Cree artists Mariame and the NorthStars launch records on the N’we Jinan label

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Mariame Press Photo 4If you haven’t heard of Montreal-based singer/songwriter Mariame Hasni, well, as they say, you’ve probably been hiding under a rock. Touted by both Native and mainstream media as the “Cree Rihanna,” the 24-year-old who prefers to be known simply as Mariame has been drawing a lot of attention.

“That’s not how I want to be seen,” said the soft-spoken Hasni. “I am a fan [of Rihanna] but it was the media that chose that.”

Managed and produced by David Hodges, hip-hop artist and champion of the N’we Jinan artistic and cultural movement, Mariame is set to be the face of N’we Jinan’s foray into the music industry. The new record label nurtures, cultivates and promotes the artistic talent of First Nations in Quebec and was created by Hodges with the support of the Cree Nation Youth Council and the Cree Native Arts and Crafts Association.

Last year, N’we Jinan was featured in the Nation when Hodges organized a series of workshops and musical projects throughout Eeyou Istchee culminating in the chart-topping album N’we Jinan, featuring 75 different Cree youth artists.

Mariame is the first artist to sign a N’we Jinan record deal. Her debut release, Bloom, is now available on iTunes. Launch parties and performances in support of the album take place May 28 at the Mitchuap Auditorium in Chisasibi and May 30 at L’Alize in Montreal. Nemaska hip-hop group the NorthStars will open the shows.

Born to Elizabeth Napash of Chisasibi, Mariame has Cree and Algerian roots. Though she spends most of her time in Montreal she often travels to Chisasibi to visit her family. Mariame was excited to speak about her new album and the two live performances to support it.

“Nobody’s ever seen me in that light, accomplishing an album,” she said. “We’re bringing something new, something different and something fun.”

For the first time, Mariame’s live performances will involve both singing and dancing. She says she’s been practicing a lot, working with two other dancers and adding choreography rehearsals to her already busy schedule.

When asked what drives her as a musician and what it means to represent the Aboriginal community, Mariame pointed out that music has always been one of her passions.

“I always loved music as a child,” she said. “Whatever else was going on, music was what made me happy. It’s something I was born with, something I connected to and used to express myself, singing and dancing. It’s something I’m happy to share my experience through.”

In terms of the message she hopes to convey, Mariame says she wants people to know that they are not alone and that everyone has a story that makes them who they are today. She was also quick to thank her mother Elizabeth for being caring and supportive, no matter what.

A single mother of two who has fought through adversity to realize her performing dream, Mariame is both talented and humble. She told the Nation that as she continues to grow as an artist her main goal is to, “just do what I do, keep on singing, and be real with myself and everyone else.”

Darryl Hester, Mariame Hasni and David Hodges

Darryl Hester, Mariame Hasni and David Hodges

Big things are on the horizon for Mariame and the N’we Jinan movement. According to Hodges, requests for Mariame to perform are pouring in from across Canada, including a slot at Aboriginal Music Week in Winnipeg this coming August.

“I’m not even sure if she even knows about that show yet,” laughed Hodges. “She’s really set to take off.”

If you can’t make it to one of the launch parties for Bloom, Hasni will also be performing with the NorthStars in Waswanipi June 13 and Nemaska June 14. Check her out at or on Facebook at

The NorthStars

The NorthStars Press Photo 1Hip-hop trifecta the NorthStars are another David Hodge projects under the N’we Jinan umbrella. The group is composed of Gary Jolly, Elton J. Salt and Keith Lacroix (an Algonquin), all currently residing in Nemaska.

The NorthStars are no strangers to rap music. They express their passion for music and the years of blood, sweat and tears they’ve all put in paying their dues and honing their craft as writers, producers and artists.

Jolly recalled a time 10 years ago when he and some friends performed at an event in Mistissini. “We rapped Forgot About Dre and that’s sort of how it started,” he said. “We’ve been involved in hip-hop for a long time, lots of people have come and gone, but we’ve continued to put in a lot of time and effort.”

The birth of the NorthStars as a trio began with the 2012 single Our River, a powerful and emotional song written by Salt and Jolly in response to the Rupert River hydroelectric diversion project.

Recently the rap trio shot a music video in Nemaska for Champions, a song from their forthcoming debut album Dreams, which is available for pre-order on iTunes and will be officially released on June 2.

The three said that recording the album was a fluid process, most of which took place over the course of a single week. “We sat down with David, picked out some beats and wrote everything we recorded right there in the studio,” explained Jolly.

All three members emphasized the importance of the chemistry they have with fellow hip-hopper Hodges and the perfect fit between their vision as a group and the vision of N’we Jinan. The three plan to be heavily involved with N’we Jinan Volume II, an upcoming second compilation album that will feature more young Cree artists and musicians and involve another tour through the communities of Eeyou Istchee.

The three rappers and manager Hodges were all pleased with the shooting of the Champions video and can’t wait to share the final product with their family, friends and fans.

“It was awesome!” Jolly exclaimed. “It was perfect timing and everything fell into place.”

Featuring the staples of the northern lifestyle and landscape, Champions shares the culture and traditions of the James Bay Cree. “You see us hunting, going into the bush and you see the land we live on,” they stated. “The understanding is that we own this land, this is our land, and it’s up to us to share our tradition and keep it strong. That’s what makes a champion.”

The group is now building the NorthStars Entertainment Studio in Nemaska, a professional recording studio. It will be the first of its kind in Eeyou Istchee, and will be available for recording and producing all types of audio-related media.

All of the hard work Jolly, Salt and Lacroix have put into making quality music and establishing their reputation as serious rap artists is starting to pay off. Hodges is confident the group has the recipe necessary to be successful in the hip-hop industry, stressing their work ethic and commitment as artists.

The NorthStars also feel an obligation towards their community.

“You can’t disappoint the people,” said Salt. “You need to do well for your family and take the lead for future generations. It’s a big step [signing to a label and producing an album].”

In terms a being a First Nations artist, Lacroix added, “There’s more weight on your shoulders and it takes a lot of effort, but it’s also encouraging knowing that you have all these people behind you.”

The NorthStars believe they can ably represent James Bay in the hip-hop music scene and are thrilled to work with N’we Jinan to help develop and expose Cree musical talent. They are deeply grateful to their fans and supporters saying, “Thank you to everyone, thank you to the Cree Nation, for the chance to represent.”

Catch the NorthStars in action May 28 in Chisasibi and May 30 in Montreal opening for Mariame at her album launch as well as June 13 in Waswanipi and June 14 in Nemaska for their own launch parties for Dreams. And don’t forget to pick up their albums on iTunes.

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