Growing up in Behchokǫ̀, Diga spoke only Tłı̨chǫ until the age of ten.
Now, the two-time Juno-nominated singer-songwriter, along with his band Digawolf, is returning to his heritage with his first all-Tłı̨chǫ album in more than a decade. Ini is the follow-up to 2020’s High Arctic, and his seventh release since first adopting the name Diga.
With new studio technologies making production cheaper and easier than ever, Diga [nee Jesse James Yatlayi] says he can finally give an all-Tłı̨chǫ album the attention it needs. “You don’t have to rent studio space, which costs thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s what motivated me to work on the Tłı̨chǫ album, because I have the time, and the resources, and it was a lot easier to do than having only like, 15 days to finish an album or something like that.”
This allows the songs to grow organically in the studio: “Sometimes songs, they started [with] instruments, and then sometimes it was with the Tłı̨chǫ language, and I had an idea around the language, and I just built music around it, or the band and I.”
In his songwriting, Diga draws inspiration from more than just language, including visual art: “Someday I’m going to get back into painting. But for now, I sort of still paint with audio, in some ways. And so and language floats on top of it, and sometimes it flows through it, and sometimes there’s no language — I’m trying to convey an image of something like the past, or something like that, to the audience through music.”
His new single, “Ini (Spirit),” is a meditation on love and family. Musically, it’s a marriage of traditional and contemporary elements: Diga’s distinctive baritone voice fades in and out over a pulsing electronic beat. As the song progresses, his voice is accompanied by a whirring synthesizer.
Diga says the song came quickly and easily. “I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, I went into my studio, and everything came out within a few hours — the whole track came out,” he says. “Probably because I was thinking about my family, you know? I was thinking about all those happy times and thinking about how much I miss my family and stuff. So that’s what was probably captured.”
Once the album drops next month, fans can expect to see Digawolf on tour with his band sometime in 2023.
Ini comes out on Oct. 28. A second single, “Eneetii,” drops Oct. 17.
Note: A previous version of this article identified Diga as “Jesse James Gon.” He now goes by “Jesse James Yatlayi.” CKLB regrets the error.