Mike Leech’s new CD “Tribute” is a powerful and moving statement honouring residential school survivors and those who didn’t survive.
The songs on the 15-song CD often lope along at a gentle pace, but the lyrics pull no punches as they recount the pain and suffering of those days.
Perhaps only someone like Leech, who attended two residential schools, could render the defiant lyrics of the song “Long Black Robe.” It’s a portrait of priests and nuns in long black robes trying to mimic a family image: “See that man standing over there/In a long black robe/He says he wants to be a brother/I don’t think so/No no no/No no no no.”
Other songs such as “I Saw it All” and “Yes I Did” focus on the abuse in the schools and the pain of being taken from home.
Leech describes the physical and sexual abuse children suffered in the residential school dorms as “a part of our history and I want to keep it as part of our history. But I don’t want to keep it as part of our future. I’m asking people – that is our past. Acknowledge it. Do everything you can to heal it. But the only way you can really start the process is to go back to St’at’imc spirituality. That will help you heal and move forward into the future. This will then allow you to become who you really are because the depression and the anxiety start to leave when you go through that. You may fall a few times but you’ve got to get back up because someday that will be completely part of our past. It will always be a memory but it will not be the way we’re going to live in the future.”
“Neon Skies” is one of the most profound and poignant songs on the CD. It’s dedicated to those who continue to lose their lives on the city’s mean streets. Following a synthesizer’s opening notes, an empathetic Leech sings about a prostitute who will “walk these lonely streets/ feel the sun go down/ darkness all around/ bringing those neon sounds/ I took my first fix/ to start the day’s tricks/ faces comin’ on strong/ they’ve been missing/ for some time now/ I don’t want to die/ ’neath those neon skies.”
“Tribute” opens with “An Indian No More” in which the singer proudly vows to wear his buckskin again and put on his moccasins too.
“I’m never gonna be an Indian no more/ Throw 1492 right out the door,” he promises.
In an interview with the News, he explained the thinking behind his song:
“It’s a process to begin to understand you’re not an Indian. If you continue to call yourself an Indian, you’re colonizing yourself constantly,” says Leech. “If you call yourself an Indian band and you’re adopting that particular system the government uses, you continue to generate that attitude to each other. You begin to practise colonialism against each other.
“To recognize that is to begin, through your spirituality – going to sweats, going to the mountains on a vision quest, to do all those beautiful things – it begins your healing process,” he continues. “One of the most important things is to find out who you are, what your real name is. When you get the name, a name is powerful. It spiritualizes everything for you as opposed to living constantly in the material world.”
Leech is joined on the album by his wife Gail Kreiser Leech on drum, Kristina Zaenker on cello, Cathi Marshall on backup vocals, John Sibble on harmonica, Daniel Heslop on keyboards and synthesizer, Doug Perry on bass and Lillooet businessman Jae Han on percussion. Leech’s six and 12-string acoustic guitars feature prominently in the mix.
“Tribute” is his third CD and Leech says because it’s “about my life it’s therefore very personal.”
He told the News, “It’s so emotional that I stopped playing at times because it was hitting me with memories. I feel other people at the same time have that pain. This is one way to help heal the pain; it’s certainly been that way for me because it allowed me to release a lot of stuff that’s been inside of me. Music is a very healing part of one’s life.”
So, as much as the CD conveys hurt and pain, it’s also about healing, forgiveness and his own spiritual journey.
“Music is the most powerful language of all; it unites people,” he noted. “I didn’t want this to dis-unite religions or anything like that. It’s all about forgiveness and moving forward.”
As part of that effort to move forward, Mike Leech has been giving “Tribute” as a gift to other residential school survivors.
“I leave it to them if they want to comment about it.”
He’s particularly appreciative of one review of the CD. It’s from his son, Juno award-winning singer, musician and songwriter George Leach. George told his father, “Love you, Dad. Great album.”
“Tribute” is available at KC Health and Gifts and Lightfoot Gas.