A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)

VIDEO: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

A pair of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers collaborated on a healing song and dance to document the COVID-19 pandemic and produced a video to share it worldwide.

Nuu-chah-nulth language advocate Timmy Masso and artist Hjalmer Wenstob came up with the idea to produce a healing song last summer and, thanks to funding from the Canada Council to the Arts’ Digital Originals Program, the project evolved into a dance the brothers have published online.

“Whenever there was a major event traditionally there would be a totem pole carved or a song written and a dance made for that amazing event or even a very tragic event that happened,” Masso told the Westerly News. “Hjalmer and I both noticed that a lot more recent times or modern times there has been so much of a lack of traditional ways continuing on. We wanted to talk about what’s happening right now, talk about COVID and how this is a story of now. I think that was really important as a way of resurgence of culture and our traditional ways.”

The video was filmed at Grice Bay where Masso performed the dance wearing a mask carved by Wenstob and featuring a song written and performed by both brothers.

“Hjalmer and I work so amazingly together not only in regards to being brothers and knowing how we both think, but also in what we do,” Masso said. “Hjalmer has that focus on the culture and producing beautiful artwork and my main focus is dancing and language. So, we kind of bring those two aspects of Nuu-chah-nulth, the culture that Hjalmer carries and the language that I’m learning and we kind of bring those two together with our work and our masks and our songs,” he said. “Whenever we make a piece, it would be impossible without the other person. It’s just so amazing what we’re able to accomplish if we have each other.”

The video was published to YouTube on March 11, 2021, Canada’s National Day of Observance of those lost due to COVID-19.

“This is a day where we’re mourning, we’re remembering and we’re really coming together even though we’re apart to make this day important. So, we released it on that day,” Wenstob told the Westerly News.

Masso said he began talking to his brother about producing a healing song last summer to share with anyone needing strength during the pandemic.

“It was something we thought would be really important to make and bring out to everyone here on the West Coast and anyone who wanted to hear it,” he said. “It was that idea of bringing strength and giving people that strength to continue forward in this strange time of COVID. There’s so many struggles of just life, so when we made the song we really wanted to have it so people could find that strength.”

Wenstob explained he applied for funding from the Canada Council to the Arts’ Digital Originals Program, to produce an artwork that could be shared digitally to reach a wide fan base due to many galleries and art shows being closed due to COVID-19.

“Throughout these historical records, we can look back and really map out our history,” he said. “Recently, because of this resurgence of art and culture and language, I find we’re always looking back and recreating those objects and history is still happening around us right now. So, we really wanted to record this point in history, which is such an important time to record and recognize and write down in our own way.”

READ MORE: VIDEO: Ucluelet gallery owner hopes to connect communities

Wenstob carved a transformative mask for his brother to dance in and the mask features hands that open and close over the mouth.

“The mask has a lot of call to older work. It had a relationship to historic artwork that I’ve seen…We really wanted to find a way to capture this time. How do we capture COVID in an artwork without being too heavy-handed and without being too subtle,” he said, “The idea was to record this point in time through performance, through the dancing, through the transformation of the mask and through the lyrics.”

Along with the mask, the regalia Masso is wearing in the dance includes a Hudson’s Bay blanket.

“It’s a really amazing part of history that we were able to bring into the performance, but also a really dark history that comes with that history of trade,” Wenstob said. “The Hudson Bay blanket, not only does it have some really striking visual in the video, it has a lot of loaded history that comes with it as well.”

He added a few galleries have reached out to ask about purchasing the mask, but both he and Masso plan to keep all aspects of the performance together.

“Those were all standalone objects that really could stand alone in their own spaces if they wanted to, but we really feel that they should live together…We really feel that it’s really important to keep that song and that performance and that mask and regalia altogether, to make sure that we bring it out and we share it. When we can come together again, we hope to have big gatherings, so we can bring that out and share it and really remember this time in the best way we can, with prayers and that healing song of coming together…And, to bring the mask into educational spaces and share about it as well to use it as a teaching tool but also use it as a way to celebrate once COVID’s in the rearview mirror.”

READ MORE: Masso and Wenstob receive 2020 Rainy Coast Arts Award

He said the hope is the dance will be shared and he also plans to use the mask as an educational opportunity for youth.

“We have something in our community and in our culture called fun dances, and they are dances that are meant to be shared. They can be shared more publicly than some of our ceremonial dances. They can be shared at public events, they can be shared outside of closed doors,” he said. “They can be brought into spaces of education like the school, people can handle them and touch them, whereas ceremonial works you put them away and they don’t come out until the next ceremony.”

Masso added that he and Wenstob have collaborated on fun dances before, including one about language revitalization.

He noted that anyone watching their recently published video on YouTube can turn on closed captioning and follow along with the song as the words are translated in Nuu chah nulth.

“Our idea behind that was to not only have it so that people could read along with the translation, but also have that Nuu -chah-nulth spelling of these words so they can see how they sound when we’re singing them and what they look like,” he said. “What Hjalmer and I love to do is have songs that anyone can sing and anyone can share…Having these as fun dances and fun songs are so important for all these new learners that are out there to have a song that they can share with everyone. It’s just so important to have it out there so that people can share it and have it.”



andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

READ MORE: COVID-19: Tla-o-qui-aht artist finds ‘wonderful moments’ in isolation

READ MORE: Young Ucluelet local earns Indigenous Language Revitalization Diploma

READ MORE: Tla-o-qui-aht artist celebrates first solo show in Victoria

ArtCoronavirusDanceFirst Nations

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Gardeners at the Intergenerational Garden participated in the Grow-A-Row program for the Friends In Need Food Bank in previous years. (The News files)
Grow-A-Row for the food bank in Maple Ridge

Friends In Need Food Bank in need of gardeners to produce fresh produce

Townhomes at ERA Maple Ridge became a hot commodity as house prices soared past $1 million. (Neil Corbett/The News)
Sales at ERA Maple Ridge show sizzling market

Downtown development sells 13 townhomes one Sunday

Mike Cosic is taking over as Benchmark Botanics’ new CEO. (LinkedIn)
Pitt Meadows cannabis company names new CEO

Mike Cosic was previously the CFO of Meta Growth Corp

Chameleon Cafe, located in Maple Ridge, B.C., has a permanent street-side patio. (Black Press files)
Chamber of Commerce wants Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to move barriers to patios

Chamber president says struggling restaurants, bars and cafes don’t need additional red tape

Ken Dockendorf is president of the BC High School Boys Basketball Association. (THE NEWS files)
Administrators vote to change BC school sports governance

Maple Ridge coach says athletes won’t notice a change next season

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Ripy Jubbal of Abbotsford has received a 30-month jail sentence for the fraudulent use of credit cards and credit card data. (Facebook photo)
Abbotsford woman sentenced for $80K in fraudulent credit card purchases

Ripy Jubbal and spouse used identities of 19 different victims, court hears

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

Most Read