Protest Song Of The Week: ‘We Were Here’ By Aysanabee
Originally published at Ongoing History of Protest Music
Born Evan Pang, Aysanabee is a Canadian Indigenous multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer-songwriter. He is Oji-Cree and began creating music under his mother’s maiden name in order to reclaim his family name.
Aysanabee’s mother gave him the last name Pang because she felt that a non-Indigenous name would make it easier to find employment.
His 2022 debut album “Watin” was named after his grandfather. His grandfather was renamed from Watin to “Walter” by the McIntosh Residential School in northwestern Ontario that he was forced to attend.
“Watin actually started out as a series of conversations between myself and my grandfather,” said Aysanabee. “We spent the first year of the pandemic talking about things we’ve never spoke about, his life on the trapline on Sandy Lake First Nation, falling in love, his life in residential school and then leaving everything behind..we never spoke of it until now. Even though we were over 1,000 kilometres apart, it was probably the closest we’ve ever been.”
The album includes nine spoken word interludes featuring his grandfather, which add poignancy to the music.
The opening interlude relates to Watin’s harrowing experiences in residential school: “Ya I was eight years when I went to Residential School. Somebody from outside, the government person, said ‘if you don’t send your kids out, you guys, we’re not going to help you.’ And so I went to school. We had no choice. It was 300 kids that went to school, and I used to cry. I was lonesome. I was wondering why I was sent here. And I didn’t know why. What did I do wrong?”
One of the album’s highlights is the anthemic “We Were Here”. It opens with the potent lyrics, “They say that we can reconcile this. Put it in the past. They say that we can reconcile this. What if I can’t?”
The song and album are all about reclamation in the face of “fading memories,” “fleeting stories,” and “disappearing words.” Even though there may be efforts to whitewash history, Aysanabee defiantly declares that “it’s in my blood.”