When they first began pairing propulsive electronic beats with
powerful powwow singing and drums, the three members of A Tribe
Called Red had no idea their unlikely mix was about to catapult
them into the international spotlight.
Their first full-length recording, A Tribe Called Red, was long-listed
for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize; their second, Nation II
Nation, garnered two Juno nominations, landed on myriad year-end
lists including that of the Washington Post and made
the Polaris shortlist. Now, younger aboriginal artists from around
the globe are handing them samples of their electronic mixes.
"It's been pretty mind-blowing. The crazy part is that there's
been so much happening that it's hard to keep up with," group member
Bear Witness says on his cellphone from a Winnipeg tour stop with
bandmates DJ Shub and DJ NDN. "At the Polaris gala, we definitely
felt like the new kids, like 'Wow, what are we doing here?'" he
adds with a laugh. "But everybody was awesome and it was an amazing
experience. It's been exciting."
But the most rewarding part of their meteoric success, he says,
is how quickly the indigenous community has embraced their decidedly
contemporary sound, which eschews outdated stereotypes and reflects
today's urban aboriginal experience and incorporates contemporary
"People will ask, 'Where do you find these old recordings?'
And we say, 'These aren't old recordings,'" Bear Witness recounts.
"These are current groups. These are guys in their 20s and 30s,
and they're writing songs about Facebook and other current things.
It's not something that's in the past. It's a living culture."
Tribe Called Red has also supported several political causes, including
the Idle No More movement; DJ NDN also filed a human-rights complaint
against an Ottawa amateur football club called the Redskins.
The trio is performing as part of the 13th annual Talking Stick
Festival, which features dance, music, drumming, theatre, film,
visual arts and more by aboriginal artists, among them Vancouver
favourite Margo Kane and Juno winner Crystal Shawanda, who performed
as part of U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration.
A Tribe Called Red show at the Commodore Ballroom on Saturday
whipped up so much demand that promoters added a second one on Friday.
"I think we're at the beginning of a really big wave of indigenous
people in arts and in electronic music, and it's huge," Bear Witness
says. "We're seeing it from indigenous communities across the world,
that people are turning onto this idea of mixing their traditional
knowledge and culture with the rest of the world. And I'm just excited
to see what's going to happen next."