By Julijana Capone
CALGARY — When A Tribe Called Red and Tanya Tagaq took top prizes at the Juno Awards and the Polaris Music Prize in 2014, it appeared like the mainstream music community was finally waking up to the groundbreaking musical works of indigenous artists. And it was about time.
While indigenous music makers continue to move to the forefront, festivals such as Aboriginal Music Week (AMW), remain a vital launchpad for on-the-rise acts.
“Our parents’ generations really didn’t have the chance to experiment with traditional music in the ways that some of the creators of our generation are having the opportunity to do,” says festival chairperson Alan Greyeyes. “It’s taken this long, because up until 1951 traditional culture and ceremony was outlawed in Canada through the Indian Act. We’re really only one generation removed from that.”
With acts from indigenous communities around the world descending upon Winnipeg, AMW 2015 will feature everything from traditional throat singers, hoop dancers, and drum groups to musical legends C-Weed Band and Winston Wuttunee, along with some of the more contemporary acts on the aboriginal music scene today.
“I want people to know that excellence exists within the aboriginal community,” says Greyeyes. “Our artists are taking all genres to new levels by fusing them with traditional elements or the Native experience.”
Take for instance the music of Tall Paul, the Minneapolis rapper known for inserting his Ojibwe language into verses. Or pop/R&B chanteuse Mariame, dubbed the ‘Cree Rihanna,’ along with Winnipeg DJ/producer Boogey the Beat, who combines powwow-inflected samples with hyped-up trap music. (In 2014, Boogey also released a live set to raise awareness for murdered and missing indigenous women that’s seriously worth checking out.)
Greyeyes also recommends electronic iconoclast Exquisite Ghost (a.k.a. Jordan Thomas), a producer from Peguis First Nation that channels the left-field sounds of beatsmiths, like Flying Lotus.
Particularly stacked with hip-hop artists, Saskatoon smooth operator T-Rhyme, North Dakota feel-good MC Mic Jordan, and Winnipeg rap vet Hellnback (of Team Rezofficial and War Party) will also make appearances at AMW.
On why indigenous youth are so drawn to the genre, Greyeyes explains: “Kinnie Starr once said that ‘hip hop and rap is our generation’s folk music.’ It’s a way that our generation is expressing themselves and sharing our experience… I think for a lot of aboriginal youth, they see music as a mark of time, and they are using this music to mark their time and reclaim a spot in the history books.”
Aboriginal Music Week runs August 18-22 at venues and community events in neighbourhoods across Winnipeg. For a full list of performers, set dates and times, go to aboriginalmusicweek.ca.Aboriginal Music Week, Manitoba, MB