From singers to dancers, to painters and sculptors, musical talent is in abundance in Eeyou Istchee. One of the more famous musical duos in Cree territory is Richard Bosum and Kenny Mianscum, also known as Manitau.
“I got my first guitar way back in my teens,” Richard Bosum, 42, told the Nation. “It was a black 12-string Ibanez guitar. This guy offered me a great deal. He was asking $75. So I went prospecting with my late father and I made enough to buy it.
“I made a song and Kenny was interested in us doing the recording together,” he said. “That was our first recording in the 90s in Ottawa. But I can’t remember exactly when. It was a song called ‘Kwei.’”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Bosum and Mianscum have been tearing up the charts with their folksy music sung only in Cree. The inspiration for the songs, said Bosum, comes from long-ago tales of the Cree way of life.
“A lot of the songs I write are from stories from my late father or my grandfather,” he said. “Their stories of the old days inspire me and people seem to like them.”
Bosum currently works as the maintenance man at the Waapihtiiwewan School in Oujé-Bougoumou. His job enables him to pass on his musical knowledge to the youngsters.
“Right now I’m trying to teach the kids to play guitar. I give lessons after school to kids from age 7 to 12. It’s going pretty good but they complain that the guitar is way too big for them,” he laughed.
Mianscum, an OJ band councilor, was unavailable for comment.
“At the beginning we used to do copyrighted music, but we stopped because we started to write our own stuff,” said Bosum, who also added that of the four full albums they have collaborated on, they have split the songwriting right down the middle. Their fourth album, as yet unnamed and unfinished, will be released in November or December of this year.
“We play acoustic guitars and once in awhile I’ll play the bass guitar and smaller instruments like the harmonica or traditional drum,” said Bosum, who also supplies backup vocals when Mianscum is singing.
Two years ago Peter Mianscum was added to the band. He brought his expertise with the percussions, the traditional drum and the shakers, said Bosum.
Bosum said he is surprised by the band’s success. “I don’t know how it happened. We just got together once a month and started to try out new stuff with our music. From there we would practice the same song every two weeks. Once we got it, if we liked it we would leave it like that.”
He said that many sacrifices come with being a musician. “Like leaving my work behind when I’m wanted somewhere else,” he observed. “My music is really important and I want to make sure the people don’t lose our Cree language. So it will always exist.”
Bosum said his inspiration – and love for the acoustic guitar, of which he has five – came from a Canadian. “People ask us about the songs we perform and tell us that some of them are really emotional and they love it. I listened a lot to Neil Young. That’s how I started to make my music acoustically. His music really influenced me.”
He sees a bright future musically in Eeyou Istchee.
“There is all kinds of talent here. You can see that they are really good. They do a lot of copyrighted songs, but Kenny and I are trying to encourage them to write their own songs. If they want, they can go pretty far because a lot of them do know how to sing, but I haven’t seen many playing instruments.”
The duo’s musical success has taken them to each community numerous times as well as secured them a spot in the CBC’s True North Concert Series each year. They even went as far as Expo 2000 in Germany. “Germany was nice, we had fun,” said Bosum, who joined a team of 14 James Bay Cree performers, storytellers, and experts in traditional Cree culture.
Bosum, who is a self-taught guitarist and singer, says Cree youth can excel in whatever it is they choose to do. “I want to encourage them to keep trying until they reach their goals,” said Bosum.
His own kids used to play guitar, but have since moved away for work. At home, his remaining fan is his two-year-old daughter, Tiffany, an aspiring musician in her own right. “She has her own guitar and her own congos too,” he chuckled.