News / Calgary

Video: Northern Cree's triumphant return to the Alberta spotlight

Penny McGilvery, the sole female voice in Northern Cree, says singing for a hometown crowd may be even more nerve-wracking than performing at the Grammys.

Northern Cree is performing in Calgary this week. Penny McGilvery, seen on the far left, is the only female member of the group.


Northern Cree is performing in Calgary this week. Penny McGilvery, seen on the far left, is the only female member of the group.

She’s performed on the Grammy stage, but for Penny McGilvery, Northern Cree’s sole female voice, singing for a hometown (ish) crowd might be even more nerve-wracking.

The traditional powwow, round dance, drum and singing group is set to perform in Calgary at Studio Bell this week as part of the National Music Centre’s new monthly Alberta Spotlight series, which highlights music made in this province.

Northern Cree’s music has been Grammy-nominated eight times and the group – whose members are from the Treaty 6 area in Alberta – performed at the 2017 music awards show.

“I was scared (for the Grammys) because I wasn’t sure how people would react, but then I thought, I have to do this, not for me, but for everyone out there – I have to represent every Indigenous woman out there, especially those that sing,” said Penny McGilvery, who more than holds her own as the group's single lady.

“I think I’ll be more nervous (at Studio Bell) because people who I know might be there,” she said. “I’ll have to wait and see until the time comes, but I’m very excited.”

Northern Cree’s music is a powerful combination of energetic, soaring vocals and traditional drum beats.

Co-founder Steve Wood describes their sound as ‘the very essence of raw music.’

“Anyone that listens to our music for the first time, they have a familiarity with it – it doesn’t matter what descent, ethnicity, or culture you are,” Wood told Metro.

“People come up and ask us what that feeling is inside them – it’s because when they first hit this plain, that was the first sound they heard: the sound from their mother, her heartbeat. And in our culture, the drumbeat is the heartbeat of our mother, so I think that’s why they familiarize with it.”

He said they were honoured to be asked to perform for an almost-hometown audience – typically made up of Indigenous and non-Indigenous fans alike.

“For us, it’s about not only bridging that gap (between Indigenous people and Canadians), but inspiring all young people – particularly First Nations young people – to believe that you don’t have to be anyone else, you don’t have to emulate anyone else – you can be yourself and aspire to great things.”

Northern Cree will be performing in Calgary on Feb. 15. Tickets are $20 from

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