The ever-prolific, Toronto-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer NADJIWAN (aka Marc Meriläinen) returns with The Great Sea, arguably his most personal collection of original material to date, inspired by and made in his hometown, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Meriläinen’s roots are deeply entrenched in northern Ontario, as he is a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation Cape Croker, and has family living on Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, an Ojibway First Nation located on the shores of Whitefish Lake.
The Great Sea is, in many ways, a love letter to northern Ontario’s awe-inspiring landscape and its unique culture. Meriläinen offered a taste of it with his 2022 single “Land Of Skoden” (also included on The Great Sea), which set the stage for a full-on recording trip last summer. Utilizing his usual band—guitarist Jean-Paul De Roover, bassist Adam Gomori and drummer Alex Mine—along with a mobile recording studio, they set up at the Chippewa Park Pavilion near Fort William First Nation, with a local company, Apple Wagon Films, also on hand to document the entire recording process. Other parts were later overdubbed in Toronto, with notable contributions from members of Sultans Of String.
“I’ve always wanted to record an album that pays homage to northwestern Ontario,” Meriläinen says. “Much of this record was written on a drive from Toronto to Thunder Bay I did a couple of years ago. I found the scenery between Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa so inspiring that I made many stops along the way to jot down some basic ideas before getting back on the road. It wasn’t until I returned to Toronto that I actually started putting the various ideas together into an overall theme of life on the northern shore of Lake Superior.”
That theme is laid out brilliantly with the first two songs on The Great Sea, “North Of Superior” and “Break To The West.” The former is dedicated to Meriläinen’s late uncle who worked his entire life as a miner, while the latter turns back the clock to early voyageurs faced with surviving the unforgiving weather around what was known in Ojibwe as gichi-gami, or “the great sea.” Marc adds that “Break To The West” also serves as a metaphor for how we all must navigate our own treacherous waters in modern society.
Blending traditional Indigenous culture with contemporary sounds has been NADJIWAN’s trademark since releasing his debut album Brother in 1994. Since then, he has been honoured by the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, the Native American Music Awards, the Indigenous Music Awards, and Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards for the Performing Arts. In addition, NADJIWAN has performed at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto.
The Great Sea comes on the heels of two acclaimed NADJIWAN releases, 2021’s Star Nation, a prog-rock concept album based on Indigenous oral history and mythology, and 2022’s Resurgence, a covers EP consisting of some of Meriläinen’s favourite songs by the likes of Daniel Lanois, Prince, U2 and others. The Great Sea adds another important piece to NADJIWAN’s body of work, which over time has played a vital role in bringing Indigenous voices into the mainstream.
“With each new record we make I learn something from that process,” Marc says. “I learn what worked and what didn’t, but I don’t over-analyze them either. When I first started 30 years ago I found myself writing alone most of the time. Now I find myself collaborating with other musicians more often. I found I could learn and experience more by exchanging ideas with others as well as be inspired