When Morgan Toney first started playing the fiddle roughly three years ago, it was completely by accident. The 22-year-old Mi’kmaq musician—who hails from We’koqma’q and Wagmatcook First Nations—first found his musical rhythm by playing the drums as a child. But when he enrolled in Cape Breton University’s music program, the department chair mistakenly threw him into an advanced fiddle class.
Despite having nearly zero fiddle experience at the time, Toney was determined to stick with the instrument. “I feel like there’s not that many fiddlers today that are keeping up the tradition of playing the fiddle,” he says, adding that there are currently only a handful of Mi’kmaw fiddlers even though the instrument is a huge aspect in the culture.
It was something he wanted change but with a new, modern twist. Toney and Cape Breton singer/songwriter Keith Mullins are the creators of a new genre they call “Mi’kmaltic.” It’s a blend between traditional Mi’kmaq songs and Cape Breton Celtic tunes—two communities Toney is steeped in. “We were just talking about how cool it is that we’re blending the two cultures together,” Toney says. “We’re really proud holders of that genre; nobody else has done it before, and that’s really exciting.”
Toney is one of several Indigenous artists and other artists of colour performing at this year’s Prismatic Arts Festival, happening in Halifax from September 28 to October 10. The annual multidisciplinary arts festival focuses on breaking the barriers and challenges in the industry that many artists of colour face. It’s an event that aims to put marginalized artists in national and international spotlights.
This year’s festival showcases other Canadian artists including Nova Scotia-based director Tyler Simmonds, Halifax’s former Poet Laureate Rebecca Thomas and Turtle Island duo Digging Roots.