By Erin Ward
VANCOUVER – Boyd Benjamin picked up the fiddle for the first time at 14 years old. With the melody of a song played at an old-time dance in Old Crow still running through his head, he sat down to try and recreate what he’d heard. That experience — sitting with the fiddle, learning to play a song that was played nowhere else — launched a life-long passion for fiddle music and for sharing the story of his home.
“It’s a unique way for me to express myself because that’s sort of who I am,” he explains. “It’s my upbringing and where I come from. I was taught that our culture up North is precious and [playing fiddle music] is a way to keep that going.”
Known as the Flying Gwitch’in Fiddler, Benjamin, along with singer/songwriter Kevin Barr, has performed his music across the country. This March will be the first time the duo has performed as part of the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival at the UBC Museum of Anthropology. The festival, which runs from February 27 to March 4, will celebrate the songs, dances, and stories of the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America.
Benjamin explains that Old Crow, a small community just below the Beaufort Sea in Northern Yukon, is known for its fiddle music. Continuing this tradition, he says, is a way to keep the culture of his community alive and vibrant.
“Some of the music we play is only heard in Old Crow, and some of the dances we do only happen in Old Crow,” he says. “We speak Gwitch’in, and the language is fading, so my contribution to that part of culture is the music that I play. I’m contributing to our culture in a way so as to keep that alive musically.”
With his music, Benjamin is telling the story of the cultural tradition of fiddle music in Old Crow, of the dances and songs unique to his community. In telling that story, and in sharing his fiddle music, he keeps those traditions alive — not just by playing some of the old-time songs he’s heard since childhood, but also by making new ones to continue that legacy of bringing community together over fiddle music.
The Coastal First Nations Dance Festival runs at the Museum of Anthropology from February 24-March 4.