Cape Breton fiddler honours Mi’kmaw nation with virtual Celtic Colours debut

Up-and-comer Morgan Toney has only been playing for a year and a half

It was a Monday evening in early August and Morgan Toney had just finished his shift at Tim Hortons when he got a Facebook message. The sender asked if Toney was willing to play at the Celtic Colours International Festival this year.

“I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m reading that right. I gotta read that a few more times,’” Toney said in an interview. “I read it again and I was like, ‘Wow, OK. I’m down for that!’”

Although it was late notice, as the festival was only two months away, Toney said he “just had to do it.”

The 21-year-old We’koma’q First Nation fiddler performed in his first ever Celtic Colours festival on Oct. 9 at the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre. The festival, which typically attracts tens of thousands of Celtic arts enthusiasts to Cape Breton from around the globe, was hosted virtually this year to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The chance to share the stage with fiddle legend Ashley MacIsaac made Toney’s decision to play in the festival a little bit easier. The two opened the night side-by-side with a duet performance and were later joined on stage by Eskasoni’s Stoney Bear Singers.

Toney has only been playing the fiddle for a year and a half, but already he’s making a name for himself around Cape Breton’s music scene.

Morgan Toney (left) and Mary Beth Carty (right) rehearse for their Celtic Colours performance on Oct. 9.   Simon Smith

Mary Beth Carty has been playing music with Toney for about six months and she sees a bright future for the up-and-comer.

“He composes really interesting tunes that even my mother — who’s not a fan of fiddle music — she loves them,” Carty said. “I really love that he’s singing in Mi’kmaq because that’s the language of this land and that’s what I love to hear.”

Carty and Toney performed together following the first intermission of the festival’s opening night.

The festival’s creative director, Dawn Beaton, knows the virtual format isn’t ideal for emerging artists like Toney.

“Something we do is to encourage up-and-comers and give them a platform to perform and to have people discover them,” Beaton said. “This will be in a way a bit of an unfortunate introduction to Celtic Colours because they don’t get the full realm of it.”

Livestreamed performances are nothing new to Toney, though. He’s hosted several Facebook Live concerts in his young career.

“For online performances, it’s a little different because you don’t really have the crowd backing you up,” Toney said. “Stories help. When I did the Facebook concerts, I just said, ‘Hello’ to everybody, ‘How’s everyone doing,’ just to kind of make them come to my house, to make them feel like they’re actually there.”

Toney said an album is on the way, adding that it will feature a selection of his own tunes. He plans to dedicate the album to the Mi’kmaw nation.

Toney has become known for his fiddle renditions of Mi’kmaw songs.

“I sang the Mi’kmaq Honour Song first and I tried to match it with my fiddle — something I’ve never done before — and it worked out really well. I put it on Facebook and it went viral, it was crazy. And then I said, ‘Maybe that’s what I was supposed to do.’”

Simon Smith

Simon Smith

Simon Smith is a multimedia journalist in the Bachelor of Journalism program at the University of King's College. He is an avid traveller and has a deep interest in local news.

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