NMC review: A Tribe Called Red

“After what happened in the last hundred years, the simple fact that we are here today is a political statement.

As First Nations People, everything we do is political.”

Nation II Nation – the personal is political.

My first experience with pow wow music was in a traditional setting – coming through the radio dial when tuned to Blood Tribe Radio on the Kainai reserve in southern Alberta and at ceremonies and drum circles. Pounding drums and incredible vocal prowess that called to a power much greater than you or I. Traditional drumming and signing is meant to make a body move, to evoke emotion and spiritual change – A Tribe Called Red’s latest release captures that spirit.

The trio of DJ NDN, Bear Witness and DJ Shub started crafting their unique brand of danceable mash-ups at their Electric Pow-Wows in 2008 – still going strong at Ottawa’s Babylon and have moved into recording and playing as A Tribe Called Red.

Nation II Nation is a powerful album and a complex but seamless mash up of electronic beats, house, dub-step, hip hop and pop wow drumming and vocals. Nation II Nation flows from one track to the next. It begs a body to move, to dance, and to really feel the surrounding environment.

The Canadian political landscape faces deep and vocal unrest with the state’s unwillingness to uphold “the duty to consult” and this releases title Nation II Nation more than hints at that. As quoted in the above – the liner notes for the album makes it clear that this album is as political as any other action A Tribe Called Red makes. The release features the track they recorded for the Idle No More movement, “The Road” – this is a group of artists unwilling to shy away from taking a stance. Down to the photo shown on their Soundcloud stream – a photo taken at an early Idle No More Rally in Kainai, Alberta; a powerful image that conveys the strength and the determination of the Idle No More movement.

Since their first self-titled release, A Tribe Called Red has only gained in popularity and an increasing number of dance music fans are tuning into their eclectic mixes. “Sisters”, featuring Northern Voices is a slower jam – beat build ups and vocals tinged with soul and nineties-esque R & B. “Red Riddim” featuring Eastern Eagle is chock full of little pops and sound art breaks, loops and timing changes. No track is alike and each guest artists brings a lot of their own brand into the sound.

I happen to agree with A Tribe Called Red, the personal is political. Three First Nation DJs mixing traditional pow wow with contemporary dub-step, dance hall and electronic dance into incredible catchy and moveable beats is political. Its very nature and statement is political. Nation II Nation is the kind of politics where ownership is reclaimed, and where true nature refuses to be masked. It celebrates culture, and art; mixing old and new to reflect a world where people are political and action is necessary. All that, and it can make a body move!

A Tribe Called Red will be touring with their new album throughout most of Canada and the US all summer. You can get Nation II Nation right now by visiting their website.

(Originally published on the National Music Centre weekly feature, “New Release Tuesday”)

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