No standing still

All-Aboriginal electronic music collective A Tribe Called Red talk about their music, cultural reappropriation and the “Electric Pow Wow”.
Written by Melody McKiver and Elling Lien

The Canadian Native population is experiencing massive political and cultural upheaval these days.

Here in Newfoundland on September 26, 2011 the Government of Canada announced the recognition of Canada’s newest Mi’kmaq First Nations Band, the Qalipu First Nations in Newfoundland and Labrador, and more than 100,000 people have submitted applications for Status.

Across the country, the protest movement Idle No More has galvanized aboriginal populations into fighting for personal and environmental rights.

The all-Aboriginal DJ collective A Tribe Called Red are at the forefront of this change.

The group’s three members are DJ Bear Witness, a media artist responsible for the group’s videos, turntablist champion and producer Dan General, aka DJ Shub, and Ian Campeau, aka Deejay NDN. They are known for their live shows, which are often referred to as “Electric Pow Wow”—multimedia dance parties blending their original musical productions—music spanning across many electronic music genres such as dancehall, hip-hop and electronic dance music—with reclaimed visuals of Hollywood representations of Native Americans in an attempt to actively decolonize them.

The group has even created their own genre of music that they call “pow wow-step.” It samples Native pow wow drums and vocals and lays them over bass-heavy dubstep production.

This all started in Ottawa when the group wanted to throw a party to represent the First Nations people in the area.

“We created the Electric Pow Wow for our people, for our community,” says Ian Campeau, aka Deejay NDN.

When they first started organizing the parties, he says, they realized it was bringing First Nations people there together in a way they hadn’t seen before. Students were coming in from rural, isolated communities and felt comfortable doing so.

The group is now touring across the United States, Canada, and Europe to support their debut commercial release Nation II Nation. The album has been longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize, and hit number one on the Earshot Chart last week. For this album, A Tribe Called Red partnered with the Native-owned record label Tribal Spirit Music, which supports Native musicians of many genres and boasts some of the finest powwow drums of Turtle Island on its roster.

Campeau hopes the shows will attract First Nations people in particular, but wants everyone else to know they are definitely invited.

“It’s not necessarily just for the Aboriginal people, even though it is for them,” says Campeau. “We’ll always do this for our people. ‘Geared towards, but not limited to,’ is how we like to put it.”

A Tribe Called Red plays at Club One Dusk Lounge on July 18th. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.