IN­DIGE­NOUS NEXT WAVE

THE SPOT­LIGHT IS SHIN­ING ON IN­DIGE­NOUS MUSICMAKERS, BUT THE STRUG­GLE IS FAR FROM OVER.

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - BY JAR­RETT MARTINEAU

Rev­o­lu­tions Per Minute co-founder and ra­dio host Jar­rett Martineau (right) weighs in on the “mo­ment” In­dige­nous mu­sic is hav­ing. Plus, poet, jour­nal­ist, ed­u­ca­tor and ac­tivist Duke Red­bird dis­cusses the Na­tive North Amer­ica al­bum and gath­er­ing.

Force of na­ture: it’s a re­frain you of­ten hear af­ter peo­ple have seen Inuk artist Tanya Ta­gaq per­form. There’s some­thing about the wild, im­pro­vised, of­ten raw and ragged power of her artistry that doesn’t just con­nect with au­di­ences, it comes fly­ing through you like some pri­mal wave of elec­tric­ity. Her mu­sic is about pres­ence and con­nec­tion. That she was able to make those things felt at some­thing as seem­ingly safe as the 2014 Po­laris Mu­sic Prize gala is a tes­ta­ment to the power of her mu­sic and her artis­tic bril­liance. Sup­ported by her band and a mur­mur­ing choir of singers, and with the names of the more than 1,200 In­dige­nous women and girls who have been miss­ing or mur­dered in Canada over the past sev­eral decades scrolling be­hind her, she took com­plete com­mand as she per­formed Uja and Uming­mak. Her mu­sic is de­fi­antly oth­er­worldly, and her rhyth­mic, in­can­ta­tory reimag­in­ing of the Inuit game of throat sing­ing has trans­formed the form from its re­duc­tive read­ing as a “tra­di­tional” prac­tice into its full re­al­iza­tion as an ex­pres­sion of new pos­si­bil­i­ties in con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous mu­sic. That night, she brought the stunned ca­pac­ity crowd to its feet and also took home the Po­laris Mu­sic Prize for her al­bum An­imism. It was the first time an In­dige­nous artist had ever won.

WE ARE WIT­NESS­ING THE EMER­GENCE OF AN IN­DIGE­NOUS NEXT WAVE. AND IT GOES BEYOND PO­LARIS MU­SIC PRIZE RECOG­NI­TION.

An­other won in 2015: leg­endary Cree singer Buffy Sainte-Marie, for Power In The Blood.

Two back-to-back prizes for In­dige­nous artists. Two con­sec­u­tive wins for In­dige­nous women.

And then, when the short list for the 2017 Po­laris Mu­sic Prize was an­nounced last month, it in­cluded an un­prece­dented three out of 10 In­dige­nous nom­i­nees: elec­tronic/DJ crew A Tribe Called Red, Afro-In­dige­nous Colom­bian artist Lido Pimienta and again Ta­gaq for her lat­est al­bum, Ret­ri­bu­tion.

We are wit­ness­ing the emer­gence of an In­dige­nous Next Wave. And it goes beyond Po­laris Mu­sic Prize recog­ni­tion.

A Tribe Called Red, Ta­gaq and Black Bear Singers opened this year’s Juno Awards with a per­for­mance that earned them rave re­views for its ac­knowl­edg- ment of the un­sur­ren­dered ter­ri­tory of the Al­go­nquin and Anishi­naabe Na­tions and their con­tin­u­ous and on­go­ing pres­ence for, as Sainte-Marie put it in her in­tro, “thou­sands and thou­sands and thou­sands of years.”

At the 2017 MMVAs, A Tribe Called Red took home two awards, best direc­tor for Sta­dium Pow Wow and video of the year for R.E.D., their next-level col­lab­o­ra­tion with hip-hop artists Narcy and Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def).

Then there’s the Cana­dian doc­u­men­tary film ex­plor­ing the un­told sto­ries and in­deli­ble in­flu­ence of In­dige­nous artists on every genre of pop­u­lar mu­sic. Rum­ble: The In­di­ans Who Rocked The World came crash­ing into the­atres af­ter an award-win­ning world pre­miere at Sun­dance and stand­ing ova­tions at this year’s Hot Docs Fes­ti­val, where it won the Rogers Au­di­ence Award for best Cana­dian doc­u­men­tary and the Hot Docs Au­di­ence Award. (It’s screen­ing at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema un­til Au­gust 17, and at 99 Sud­bury as part of the Open Roof Fes­ti­val on Au­gust 15. See re­view at now­toronto.com.)

Un­der the shift­ing shadow of Canada 150, and through­out this con­tested year of the coun­try’s “sesqui­cen­ten­nial” colo­nial cel­e­bra­tions, In­dige­nous artists have been booked (and some have re­fused to be booked) to head­line fes­ti­val stages across the coun­try and to per­form at count­less In­dige­nous themed events, many fly­ing the ban­ners of recla­ma­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

So, yes, In­dige­nous mu­sic is hav­ing an in­cred­i­ble mo­ment. But it hasn’t al­ways been like this.

