Forbidden Music


The documentary Forbidden Music explores the extraordinary lives of Kwakwaka’wakw Chief Mungo Martin and Jewish ethno-musicologist Ida Halpern. Their combined efforts nearly 75 years ago led to preventing hundreds of First Nations songs from being lost forever. They not only shared a deep dedication to preserving the embedded cultural knowledge that these songs held, they had also experienced the heart-wrenching effects of cultural genocide on their people. The Nazis annexed Austria in 1938, which led to the deaths of more than 60,000 Jewish citizens, including Dr. Halpern’s parents. In Canada, between 1884 and 1951, the Canadian government’s Indian Act made it illegal for Indigenous people to take part in traditional ceremonies, such as the Potlatch and Sun Dance. In tandem with church-run Indian residential schools, which resulted in thousands of childrens’ deaths, the Potlatch Ban caused an unprecedented loss of traditional knowledge and language trans- mission, making it difficult for Elders to pass down their knowledge to the younger generation. It was during this time of cultural disruption that Dr. Halpern immigrated to Canada from Vienna. Her dream was to record and study the traditional songs of Indigenous people. Ignoring the laws of the day that banned First Nations people from performing their songs, she packed her recording machine and travelled to First Nations villages on Vancouver Island. She slowly gained the trust and friendship of Kwakwaka’wakw, Haida, Nuu-chah-nulth and Coast Salish singers. In 1951 in Vancouver, Dr. Halpern met Chief Martin, a hereditary chief and knowledge keeper from Fort Rupert. Together they recorded 124 songs, with the intention of preserving his vast repertoire of songs from his own and other Nations. In Forbidden Music, director Barbara Todd Hager follows the path that these recordings have taken, from their origins in Fort Rupert, to recording sessions in Vancouver, to their release by New York-based Folkways Records, and finally into archival collections at the Royal British Columbia and Smithsonian museums. The documentary will return to Chief Martin’s community of Fort Rupert to find out how
his musical legacy has contributed to the revitalization of Kwak’wala songs and language today. Acimow Media acknowledges hereditary Chief David Knox, great grandson of Chief Mungo Martin, for his support of this documentary.