Finding kinship between two tongues: An interview with Francis Baptiste

Finding kinship between two tongues: An interview with Francis Baptiste

By: Cierra Bettens | Photo by: Gaetan Nerincx; Art by: Laura Stanley

“Our nsyilxcən language is our knowledge of the land, water and the tmixʷ. The sounds and pronunciations within our nsyilxcən language came from the tmixʷ and contain specific knowledge values and meaning to them.

Article 2, Syilx Okanagan Language Declaration

Francis Baptiste knows there’s a lot in a language. His latest album, Family (Snəqsilxʷ), is a culmination of songs in both English and nsyilxcən [nah-silx-sin], the language of the Syilx people. Today, fewer than 150 fluent speakers of nsyilxcən, Baptiste’s grandmother’s mother tongue, remain. 

The 30-something musician and music journalist currently resides in Vancouver but is originally from the Osoyoos Indian Band in the Okanagan. Raising his son Finn in the urban confines of Vancouver, a four hour drive away from Baptiste’s homelands, has come with its own set of challenges. 

After the death of his grandmother, Baptiste took it upon himself to learn the language. Not long after, he began incorporating nsyilxcən words into melodies, and eventually, into an album. Throughout Family (Snəqsilxʷ), listeners become privy to intimate parts of Baptiste’s life. At this point, he has few reservations about keeping his guard up or hiding truths about himself. Gone is any sense of pretension. 

Family (Snəqsilxʷ) is not merely an album but an act of preservation. It grapples with themes of addiction, separation, and identity. Baptiste rethinks, then reimagines, what it means to be Indigenous. I called him to talk about language, isolation, and the meaning of home. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Cierra Bettens: Let’s start with a very general question. The theme of this issue of New Feeling is Kinship. What does kinship mean to you?

Francis Baptiste: I guess when I hear that word, I think of family. Not just your literal biological family, but the family you create around you. I found since making this album that I’ve been thinking a lot about that in general. My son and I live in Vancouver, but all of my family is from the Okanagan. We all live on the Osoyoos Indian Band. 

It’s been a struggle trying to raise a son on your own and not having that kind of support system. I grew up with a lot of brothers and sisters and basically had built-in biological babysitters. Finn doesn’t have any siblings. He doesn’t have the constant presence of his cousins or the larger family in general. I mean, the Osoyoos Indian Band is only 500 people. It basically consists of three or four large families, including my own.

I’m used to being in a place where everyone is your family. Everyone just calls each other ‘cousins’ or ‘cuz’ because it’d be too exhausting to actually pay attention to who actually is your cousin. You kind of assume you’re related somehow. That kind of environment is what I think of when I think of [what it was like] when I was a child. 

Raising Finn out here where he doesn’t have anything like that feels a lot more solitary and isolated. There’s also the cultural aspect to that too because it feels like raising [Finn] in Vancouver is essentially raising him in this settler lifestyle. He doesn’t really understand what the rez is. He doesn’t have the context of what it means to be Indigenous, as dramatic as it sounds. There’s nothing Native about the way we live out here. I guess that kind of raises other questions of identity struggle in general. What does it mean to be an Indigenous man in this day and age in this country? When you take the rez aspect out of it, that becomes even more confusing. 

CB: Your latest album, Family (Snəqsilxʷ), blends songs written in both English and nsyilxcən. How does each respective language impact your songwriting process?

FB: Writing in English is easier. I’m not a fluent nsyilxcən speaker. I didn’t start learning the language until I started writing this album. This album has been the start of my journey of trying to reclaim the language for myself. 

It’s a lot more planning. I don’t have to think about the language when I write a song in English because I’ve been speaking English my whole life. There are just a lot of differences in the practicality of it. The syllables are different. There are a lot more consonant sounds in nsyilxcən. There are a lot of strange letters and sounds that don’t really exist in English. There are certain letters that kind of sound like a lisp, or throat sounds—these sounds that kind of aren’t singable. It made me realize how vowel-heavy English is and how every vowel sound is almost made to be a held note. It’s easy to turn those sounds into musical notes, you know? But it seems trickier in nsyilxcən. 

