A Tribe Called Red
If you haven’t yet downloaded A Tribe Called Red’s debut album (and if possible donating what you think this amazing work is worth to the artists) then you NEED TO DO THIS THING.
I have been listening to this album on repeat since its release, super happy to have it after listening to a number of these tracks on Sound Cloud. I’d say that I might be making my neighbours nervous, but the fact is that once the weather gets even slightly warm, I’m pumping powwow music all the time anyway. If anything, this is a little less intense.
I’d be exaggerating if I said I’ve been waiting all my life for this kind of fusion of powwow music and techno. But only slightly. And when you hear the first track, Electric Powwow Drum, you’ll understand just how completely A Tribe Called Red has delivered…when the beat drops, it punches you in the chest and fondles your liver. SICK, and in the good way!
This album isn’t just about slick beats, and Northern Cree busting it up on the Red Skin Girl remix. There are some powerful messages here too. The song Woodcarver deals with the shooting death of John T. Williams, and I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard to listen to. Williams, a Nitinaht carver of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, was shot to death by a Seattle police officer in August of 2010, because apparently carrying a pocket-knife is really, really scary if the person holding it is native.
A Tribe Called Red uses audio footage from news reports surrounding the shooting, the inquiry, and finally the finding that the officer in question was ‘unjustified’ in shooting Williams. There is a deeper story here of course, involving decades of poisoned interactions between police and native peoples in Seattle…and let’s be honest, in a lot of other cities in the US and Canada. But what made this case so extraordinary was how many witnesses came forward to dispute the official version of events.
I can’t explain to you exactly why this song works for me on so many levels. There is a sense of mourning, but also a flow to the way the story is told that is very powerful. There is also an anger being expressed, and much strength. Among an album full of upbeat, joyful songs, Woodcarver is a sobering reminder of the kinds of oppression native peoples are still facing. The officer in question was never criminally charged.
I am very much looking forward to their next album!
Canada’s favourite “man on the side” was busy stealing hearts and dropping knowledge recently on CBC’s 8th Fire. He has become a familiar face on CBC, but back in the day it was his kick-ass mullet that had us all talking.
In 2009, Wab Kinew released his first album, Live By The Drum. With lyrics in English, Anishinaabemowin and French, Wab once again tapped into the appeal rap has in our communities, but brought it home in a local and familiar way. As much as I like that album, I have to say, he blew it right out of the water with his 2010 release of MideSun.
Recently Wab Kinew has made MideSun available for a free download. So if you don’t already have it on heavy rotation, you’ve got no excuses! I can’t even choose a favourite song…this isn’t your ‘typical rapper’, whatever you think that is. Some of his lyrics are an itsy bit raunchy, but this is a man who still manages to ooze class. For example, he has nothing but good things to say about his ex, the mother of his children and he deliberately rejects the thug persona. There are also more political messages packed into this album than I can look into in this post.
But it doesn’t matter how great your lyrics are if the sound sucks, and MideSun is a very listenable album. If you aren’t grooving when Mama Said comes on, then your groove is gone. The song Heroes has been my family’s anthem since we first heard it and Fuck John Wayne makes me smile every time.
A Good Boy is another one of those ‘hard to hear’ songs, discussing the 2005 shooting death of 18 year-old Matthew Dumas. An inquest was eventually held and the officer in question was ‘cleared of racism‘. The racism surrounding the inquest is not so easily dismissed, as some of the most horrible things were said about Dumas after his death. You can see some of that crap in the comment section of the video, if you choose to subject yourself to that vile dialogue. I say skip it, and listen to this album again instead.
And Wab, you need to add yourself to the list on your track Inspire.
This is a fantastic way to segue into my next celebration, because comedian Ryan McMahon (who is featured in his persona as Clarence Two Toes on the album) did a fantastic interview with Kinew recently, which you can listen to here.
A friend introduced me to Ryan McMahon’s alter ego, Clarence Two Toes a few months ago, and my appreciation for McMahon’s work has been skyrocketing ever since.
This is real native humour and there might be a lot of ‘in jokes’ that not everyone gets, but this man makes me laugh SO. DAMN. HARD. His podcast is pure comedic gold, but it’s more than just funny. He conducts excellent interviews, and there is no shortage of sharp social commentary. He also does a more ‘serious’ series called Ryan McMahon Gets Angry. I love listening to this stuff!
I don’t know how he finds enough time in the day to put out as much content as he does, but I’m glad for it. His review of the absolutely stellar film Reel Injun had a pretty big impact on me. I think what he pulled out of that film and what he thinks that film had to say about the way native people are portrayed, and ho we portray ourselves, is something we all need to think about critically.
McMahon has also set up a website called Shame On You Canada, with the intention to create a “user generated content website dedicated to alerting the world about the Indigenous reality in Canada.” Although it’s in the start-up phase right now, that desire to bridge the gap between natives and non-natives is one that a lot of us share because we’re sick of all the shit people think they know about us. *deep breaths*
Anyway, if you haven’t been listening to Red Man Laughing, or checking out Clarence Two Toes, then once again YOU NEED TO DO THIS THING! Right now, Ryan McMahon and the 1491s keep my days full of indigenous hilarity and I have to say, it makes a difference. Since my Attawapiskat article went viral, I feel like I’ve been dealing with a lot of heavy, depressing subjects (because I have), and this kind of humour helps me keep going. It reminds me of the things I love about where I come from. People don’t seem to realise that we are funny, funny peoples. For real.
A Tribe Called Red, Wab Kinew, Ryan McMahon…a triumvirate of uplifting and positive awesomeness, and today I felt like I wanted to celebrate the kind of creativity our peeps have to offer.
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