An Invitation to Action: Andrea Warner, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Decolonizing Music Journalism

 Andrea Warner. Photo via Greystone Books Ltd.

Andrea Warner. Photo via Greystone Books Ltd.

With her recently released, authorized biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie climbing bestseller charts across Canada, local writer and podcaster Andrea Warner has been getting a lot of attention lately.

“These last six weeks have been weird because it’s been mostly all about me,” says Warner on the experience of suddenly being in the spotlight, “I’m really grateful that I can be like, no let’s just make it about Buffy… It’s an authorized biography, but it’s not me telling her story. I feel like I created a framework in which she could tell her own story and we have been promoting it together, and so yes, I wrote it, but she is so much at the centre of all of it.”

While it’s not exactly right to say that the Buffy Bio represents a culmination of Warner’s work (it is, after all, the second book she has published on top of almost two decades of journalism, not to mention the fact that she has a lot more writing left in her), it might be accurate to say that it illuminates a growing trend in her work towards decolonization and the highlighting of Indigenous artists.

  Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography . Photo via Greystone Books.

Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography. Photo via Greystone Books.

While these themes, on top of other concerns related to feminism and social justice, have always been present in her work, it was six years ago, when Warner started writing for CBC Music, that decolonization became a more intentional focus. “I really took it seriously, what it meant to be writing about Canadian music,” Warner says, “and I took it as an invitation to ask what counts as Canadian music, what does “Canadian” mean. It was an opportunity to deconstruct this sort of mythology of Canada, and I saw over and over and over again that there was this incredible variety of music coming from Indigenous musicians.”

For Warner, including Indigenous music in her coverage wasn’t just about a more complete representation Canadian music—whatever that could mean It was also about the discovery of music that was just plain good: “I was just really excited to be hearing music from musicians that I hadn’t really heard of before. One person who I really was just so inspired by was JB the First Lady, a local musician, rapper, activist, and just a really vibrant, cool person who is doing some incredible work. It was a real sort of thrill to hear her work and feel just so inspired by her... JB introduced me to so much more music and I learned about so many artists… Just listen to this music, it’s good music.”

The more music she listened to from Indigenous artists, the more she couldn’t help but interrogate the concepts of Canada and colonialism, as well as her own place within those structures. “I have felt that call to action,” she says, “and thought about what I can do that is not continuing to be complicit in white settler violence towards Indigenous people and towards the land.”

This relationship to the music, the land, and the people that live on it, only deepened as Warner began getting to know Buffy Sainte-Marie.

“In the past three or four years, talking to Buffy Sainte-Marie and really digging very intensely into her discography and songbook has led me to just letting that be a sort of invitation—not for me in particular, but an invitation to think about my place in all of it.”It has also led her to see one thing very clearly: “colonization is at the root of all the rot in the world.”

 Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photo by Matt Barnes.

Buffy Sainte-Marie. Photo by Matt Barnes.

While such a monumental realization could be discouraging, for Warner it helps remove some of its power. “I’ve always been of the mindset that naming it and being able to identify it is so helpful, and it really opens up. I think of it as an invitation to action. There is privilege in that realization… but these privileges position me, I hope, to be in a place where I can start to make some space to work on what it really means to help with decolonization... I have absolutely been the beneficiary of white supremacy. What that means to me is that I have a responsibility to try to address it and dismantle it.”

After all, if one thing is obvious from Buffy Sainte-Marie’s career (aside from her incredible talent as a musician, of course), it’s the fact that, despite being a musical icon, she is suspiciously missing from a lot of places of honour. With a career like hers, she should be hailed as one of Canada’s folk music heroes, and yet, despite all her fame and accolades, she isn’t.

So is the case with her new biography. On one hand, it has been on multiple bestseller lists in Canada, and has received incredible attention and support. On the other hand, there are some huge gaps in mainstream coverage.

“I’m really glad Canada is embracing it, and that does fill me with a lot of gratitude,” says Warner on the reception to the book, “but I also think about the spaces where it’s not showing up. This is still the story about a woman and specifically an Indigenous woman —who is not taking this book seriously? Who’s not considering it? I think about that at least as much about who is supporting it.”


You can find out more about Andrea Warner at theandreawarner.com, Buffy Sainte-Marie at buffysainte-marie.com, and find Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography online and wherever books are sold.