So for the songs that I did write in nsyilxcən, the melodies there are simpler. I have to keep things simple to make it work, but it’s also an ongoing learning process for me musically. Right now I’m writing the next song, and it feels like I’m slowly getting a little better at it, which is good. 

CB: I’m curious to know who you collaborated with on your album. What was the translation process like? 

FB: Originally, I had the idea that I would just write songs in English and send them to some of the better speakers back home. So, I would just write a song in English, send it to them, and they’d send me back a translation. I found out very early that that process just doesn’t work. You have a rough idea of how you think the melody is going to go, but the change in syllables is so extreme sometimes. It made it harder to try to shoehorn the language into a song. 

So instead of doing that, I just kind of spent more time looking at what vocabulary I was learning already. As I was learning, I would highlight certain words or certain phrases that could fit into a song. I’d come back to it later at my guitar and see if I could sing a word and play a few chords, see if I could make it sound good. 

CB: What kind of resources are available for Indigenous musicians looking to preserve endangered languages? 

FB: It’s very limited, but there are some organizations that are kind of working to get these languages recorded and preserved through writing. There are websites like, which have been a really good resource for me. They do a whole bunch of other Indigenous languages as well. So if another Indigenous person was interested in trying to learn their language, they could go on there and see what they have. It’s usually PDFs you can download, and sound files, which I find super helpful. 

From my band, there’s an organization called the Syilx Language House. They have a website; it has a few resources there. When COVID came along the Sylix Language House couldn’t operate in a physical classroom anymore, so they started Zoom sessions, which is also super handy for me here in Vancouver, so far from home. It’s a chance for me to connect to other people in my community trying to learn the language and also just see family members I haven’t seen in a long time. 

CB: Family (Snəqsilxʷ) deals with a lot of personal themes like addiction, identity, and going through a divorce. How do you decide what to disclose to your listeners and what to keep private? 

FB: A friend told me a couple of years ago, “You don’t use a lot of metaphors—you’re kinda just literally saying things.” Since he brought that up, I’m always thinking, “My gosh, I should use more metaphors.” But it all comes out like a diary or journal—this is literally what was getting me down. 

It can become very personal or exposing. I’ve found the same thing in live performances, especially in the last two years. I’ve kind of made a conscious choice to be more open and be more vulnerable. But lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about if it could potentially be damaging in certain situations. There are a lot of songs about addiction. There’s a lot of talking or storytelling between songs. It’s hard to sometimes second-guess the stories I tell. 

I’m trying, I think, to just let it all out or live more with [my] guard down, that kind of thing. For one thing, it’s less pretentious, and it just simplifies everything. I’m 37 now—I don’t want to have to pretend to be better than I am anymore in my life. It’s just exhausting to put on these masks and put on a show. 

CB: How has the experience of creating the album affected you? 

FB: It’s felt like a good experience so far. It’s caused me to think more about what it means to be Indigenous and rethink what family is all about. It’s very cathartic. A lot of people are very supportive of it in general, especially when I started the Native language aspects. They seem to be very interested in it. I can’t wait to start working on the next one. 

Francis Baptiste’s Family (Snəqsilxʷ) is now available on Apple Music and all other major streaming platforms.

Group Chat: Wallgrin; Quinton Barnes

Art by: Galen Milne-Hines | Wallgrin photo by: Mackenzie Walker; Quinton Barnes photo by: Rahel Ellis

Welcome to New Feeling’s Group Chat. In this feature, we invite a panel of writers to give their takes on two songs selected by our editorial team, with the goal of offering a variety of perspectives on each track and discovering common threads of interest, analysis, and interpretation.

In our latest edition, Leslie Ken Chu, Jordan Currie, and Laura Stanley declare their devotion to Vancouver violinist Wallgrin’s avant-chamber pop composition “PseudoReligion.” Meanwhile, Tia Julien, Chu, and Jesse Locke wax animated about the viscerally conflicted and disorienting “Dead” by Hamilton-born singer-rapper Quinton Barnes.

Check out the takes below!

Leslie Ken Chu: Melodic drops of harp pool around salt-lamp synths and Wallgrin’s operatic voice like water in a pristine underground pond. Yet, counter to that tranquil imagery, the Vancouver composer lyrically wades through murky existential waters. “Am I a fool for seeking clarity / When I know that nothing will ever be clear?” they ponder. An electrical storm guitar solo rages, mirroring their inner conflict. Wallgrin’s skepticism that an unequivocal universal truth exists inspires feelings of insignificance. But light always breaks through the surface of even the darkest waters—as long as Wallgrin keeps swimming, they’re bound to reach a revelation and break through their uncertainty.