When In­dige­nous artists like Sainte-Marie and Wil­lie Dunn started out more than 50 years ago, there was no In­dige­nous mu­sic scene. There was no wave.

Sainte-Marie had to imag­ine and build her own path through the racism, dis­missal and dis­in­ter­est of a mu­sic in­dus­try – and a colo­nial so­ci­ety – that did not con­sider the con­tri­bu­tions of In­dige­nous peo­ple, let alone artists, worth ac­knowl­edg­ing or cel­e­brat­ing.

Over a re­mark­able half-cen­tury of song­writ­ing and per­form­ing that shows no signs of slow­ing down, she has fought be­ing black­listed and marginal­ized to claim her right­ful place as the ma­tri­arch of con­tem­po­rary In­dige­nous mu­sic. She is one of the com­mu­nity’s long­est-stand­ing and most pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cates. She has al­ways fought for In­dige­nous voices and mu­sic to be heard.

In­dige­nous peo­ple have fought and con­tinue to fight for ac­cess to bare min­i­mum lev­els of sur­vival. This ac­cess is not, and has never been, guar­an­teed. Many of our an­ces­tors and rel­a­tives didn’t make it out of the fight against colo­nial­ism alive.

Those who did have car­ried – and still do – the re­spon­si­bil­ity of their sur­vival for­ward so that oth­ers in our com­mu­nity can imag­ine new pos­si­bil­i­ties in life, art and cre­ation.

THERE’S IRONY IN THE CUR­RENT NON-IN­DIGE­NOUS IN­TER­EST IN IN­DIGE­NOUS MU­SIC: THIS IS THIS SAME AU­DI­ENCE AND MU­SIC IN­DUS­TRY WHOSE RACISM, DIS­MISSAL AND SYS­TEMIC IN­EQUITY CON­TRIB­UTED TO THE “LOSS” AND “FOR­GET­TING” OF RECORD­INGS AND ARTISTS IN THE FIRST PLACE.

On Au­gust 8, Trin­ity-St Paul’s Cen­tre hosts the Na­tive North Amer­ica Gath­er­ing, a con­cert fea­tur­ing over a dozen In­dige­nous mu­si­cians and their fam­i­lies from across Tur­tle Is­land who ap­peared on the pow­er­ful 2014 com­pi­la­tion al­bum Na­tive North Amer­ica, Vol. 1.

Re­leased by Light in the At­tic and more than a decade in the mak­ing, the Grammy-nom­i­nated al­bum brought at­ten­tion to many un­heard and poorly doc­u­mented record­ings by In­dige­nous artists from the 60s through the mid80s from across Canada and the U.S.

Filled with a fas­ci­nat­ing mix of songs across all gen­res, some per­formed in the artists’ In­dige­nous lan­guages, the al­bum has found a wide au­di­ence and sparked non-In­dige­nous in­ter­est in In­dige­nous mu­sic. If your only as­so­ci­a­tions with In­dige­nous mu­sic are stereo­typ­i­cal tropes and “tra­di­tional” sounds, Na­tive North Amer­ica is a rev­e­la­tion in sound.

But there’s a strange irony in the cur­rent non-In­dige­nous in­ter­est in this mu­sic: this is this same au­di­ence and mu­sic in­dus­try whose very racism, dis­missal and sys­temic in­equity con­trib­uted to the “loss” and “for­get­ting” of th­ese record­ings and artists in the first place.

This echoes strug­gles many of the Na­tive North Amer­ica artists faced at the time they’d made the orig­i­nal record­ings. “It was a cu­ri­ous anom­aly,” Anishi­naabe poet and artist Duke Red­bird pointed out. “The dom­i­nant cul­ture wanted to em­brace the things that we rep­re­sented but they didn’t want to en­gage with us.”

Many of the NNA artists had not heard or had ac­cess to their orig­i­nal record­ings since they were first made. For some, this was due to the orig­i­nal re­leases be­ing buried, not be­ing given proper dis­tri­bu­tion, be­ing made in such small num­bers that the artists them­selves never re­ceived copies, or be­cause the mu­si­cians did not own their mas­ters and copy­right.

Many had not per­formed the songs for decades. Inuk singer Wil­lie Thrasher had even for­got­ten how to play some of his songs, but since the re­lease of the com­pi­la­tion he’s been re­vis­it­ing this mu­sic again for a new gen­er­a­tion of lis­ten­ers.

Na­tive North Amer­ica has of­fered pos­si­bil­i­ties for recla­ma­tion and re­dis­cov­ery for both artists and au­di­ences.

The re­newed in­ter­est in the com­pi­la­tion’s mu­sic brings to light a cen­tral ques­tion and para­dox also fore­grounded in Rum­ble: if th­ese artists are so tal­ented, and if they’ve been here all along, why don’t we know about them?

