One listen to Adrian Sutherland’s music and you’ll know he’s unlike anyone else. Born and raised in Canada’s Far North, the roots-rocker-with-heart from Attawapiskat First Nation on James Bay has the voice of a songbird, a wealth of talent, an ocean of muses, and a well-worn Gibson Hummingbird.
Sutherland’s melding of rock, roots, folk and blues is unlike anything else. Drawing inspiration from his life, the land, and his Cree culture, Adrian’s songs ripple far beyond stages and airwaves. His soul-stirring sound is influenced by the likes of Tom Petty, Neil Young, The Tragically Hip, Bryan Adams, Coldplay, and Kashtin – the folk-rock duo from Quebec who sang in their native language, Innu-aimun. Kashtin were popular in the remote region Sutherland grew up, inspiring him to want to write songs in his first language, too, one day.
More than 30 years later that day has come with Notawe (Father) – the lead single from Adrian’s second album “Precious Diamonds.” It’s one of two all-Cree songs on the album, marking the first time Adrian has written and recorded in his mother tongue. Notawe pays homage to Indigenous language, and is resonating with fans everywhere it’s heard.
In June 2023, Adrian worked for the second time with expat-Canadian producer and legendary guitarist Colin Linden to record his sophomore solo album in Nashville. The ten tracks on “Precious Diamonds” were brought to life by a stellar list of musicians, with Jim Hoke on saxophones, Jeff Taylor on accordion and dulceola, Gary Craig on drums and percussion, Jerry Roe on drums, John Dymond on bass, and Janice Powers on B3 organ.
Colin contributed on acoustic, electric, resonator, 12-string, Dobro, and bass guitars, as well as vocals and harmonies. The album was mastered in Edgewater, New Jersey by multi-Grammy-awarded Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone, and will be released March 15, 2024.
The first time Adrian and Colin worked together was during the pandemic, in two different countries. One of the only professional recording artists in Canada who lives on a northern fly-in First Nation, Adrian’s career typically comes with extra challenges. But the biggest challenge was in 2020, when he found himself fully cut off from the rest of the world without any music infrastructure in his isolated location.
To stay involved, Adrian constructed a recording studio inside a shipping container in his backyard. He was then able to work remotely with Colin to record his debut solo album in 2021. “When The Magic Hits” earned Adrian his first JUNO nod after ten years in music – with nomination at the 2022 JUNO Awards (Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year). He was also nominated at the 2023 Canadian Folk Music Awards (Indigenous Songwriter of the Year), and the 2023 Summer Solstice Music Awards (Social Voice, Roots Album of the Year, Artistic Video). Title track Magic Hitsreceived airplay on radio stations worldwide, and won Best Music Video from San Francisco’s 47th American Indian Film Festival.
Adrian released three albums as the frontman and founder of all-Cree rockers Midnight Shine, before starting solo projects. His debut single, Politician Man, is a protest song in response to the contaminated water crisis that gripped his First Nation in 2019. The impassioned anthem reached #1 on the Indigenous Music Countdown (IMC), and won Best Performing Arts & Entertainment from Yorkton, Canada’s oldest film festival. Politician Man continues to screen in official selection and win awards from film festivals worldwide. Watch for an exciting new ‘international’ version of the track to arrive in 2024.
In addition to being a musician, author, entrepreneur, and advocate, Adrian is a dedicated family man, a respected cultural and community leader, and a traditional knowledge keeper who is fluent in Omushkegowuk Cree. He is passionate about empowering young minds through arts, education, and land-based learning. As a Master Corporal with the Canadian Ranger Patrol, he has led teenagers on enriching wilderness and cultural trips. He was instrumental in bringing ArtsCan Circle to his community, and helped launch music programs supported by MusiCounts.
Adrian is writing a book for Penguin Random House Canada about being born and raised in Attawapiskat. He cares deeply about many causes, with first-hand perspective on issues like contaminated water, food insecurity, housing shortages, addictions, and the need for mental health resources in the North – particularly for youth.
At this time of growing awareness around reconciliation, Adrian is hopeful for Canadians to better understand one another, and to walk together in love and respect.