Jordan Currie: Wallgrin’s “PseudoReligion” is a cosmic, magical melting pot. If the poetry of Florence and the Machine, the whimsical vocals and delicate harps of Joanna Newsom and the rousing 1970s rock guitars of Yves Tumor had a baby, this song would be it. But make no mistake—the Vancouver artist spins all of these eclectic sounds into their own original creation. Confusion, faith, a search for meaning in life—these are all themes explored in the song. “Am I a fool for seeking clarity / When I know that nothing will ever be clear?” Tegan Wahlgren ponders. The track’s simmering build leads to an epic finale that can only be described as utterly mystical, like the image of Venus emerging from the ocean.

Laura Stanley: On “PseudoReligion,” Wallgrin (Tegan Wahlgren) steps up to the pulpit and lets loose. If Elisa Thorn’s twinkling harp is heaven and the face-melting rock opera-like guitar solo from Tristan Paxton is hell, then Wahlgren is caught somewhere in the middle trying to understand their life’s purpose and, as they write on Instagram, “surrender to absurdity.” Wahlgren’s striking avant-garde pop track twists and turns unexpectedly, but the weighty unease at the heart of “PseudoReligion” (and Wahlgren) is a steady conductor and a very relatable touchpoint. Light a prayer candle in preparation for Wallgrin’s second album, Yet Again the Wheel Turns, due out in September.

Leslie Ken Chu: It’s difficult to parse reality from paranoid fiction on “Dead,” the lead single from Quinton Barnes’ upcoming sophomore album, For the Love of Drugs. A harsh, jarring electronica beat undergirds the rapper’s innate swagger, revealing his inner turmoil. One moment, he’s boasting that no one can ever be on his level; the next, he’s crumbling completely: “Got a feeling I deserve something more / ‘Cause ain’t nothing working here at all / I got voices in my head telling me I’m better off dead.” That Barnes swings from flaunting confidence to wrestling with self-doubt in the same verse evinces one sure reality: it’s too easy for our disparaging internal voice to invade our thoughts.

Tia Julien: Quinton Barnes leans into the dark on the first single “Dead” from his upcoming album, For the Love of Drugs. The accompanying music video provides a chilling visual aid to the horror behind the narrative: “I got voices in my head / Telling me I’d be better off dead.” Consistent with his discography, “Dead” is a bold and stylized statement on a socially stigmatized dilemma—the temptation to succumb to your vices: “I’m liable to lose my mind at any time / Stop treating me crazy.” We know Barnes from his previous works, including As a Motherfucker (2021), as a multifaceted artist who isn’t afraid to be truly vulnerable in his songwriting. Laughing in the face of evil on “Dead,” Barnes shows his willingness to work and play with intense emotion through his music.

Jesse Locke: The devil on Quinton Barnes’ shoulder is laughing so loudly that he can’t be ignored. On his new single, “Dead,” intrusive thoughts bubble up to the surface and spill over like an oozing evil that refuses to remain bottled inside him. The young Kitchener-based rapper and producer revealed feelings of vulnerability under the leather-clad exterior of his 2021 debut, As A Motherfucker, but on this song he shines the spotlight directly into the darkness. Like his former Grimalkin Records labelmate Backxwash, Barnes speaks openly about the temptations to obliterate himself either temporarily or permanently, tearing down the stigmas that surround these very human conditions. When he laughs back at the devil, weakness becomes strength.

Daisy Garland – Open Country

Daisy Garland
Open Country
Strawberry Coffin Records
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: Hank Williams; Lee Hazlewood; Ghost stories

The songs of Open Country roll into one another like a tumbleweed moving across the plains. The 20 country tracks of Daisy Garland (E.S Peters)’s double-album mix outlaw country with psychedelia and surf-rock to make one long strange trip for listeners. It’s an album full of cavernous twangs, hymnic vocals, love, and ghosts. In all of its run-on glory, you will also hear:

There’s forty-five hundred channels of shit on my tv Clem’s Creek she carries with her a bag of yarn the constant state of forward motion PRAISE THE LORD I SAW THE LIGHT it’s a horizontal cross I’ll stay up writing till Christmas passes I’m left to the bottle alone and so blue greener pastures for every light must come to an end.