That ques­tion is not just about the past. It’s not just about the ar­chive. It’s about the present.

In­dige­nous artists might now be gain­ing recog­ni­tion for their work and ex­pand­ing their au­di­ences, but the colo­nial re­al­i­ties that have led to In­dige­nous peo­ples’ vi­o­lent dis­pos­ses­sion from our home­lands and era­sure from our ter­ri­to­ries have never stopped.

De­spite its of­ten apolo­getic fan­fare and some of its cit­i­zenry’s de­sire for so-called rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with se­lec­tively per­ceived his­tor­i­cal wrongs and past in­jus­tices, Canada con­tin­ues to de­pend on the “for­get­ting” and the ex­ploita­tion of In­dige­nous land and life.

Ta­gaq’s Po­laris per­for­mance and her dev­as­tat­ing Ret­ri­bu­tion al­bum wouldn’t have the same power if they weren’t re­flect­ing and con­fronting the con­tin­u­ing re­al­i­ties of vi­o­lence against In­dige­nous peo­ple.

In­dige­nous mu­sic is the sound of this con­tin­uum.

Mi’kmaq singer, ac­tivist and filmmaker Wil­lie Dunn’s I Pity The Coun­try opens Na­tive North Amer­ica, Vol. 1 with an in­stantly mem­o­rable melody, a softly picked acous­tic gui­tar line and the gen­tle lilt of his voice.

The soft­ness of the song be­lies its po­lit­i­cal po­tency. Its lyrics de­tail the so­cial ills, in­jus­tices and “rum­bling revo­lu­tion” of Dunn’s time – he wrote it in 1973 – yet the song echoes into the present and the fu­ture with strik­ing pre­ci­sion. “To be ruled in im­punity,” Dunn sings, “is tra­di­tional con­ti­nu­ity.”

The song could eas­ily have been writ­ten to­day.

What does it mean, then, to find such res­o­nance from this mu­sic of the past in the rush to­ward the new and the next?

Per­haps this mo­ment in In­dige­nous mu­sic does more than mark a re­newed “in­ter­est” in In­dige­nous artists. Per­haps it marks deeper cur­rents, longer con­ti­nu­ities.

In­dige­nous artists have been sing­ing back to power and chan­nelling

TANYA TA­GAQ’S MU­SIC AND PER­FOR­MANCES WOULDN’T HAVE THE SAME POWER IF THEY WEREN’T RE­FLECT­ING AND CON­FRONTING THE CON­TIN­U­ING RE­AL­I­TIES OF VI­O­LENCE AGAINST IN­DIGE­NOUS PEO­PLE.

the strength of our sur­vival through mu­sic and art for gen­er­a­tions. That Cana­di­ans have not been pay­ing at­ten­tion has made lit­tle dif­fer­ence.

In­dige­nous mu­sic has al­ways been about telling the sto­ries of our con­tin­ued pres­ence. In­dige­nous peo­ple and artists have done this both out of ne­ces­sity and to hon­our our ev­er­chang­ing re­al­i­ties and the strug­gles of those who have gone be­fore us.

This is as true for singers like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Wil­lie Dunn as it is for to­day’s young In­dige­nous mu­si­cians. Ta­gaq and a new gen­er­a­tion of In­dige­nous artists are ris­ing, like those be­fore them, to re­claim their cul­ture through mu­sic and song.

In a mo­ment when we are – and should be – cel­e­brat­ing the pas­sion, artistry and ded­i­ca­tion of artists in­cor­rectly deemed “for­got­ten” to his­tory for too long, and in a mo­ment when an In­dige­nous Next Wave is emerg­ing and be­ing rec­og­nized in all its bril­liance by in­sti­tu­tions that have his­tor­i­cally de­nied and re­fused to do so, we are, per­haps, called to a dif­fer­ent kind of at­ten­tion.

We are called to ac­knowl­edge the many and deep dis­par­i­ties between In­dige­nous and non-In­dige­nous Cana­di­ans that re­main largely un­changed, gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion.

Th­ese con­di­tions in­form our peo­ples’ strug­gles for sur­vival, and they have al­ways given shape to In­dige­nous mu­sic.

We are called to con­sider those who re­main silent and those who con­tinue to be si­lenced.

As many of the un­told sto­ries of In­dige­nous artists are fi­nally be­ing hon­oured, we are called to lis­ten, more deeply, to voices that have yet to be heard.

This is more than a mo­ment. It’s a con­tin­uum. “Mu­sic,” like Wil­lie Dunn says, “is a forever thing.”

Photo by Sa­muel En­gelk­ing Makeup and hair by Alexan­dre Des­lau­ri­ers

Jar­rett Martineau

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Tanya Ta­gaq at the Great Hall, Novem­ber 2014.

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