Born on Feb. 19, 1949, Ernest Monias began his musical journey at the ripe age of 13 when he learned to play the guitar.
The man, sometimes known as “The King of the North,” laughs when he hears the nickname and says it was one he never asked for. The title seemed to catch on for one reason or another after he was branded “the Elvis of the North” by Ness Michaels from Sunshine Records.
“They call me king now, but I'm no king,” Monias said.
Despite being involved for well over 50 years in the music industry, Monias has no plans to hang up his crown anytime soon.
“I love music very much,” Monias said, emphasizing the point by hitting his arm over his chest. “I want to retire, but I don't think I can. I see all the people having a good time, and all that, it keeps me motivated.”
Monias said he'd like to work with northern Saskatchewan's own Black Eyed Creez to make some new music in the future. He's got 23 albums under his belt and he said he'd like to add at least one more.
Born in Cross Lake, Man., Monias has played his music to Northerners between Labrador and Alaska and is currently making his way through Saskatchewan, and cherishes the opportunity.
“They want to see their [Indigenous] star so to speak... I'd rather go to little communities because they're the ones that support me.... So I make every effort to go and entertain the little communities” Monias said.
Early in his musical career, Monias participated in choir at a residential school in Portage La Prairie. He travelled to Expo '67 in Montreal on a one-month excursion with the group, a highlight of his amateur years. He would go on to play in his first band, The Sons of Manitou, and eventually land opening gigs for bands like Nazareth and Trooper. Hailing from a small, remote community, Manitou said he would never have imagined performing on the same stage as groups with such star-power.
“I didn't imagine it would end up like this,” Monias said. “Apparently my music caught on [for] people... They can relate to my music and the songs I write.”
Monias blends country, gospel and folk sounds, which comes in part from his influences; Johnny Cash, Elvis and Hank Williams Sr. While he enjoys the sound of contemporary musicians like Eric Church, he finds most modern country music strays from the genre's roots. His sound also grows out of words of wisdom from his grandmother who raised him, as his mother died before he could remember and his father wasn't around.
“[My grandmother] said 'obviously you're going to be a singer but remember you don't only sing these crazy songs. Consider where your life is coming from, the Creator, and singing gospels too,' so I did that... I actually listened to her.” Monias said.
His identity also plays a role in who he is as a musician. Monias said a driving force in his career was his disdain from hearing the constant negative judgments lobed towards Indigenous people and never having many Indigenous musicians to look up too.
“That set me on a course to do music; to do just as good as our counterparts, that's what gives me the drive,” he said. “I wanted to do it from the heart.”
Social media is a new aspect of life in the music industry for the vocalist he has yet to explore. While uses his smartphone for text messages and calling, Facebook is something he hasn't explored personally. Despite, numerous memes have been made of Monias, and even if they're in jest, he takes it all in stride.
“When they do that, they boost me up, it lifts me up in popularity,” Monias said, adding with a laugh, “I've heard of all the negative things people have said about me on Facebook, but you know what, at my age... I don't give a flying, ah, never mind the word.”
On Twitter: @BryanEneas
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