On the way out of Open Country is the 13+ minute long closing track “Midnight on the Farm.” The full moon is shining on two dancing lovers, except they are not there – it’s just the swirling fog at midnight, and Daisy Garland and accompanying band the Thick Silver  transform the track from a lulling lament into sweaty, fevered chaos. It’s an electrifying conclusion to a thrilling journey. 

– Laura Stanley

Air Creature – Every Emotion

Air Creature
Every Emotion
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: engine failure; broken propellers; electrical storms

Spencer Schoening might be best known as the former drummer in JUNO Award-winning indie rock band Said the Whale, but few people know that within him lies a different beast. He himself didn’t know, until he heard Pulse Demon by harsh noise legend Merzbow. Roused by the demon’s call, what once lay dormant has now reared its head, and Schoening has given it a name: Air Creature.

The four pulverizing tracks on Air Creature’s Every Emotion crackle with electrical buzz. The churning “Hiddenness” will make you seasick on land. The distorted “Wilderness Pup” screeches and thrashes like T-1000 meeting its demise. “Poorest in the Forest” sputters and never lifts off, like a helicopter shooting smoke from its engine. When Air Creature pulls the plug on livewire shocker “Massive Aggressive,” the abrupt ending leaves you reeling.

You won’t find the bright, melodic sounds typically associated with ecstatic joy on Every Emotion—in fact, you might not be able to pinpoint what you feel. But disorientation elicits a peculiar bliss, perhaps one of numbness. Listening to Every Emotion, you will feel something, and sometimes, it’s better to wonder than to know for sure.

Leslie Ken Chu


Vancouver, BC
RIYL: SZA; Homeshake; Reverie Sound Revue

Heartbreak abounds on DACEY’s debut EP, SATIN PLAYGROUND, but the Vancouver quintet lift themselves up with a breezy mix of jazz, pop, hip-hop, and R&B. The members’ background as trained producers comes out in the seven songs’ warm, silky sound. Singer Dacey Andrada adds even more finesse as a jazz vocalist who grew up on Motown.

The buoyant “I’ll Be There” is perfect for walking away from a bad situation with your head held high; listening to the song, you can almost feel the sun in your eyes. And though Andrada gets hung up on memories of the good times on “See Thru Me” (“I keep on reminiscing what we had is gone,” she sings), slow jams like this will make you want to light a scented candle, spark up a joint, and chill out on your couch. And speaking of vibes, the fluid “SUMMERTIMEISDONE” could be an outtake from SZA’s Ctrl.

As Andrada sings on the groovy “Sidewalks,” “I’m only getting started.” SATIN PLAYGROUND is a confident first step for DACEY towards coming into their own.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Julian Yi-Zhong Hou – Grass Drama | Selected Works

Julian Yi-Zhong Hou
Grass Drama | Selected Works
Second Spring
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: Joseph Shabason; Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith; cloud gazing

Julian Yi-Zhong Hou’s Grass Drama—a collection of works whose original forms were largely multi-media art exhibits shown across Canada—is as entrancing as long grass dancing in the wind. There are lo-fi folk songs, orchestral and New Age elements, and tracks that centre on spoken word pieces. When you read all of the materials that accompany Grass Drama, you learn that Hou has woven into each song stories about his family, mental health, addiction, and the search for harmony.

Grass Drama is an immersive listening experience that I keep returning to because, although the album unfurls slowly, there is so much to absorb, and I don’t want to miss anything. What stands out during each listen are the spine-tingling whispers and sighs within the sparse “Solitaire” and the beautiful hymnic pacing of “Pink Cloud.”

The description of “Grass Drama,” the centrepiece of the album, on Hou’s website, provides insight into his measured approach to making art: “Hou developed this project over a two-year period, guided by a process of sensitivity training involving divination, hypnagogic practices and expanded states of consciousness, which took place alongside (and within) the slow construction of the artist’s backyard studio-shed and garden. The length of time is significant, Hou suggests, because it echoes the time required for many rhizomatic plants, such as hops or ginger, to mature and bear fruit.”

