Musicians to tell story of Basque whalers in tour
The Western Star
DEER LAKE — A group of musicians from the Bonne Bay area will be performing in commemoration of the Basque whalers of 16th-century Red Bay, Labrador.
The tour, which will feature two west coast dates, will also be promoting a new CD created by the group that tells the story of the Basque presence in Red Bay.
At its peak, Red Bay was the site of employment for as many as 1,000 whalers and, even today, remnants of the whaling trade can be found along its shores. A National Historic Site has been established in the area to present the story of the whalers and how their presence affected the Red Bay area.
That story has become the inspiration for recent work by a group of musicians and songwriters in Newfoundland, according to songwriter Shirley Montague of Norris Point.
Montague, who is originally from Labrador, has written six songs for a CD by the group entitled, “Remembering the Red Bay Basques.” The CD will be coupled with performances by the musicians — Montague, Daniel Payne, Louis McDonald and Paul Barry — in the communities of Rocky Harbour and Woody Point in order to promote Red Bay’s whaling history.
“It’s such a powerful part of our history,” said Montague on Friday.
In order to write her contributions to the album, Montague visited the community and consulted with local historians. In particular, Montague received help from the Red Bay National Historic Site, which was a large part of her inspiration.
“I was always kind of smitten with the site,” said Montague. “The whole project was basically inspired by the site itself.”
According to Montague, the story of the whalers of Labrador, as told through the historical site, has been ignored in recent years, with more attention going to other historical areas and groups.
Montague and her group are hoping that their efforts may change all that and get the Red Bay story out.
“It basically is telling the story of the Red Bay Basques in music and song,” said Montague. “That is the goal of this CD. It’s about storytelling.”
The stories told by and through these songwriters were developed with the help of historians and existing research on the Red Bay whalers, said Montague.
For example, Montague’s song, “Saddle Island Shore,” is about an area of Red Bay where many of the fat-rendering facilities for whales were located. These were areas where whale blubber would be transformed into valuable whale oil that would then be shipped back to the European market. Plenty of cooperages for barrel making and whaler graves were also present on the island during the peak whaling period, she said.
The music created by the group about the whalers also includes flavours of the home of the Basque ethnic group, in an area of northern Spain and southern France. Those unique sounds come from instruments like the mandolin, not common to traditional Newfoundland music.
Montague hopes that the words, songs and sounds will encourage more people to take an interest in the whalers of Red Bay and lead to more visitors at the Red Bay National Historic Site.
The musicians and songwriters will be performing this Sunday at the Oceanview Motel in Rocky Harbour, and Thursday at the Woody Point Heritage Theatre.
The live performances are entitled, “The Red Bay Basques in Word, Music and Song.”
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