Shawnee Kish’s Star is Rising

Singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish is a two-spirit Indigenous performer who has already had at least two careers in her relatively short time as an artist.

Singer-songwriter Shawnee Kish is a two-spirit Indigenous performer who has already had at least two careers in her relatively short time as an artist.

And now the Edmonton-based Kish is one of this year’s Allan Slaight JUNO Master Class winners, a program that sees four emerging Canadian musicians each year receive intense professional development sessions.

Kish’s powerful, soulful singing won her the CBC Searchlight Rising Star 2020 emerging artist award last year—and the festival gigs, later cancelled, that came with it.

“I feel like I’m starting over, I am expressing who I am more comfortably, and honestly than ever,” says Kish of a career that saw her first take the stage as a 12-year-old Shania Twain impersonator.

Industry pros spotted her talent early, and were eager to push her into a pop career—as long as she played by their rules.

“There was a time I wasn’t out and I was told not to be out by industry people. That struggle deeply saddened me from the inside; as artists we are supposed to be exactly who we are and celebrate that, and I didn’t feel that way at all.

“Being closeted is entirely scary and intimidating when you’re out there showcasing yourself, but you’re not really yourself because you’re closeted.

“Two spirit is being reclaimed by Indigenous people; it is a new term but it’s not a new tradition. It’s an Indigenous person who carries and walks in the male and female spirit, and they have an understanding of both those spirits. As an Indigenous person, it’s an honour.”

After years of being told to cut her hair and never mention being gay “so men will feel invited,” Kish is almost exuberant that her “true voice” is being so well received.

She calls the Slaight award ”awesome and exciting,” and says that “when I win things I laugh, because I’m always the odd duck, always.” She even thought the call telling her she’d won the CBC award “was a prank.”

After working through her frustration and disappointment at how the pandemic caused her career, then rising, to stall—“it was depressing and sad,” she says— Kish spent the resulting downtime writing and recording. Now, she has a fresh EP set for June.

“Taking that energy and struggle and getting right back into creating is exactly what I did.”

Kish teases out two new tracks from her new EP (that’s slated for June) and the fresh tunes display the influence of her heroes Whitney Houston, Etta James and Nina Simone that suggest the new music will keep winning this rising star acclaim —and awards.

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Allan Slaight Juno Master Class 2021 Winners

  1. Command Sisters
  2. Monowhales
  3. Myles Castello

Previous Winners include: Haviah Mighty, Cave Boy and The Fortunate Ones.