by Scott Roos
pics by Scott Roos with editing by Deanna Roos Photography
“My goal is not to make people dance and get drunk. I'll say that over and over and over again. That's not my goal as an artist. My goal as an artist is to make people think and allow them to feel. I just want them to feel something, you know?”
This is Metis singer-songwriter Berk Jodoin’s standard, rehearsed response when queried about why he doesn’t strive to have more universal appeal. Jodoin’s songs are edgy. They deal with tough subject matter related to his indigenous upbringing. In his music, he’s communicating what many in similar positions are afraid to say themselves. It's a good response. It fits and it works. Why change it when it's the best and most effective way to describe exactly who he is as an artist?
Born and raised in the community of Pierceland, Saskatchewan, which is roughly an hour and half northwest of Meadow Lake, Jodoin is a late bloomer when it comes to his musicianship. Growing up, he worshiped at the altar of Steve Earle. His parents were avid listeners of classic outlaw country like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash as well as Hank Williams. One of the first albums he owned as a youngster was AC/DC’s Dirty Deads Done Dirt Cheap. Jodoin, then, grew to have eclectic tastes to be sure but, more importantly, began to develop a love of the guitar.
Ironically, though, he didn’t consider learning the guitar until he decided to purchase one for his brother. He had just finished a season of work on the pipelines. He was coming home for Christmas with a wad of cash in his pocket and a limited amount of time to purchase gifts for his family.
“I went shopping for everybody for about three hours,” recounts Jodoin. “ I saw one of those kits that had a guitar, a little amp, a tuner and a strap and all that stuff and decided I would buy it for my brother. I thought it was the coolest present I ever bought anybody. He opened the box, kinda looked at it but didn't even take the instrument out.”
The guitar sat untouched for a while until finally Jodoin decided to “borrow” the guitar and learn how to play it himself. He was in his early 20’s and the proverbial world was his oyster. The aspirations to become a rock star seemed within reach and he went for it.
“I learned in my basement from different websites and books and stuff; how to chord some songs and play along to some songs. I started joining cover bands and what not. In my 30's I started writing songs. I just thought guitars were cool and bands were cool and singers and songwriters were cool and I just wanted to be like them.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Jodoin is now a bonafide singer-songwriter in his own right. True to his early fandom, his music is infused with a country rock feel overall in the vein of Steve Earle but with the approach in the lyrics is that of a folkster as he tackles tough issues related to his indigenous roots. His latest release, Half Breed, is no exception.
“My album is called Half Breed and that explains kinda how I grew up. Being in a town in the north looking way more indigenous than Caucasian everyone called me an Indian. They thought I was gonna steal from them. I'd walk into a store and the clerk would follow me around and make me empty my pockets just about every time. The cops would pull up and say 'hands on the hood. you match a description.'"
"Then on the reserve I didn’t quite talk like them and act like them. I looked like them but I wasn’t quite them. I was met with some distrust there too. The term 'apple' was used. It's where you're red on the outside but you’re white on the inside. And that was hard too. You really didn't have anybody to turn to,” says Jodoin of his formative years growing up Metis.
“It was difficult,” continues Jodoin, “You'd end up fighting with people and you end up with resentments. For the longest time I didn't like myself. I was a racist myself to myself. That was no way to be that’s for sure. It was a dark time in my life where I was ashamed of what I looked like. I was ashamed of my skin colour for no other reason than the way people looked at me.”
There were a lot of hard years for Jodoin coming to terms with himself. In 2014, thanks to his wife as well as his place of work, Jodoin sobered up. His sobriety gave him the clarity he needed to love and appreciate who he was as a human. It also enabled him to move forward with his music.
“If you've ever taken that journey into recovery you'd know you do a lot of soul searching. You do a lot of internal inspection of yourself. And one day I realized that I don’t hate myself. I like me. And everything changed. I was proud of who I was. It's eight years later and I'm sober as can be and happy as can be and proud as can be,” Jodoin says.
Half Breed deals with a lot of important issues including the suicide crisis that’s taken hold in a lot of Northern communities on the tracks “Walking With Angels” and “Jalyn’s Song”. He works through his own personal identity issues in the title track “Half Breed”. In short, the whole record proves to be a powerful and poignant message of the times we are living in in Saskatchewan. Days like the National Day For Truth and Reconciliation, centimeter by centimeter, are helping to shine a light on issues that desperately need addressing. Jodoin himself, as well as a small handful of artists like him, are also doing their part to help the province of Saskatchewan, and even our country as a whole, come to terms with a dark and shameful past.
“I wish people wouldn't feel shame for things they didn’t do. But they do. And to me the only thing somebody (non indigenous) can do that is maybe ashamed of what happened (to indigenous people) is to help make sure it doesn't happen again and to help make sure we're in an inclusive society. We're not in one right now. There's still so many lines in the sand,” concludes Jodoin.