film reached many folks who might have been reluctant to acknowledge their own racism simply by virtue of couching that truth in knuckle gripping horror. I think this film is perfect.

Essential TV: Schitt’s Creek (CBC, 2015-2020)

Hands down, this is my favourite show online. We lost my younger brother to fentanyl two and a half years ago, and Schitt's Creek carried both my Mom and I through the first year of loss. I still can't believe how funny it is. I’ve watched it three times, all the way through!

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