If you purchase a vinyl copy of Grass Drama you will also receive Selected Works, a collection of previously unreleased recordings that have accompanied Hou’s art installations over the last few years. Similar to Grass Drama, Selected Works, which is available to stream on Spotify too, has a mixture of swooping synths and piano-led pieces and is occupied by numerous voices. Although there are groovy moments like “Prince of the Blues” or “Fuse,” it’s largely a dirgeful collection of songs that leave you feeling unsettled: “How do you approach the end?” a voice asks on “The Sun.” But, like me, you will return to Hou’s releases again and again because you too are restless for answers.

– Laura Stanley

Minimal Violence – Phase Two

Minimal Violence
Phase Two
Tresor Records 
Vancouver, BC 
RIYL: Listening to techno at home; music on the cusp of scary; the ’90s

In May 2020, Minimal Violence released Phase One to kick off a three-part series titled DESTROY —->[physical] REALITY [psychic] <—- TRUST with Berlin’s iconic Tresor Records. Enter Phase Two. Both EPs are at home on the rave-ready label, simulating, at a distance, the claustrophobic (in a good way), mysterious, and dark aesthetics of the club. 

On Phase Two, Vancouver’s Ash Luk and Lida P. race through techno, industrial breakbeat, and other electronic experiments. The duo switches things up just when you think you have ahold of them, shopping in their encyclopedic influences not only across tracks but within them. The EBM sounds and screams of “Mankind” linger into neighbouring track “Hard Delivery,” while complementing its gabber style. EP opener “Dreams for Sale” may share breakbeat moments with closer “1992,” yet both tracks offer different soundscapes and visual imagery. Where the former is fit to soundtrack your worst nightmare, the latter is fit for a Matrix-style throwdown. (Don’t worry, you’re Neo, and you’re doing very well.)

We can expect Phase Three soon, although it looks like Minimal Violence will be a one-person act going forward with Lida stepping away from the duo. While we’ll surely still be barred from dancing en masse when it’s released, Minimal Violence will bring the club to us yet again. 

– Katerina Stamadianos

Sadé Awele
Time Love Journey
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: Jamila Woods; Aquakultre; Natalie Slade

Self-care takes time and love. For some people, it’s a journey. Nigerian-born singer Sadé Awele maps her path to self-preservation on her groovy, nocturnal EP, Time Love Journey. “You have to walk that road on your own / … / Are you even willing to try?” she asks on “Care.” Along with committing your own emotional labour, you have to be open to critical reflection: “How can you be so guarded? / I don’t understand it,” her interrogation continues.

Awele commands a breathless cool on the self-assured “No Love Lost.” Faint background horns mingle with pattering percussive brushes, creating a restrained energy on “Peak.” “These are my emotions,” she sings on this humid song, baring her vulnerability as she tries to conquer her anxiety and stay on top of her game.

“Take it easy, take it slow / We’ve got so far to go,” she repeats as thick bass, overhanging brass, and warm, smooth keys propel “Take It Easy” towards a crescendo. Sadé Awele proves self-care is worth the labour. She’s playing the long game, and I have a feeling she’s going to stick it out.

Leslie Ken Chu

The Feeling of Winning
Kingfisher Bluez
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: Best Coast; WUT; pre-Warning Green Day

Booze and regrets flow on SBDC’s rollicking new album, The Feeling of Winning. Multi-voice choruses slam you like waves, knocking you under surfing riffs and rolling rhythms, before bungee basslines pull you back up. Getting back on your feet is what The Feeling of Winning is all about. 

“How did I make it through the night?” they ask on “Acid Brains,” after declaring “I don’t want to live this life anymore” on “Every Drunk in the World.” Small victories like shedding your vices and dropping the dead weight of underachievers and directionless, troublemaking boyfriends from your life fill the album’s 21-and-a-half minutes. But doing so comes with mixed emotions: SBDC want zero commitment on “Casual Friends,” yet they seek validation on “Date Me.” 

Such conflicts make for a crashing emotional mess, but they also make The Feeling of Winning one of the year’s best garage pop gems, and that’s no small victory.

– Leslie Ken Chu