By James Mager
November 18, 2016
VANCOUVER — Despite the current über-contentious political climate in North America, it was all good vibes and togetherness as Saul Williams and A Tribe Called Red took over Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom. Pairing the poet and the Indigenous electronic group—respectively—was a winning combination of “wokeness” and uninhibited fun.
Saul Williams is a poet, actor and singer with a penchant for social dissention through wordplay. Taking the stage to warm up the crowd, Williams stood solitarily with book in hand and preached to the engrossed audience. Cherry picking from new and old material, Williams covered a wide gamut of focus with “Coltan as Cotton”, “Said the Shotgun to the Head” and “Sha-Clack-Clack”—each poem being delivered with finesse and fervor. His set was concentrated down to just 20 minutes (despite being slotted for a longer segment) which was a smart move as the crowd seemed more inclined to get their dancing-feet moving than their poetry-fingers snapping.
Headlining the evening was electronic trio A Tribe Called Red. Crafting a hybrid of dubstep, hip hop and traditional First Nations music, ATCR has been the most prominent Indigenous representation in Canadian music for the better part of five years. On tour in support of We Are the Halluci Nation, members DJ NDN, 2oolman and Bear Witness played a set less overtly ideological than their opener but far more stimulating for the crowd.
A Tribe Called Red is half clashing ideas, half complimenting them. Interjecting misappropriations of Indigenous history in pop-culture while simultaneously combining electronic and First Nations music can be a lot to take in. During “Electric Pow Wow Drum”, for instance, Aldo Raine’s “I want my scalps…” speech from Inglourious Basterds is heard as images flash of rugby players performing the Haka, cut to the Ultimate Warrior in fake war paint, cut to cartoon depictions of Natives in battle; it’s frenetic and effective but a touch overstimulating.
The evening truly excels as ATCR welcomes a host of performers to accompany them on stage. As A Tribe Called Quest’s “World Tour” is chopped and sampled by the group, a b-boy crew takes centre stage for a battle, followed by a dancing duo in full First Nations dress; just like their music, it is traditional meets contemporary. This is the trademark of A Tribe Called Red and is the means to unifying the audience of all different creeds and cultures.
Spinning a brief encore, DJ NDN made a call to the audience to “Google Section 35”—which pertains to the constitutional protection of Aboriginal rights—perhaps to remind the audience that with all the fun they are having, it has not come without strife and sacrifice.A Tribe Called Red, BC, British Columbia, Commodore Ballroom, Saul Williams