Crystal Shawanda Homecoming Concert encourages aboriginal youth to achieve their dreams

Brittany Manitowabi singing an original song. Ms. Manitowabi has been singing during the open mic section every year of homecoming, this year earning herself a place in the lineup. photos by Robin Burridge

KABONI—The 9th annual Crystal Shawanda Homecoming Concert brought together youth performers and big names like Micki Free for one incredible night of celebrating aboriginal dancing, fashion and music.

“Dewayne and I started homecoming because we wanted to encourage up-and-coming performers,” said Ms. Shawanda, referencing two of this year’s acts, JW Stevens from the Nipissing First Nation and Brittany Manitowabi from Wikwemikong. “Brittany has performed at every homecoming open mic and this year she is an official act. She gets it—you got to go after what you want. She has a great attitude and work ethic. I grew up going to every open mic on the Island and working hard. I like to think the whole point of homecoming is to provide an opportunity for people to put themselves out there.”

Upcoming fashion designer Krysta Manitowabi of Odemin Clothing and Beadwork with her models following the fashion show.
Upcoming fashion designer Krysta Manitowabi of Odemin Clothing and Beadwork with her models
following the fashion show.

In keeping with the tradition of inspiring youth, Bruno Henry’s fashion show featured young designer Krysta Manitowabi of Odemin Clothing and Beadwork.

“Bruno really inspired me to become a fashion designer,” said Ms. Manitowabi. “He’s the one that encouraged me to get into it. I started with beadwork and sunglasses and then went to George Brown for fashion design. I started Odemin and have been traveling around to powwows and conferences selling my designs.”

The Outside Looking In dance troupe from Wikwemikong High School were also new to this year’s concert and were a crowd favourite.

Following Nathan Cunningham, Crystal Shawanda with special guest Micki Free of the 1980s group Shalamar took to the stage.

Crystal Shawanda at her 9th annual homecoming concert with longtime friend and special guest Micki Free. photo by Robin Burridge
Crystal Shawanda at her 9th annual homecoming concert with longtime friend and special guest Micki Free.
photo by Robin Burridge

Micki Free was discovered by Gene Simmons of KISS when his band Smokehouse was opening for the band and REO Speedwagon. He went on to join Shalamar in 1984, famous for their top 20 hit ‘Dancing in the Sheets’ from the Footloose soundtrack and won a Grammy for ‘Don’t Get Stopped in Beverly Hills’ from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack in 1985. He is also known for his hilarious role in the Charlie Murphy story from the Chappelle Show’s True Hollywood Stories about Eddy Murphy and Prince playing basketball

“I’ve known Crystal and Dewayne for ages,” Micki Free told The Expositor. “I heard Crystal sing ‘You Can Let Go’ and I was like ‘whoa.’ She was part of my Native Music Rocks tour and we have been friends ever since.”

Bruno Henry’s buckskin fashions are always a highlight of homecoming.
Bruno Henry’s buckskin fashions are always a highlight of homecoming.

“Manitoulin seems like a really special, beautiful place,” added Micki. “I dance Northern Traditional and I’m looking forward to the (Wikwemikong) powwow—I might do an intertribal.”

“The talent shown here (at homecoming) so far tonight has been amazing,” he said. “Nurturing Native talent is so important.”

Ms. Shawanda said she has been busy in the studio, with her top priority her new album.

“‘Fish Out of Water’ is my new album and I’ve been spending a lot of time at home in Nashville at the studio,” said Ms. Shawanda. “I’ve just finished it and it will be released early this fall. It’s a mix of blues, rock and country soul. I took a lot of time on this album—I didn’t want to force it—I wanted it to come naturally. I feel with ‘Fish Out of Water’ I’m finally embracing that I don’t fit into a certain genre of music.”

Writing the song, Ms. Shawanda said she drew from her life, love and experiences with racism in the music industry.

“People pretend that it (racism) isn’t an issue, but it is and hopefully talking about it will help make it easier for the next generation,” she added.

JW Stevens and fellow bandmate Shawn Blis prior to hitting the stage at the 9th annual Crystal Shawanda Homecoming Concert.
JW Stevens and fellow bandmate Shawn Blis prior to hitting the stage at the 9th annual Crystal Shawanda Homecoming Concert.
The Outside Looking In dancers busting a move at homecoming.
The Outside Looking In dancers busting a move at homecoming.