Jerry Alfred was born in 1955 in Mayo, Yukon. He spent the first five years of his life in a totally Native environment speaking the Northern Tutchone language. Even after many years in the residential school system he continues to speak his language. A member of the Crow Clan, Alfred now lives in Pelly Crossing, 300 miles north of Whitehorse.
Like his father Jerry Alfred was named “Song Keeper” at his birth and he hopes that both of his daughters will follow in this tradition. The “Song Keeper” is a traditional honour given by the people. It is the responsibility of the “Song Keeper” to collect songs and represent his clan at the many Potlatches and ceremonial gatherings that are held.
It was while in residential school that Alfred’s musical talents were first noted. He sang in a choir that performed across the Yukon. The real flowering of his talent occurred during his late teen years when he discovered Bob Dylan and the guitar. It was during this time that Alfred began his first tenuous ventures in combining the music of his people with modern guitar techniques.
During his twenties and thirties, Alfred’s focus shifted to politics, in particular the Selkirk People Land Claim negotiations. After the successful signing of the Accord in the late 90s, Alfred returned to more traditional aspects of his life, particularly his role as “Song Keeper.”
His father was very concerned that the heritage of the Tutchone people was going to be lost and requested, on his death bed, that Jerry Alfred find a way to “keep the music going.” In 1994, to honour his father’s request, to preserve the language and culture of his people and to fulfill his role as “Song Keeper,” Jerry Alfred produced his first recording called Etsi Shon (Grandfather Song).
That recording was re-released two years later and followed by Nendaa:m Go Back (1997) and Kehlonn in 1999. Several compilations have had examples of his songs since. His band, Medicine Beat, consists of Bob Hamilton on electric guitar, Andrea McColman on keyboards and accordion, Marc Paradis, percussion and back-up vocalist, Marie Gigo.
To carry on the tradition of song-keeper, Jerry has been teaching the songs to his daughters Cenjeya, and Saanuwa.
Press – Critical Acclaim
“I haven’t heard many artists who bridge the gap between traditional music and popular music as well as Jerry Alfred. This is a soulful, moving piece of work that deserves to find a larger audience”. – The Globe and Mail
“Listening to Etsi Shon, one can almost see the river that runs through his (Alfred’s) village, the eerie glimmer of the northern lights, and the sleek shape of the loon on the lake”. – The Georgia Straight (Vancouver)
“Alfred, a Tutchone Indian, offered a moving and sometimes monumental blend of ancient and contemporary music, combining traditional drumming and chants with the beautifully flowing liquid fretwork of guitarist Bob Hamilton”. – The Toronto Globe and Mail
“Jerry Alfred, singer, songwriter and vocalist, comes from the Northern Tutchone Nation of the northeastern Yukon. On this record (Nendaa), he blends traditional native sounds (hand drum, chant-like vocals) with more European instruments (guitar, mandolin, harmonica) on a record containing 11 original songs. “Old Ways” has him singing a cappella (unless you count his hand drum as accompaniment). The lyrics of the partly spoken-word song “Residential School” talks about hanging on to original language, and some of the songs here are sung in Alfred’s native tongue. The title track, after a spoken-word intro in English, proceeds in the Tutchone tongue, with gentle backing from Andrea McColeman’s accordion. Guest musicians on the record include fiddler Gary Comeau”. – Mark Andrews, The Vancouver Sun
“Jerry Alfred is a healer. He would have become a shaman if he wasn’t such a gifted musician. But the touch hasn’t left him and he’s into making music that heals … Alfred’s mission is to bring his people’s ancient music into a modern context. In this he’s ably abetted by Medicine Beat, the quintet he formed four years ago when Jerry made the transition from traditional drum singer”. – Lenny Stoute, The Toronto Star
Nendaa – Go Back (1997)
Etsi Shon – Grandfather Song (1994)
In His Own Words
If you are a child that has been taken away from home and taught another language, another life style, and you come back, you cannot find your way to fit into the community. It is hard to get back into it, to find a way. The difficulty is that he is bringing those other values.
I use song to try to show how he might get back in after being brought up differently. This world is full of concrete, division and segregation. That is not the world he or she wants to be in. The song [“Homeless”] is basically about adoption. My spouse was adopted too and that was probably the reason I wrote that song.
Jerry Alfred on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChXFCnEziwVhV9V73MdwB7w
Jerry Alfred and the Medicine Beat on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC82Uj-yIF14kHytFbT7MXgQ