A Tribe Called Red, Canadian Electro
Ian Campeau, aka DJ NDN of A Tribe Called Red, spoke with Gloobbi corespondent Zoe Koke following the group’s set at Montréal’s Igloofest last week to discuss the oddity of an outdoor snow rave, the way the Internet is revolutionizing the distribution of First Nations music, cultural appropriation and the Idle No More movement.
Igloofest pulls electronic music acts from across the globe and posits them in Montréal’s old port for three consecutive weekends of outdoor dancing in the middle of winter. “As one of the performers, seeing these kids dance non stop your entire set is super hype. They have to keep moving or they’ll get frostbite,” said Campeau after playing for the snow-suited mob.
ATCR forged their way to the forefront of the Canadian electronic music scene after starting a DJ night in Ottawa in October 2007, where First Nations kids gathered to dance to traditional Pow Wow music blended with contemporary club tracks. “It turned out there were a lot of kids coming in from rural communities, from up north for school, and they didn’t feel comfortable going out because they didn’t have a place where they could be with their people, so it turned into a very culturally significant thing right off the bat.”
Soon enough Dan General, DJ Shub, joined Bear Witness and Campeau to form a powerful genre of club music the group calls Electric Pow Wow. It is rich, energetic and inherently critical. The group started out by critiquing the appropriation of their culture’s music and imagery by mashing up contemporary songs that sample First Nations music, such as Santigold’s “Get it up” and Kanye West’s “Power.” They make videos in the same vein, mixing stereotypes to bring about something new. Today, they are signed with record label Tribal Spirit and borrow many forms of First Nations sound for their loud dance tracks.
ATCR’s music unites people through dance, in the spirit of Pow Wow, while bringing forth the expansiveness of contemporary electronic club sound and the possibilities of digitized sound and visuals. Their performance is as spectacularly visual as it is sound based. Dub step, reggae and hip hop influence the group as equally as audio-visual information from new and old movies, television and interviews. “There are some subconscious messages we are getting across because people are willing to look at it from a different light because it’s First Nations people showing them this.”
Campeau describes the process of re-sampling samples and their mode of blending sound and visuals as an act of “indigenizing” music and visual culture- reclaiming and rewriting a history so to re-envision indigenous culture today.
As far as witnessing inappropriate costuming like tribal paint and hipster headdresses at large festivals, Campeau admitted his initial frustration. Yet, ATCR now sees the trendiness of First Nations imagery and sound as an opportunity to open up dialogue about a violent history and the effects of cultural appropriation. Campeau explained that if his fans have a good time dancing and find the messages in the songs interesting, they will seek out the band’s online platform, which will lead them to subsequent information on these issues.
He also explained that this information, along with organizing for the Idle No More movement, the current civil rights movement for aboriginal people in Canada, has proliferated widely almost entirely because of the Internet. “We’re organizing quicker, we’re getting messages out quicker, we are shutting down racism quicker, it’s all because of the Internet. The thing about the Internet is that First Nations people have always been put out of the way: out of sight, out of mind. Reserves were specifically put outside of walking distance of any cities or towns. This is kind of making it so we have a level playing field. Everyone is on the Internet. With Idle No More, if you want a round dance flash mob in forty minutes, it’s a tweet away.”
Campeau explained to me that the color red, in First Nations culture, represents the indigenous people of the world, and “A Tribe Called” refers not only to the early hip hop act but to the naming of First Nations drum groups. Like their name, the group intends to amalgamate their history with a contemporary vision for First Nations culture.
Campeau explained, “if you are a First Nations artist and you made it in some sort of career making music, you are a rapper, a country artist or a blues artist.” He described ATCR’s music as a move away from a repressed and angry tone, while still intentionally embodying certain messages. When I asked Campeau about making politicized art he responded by saying “there’s been legislation put in place to have us removed, to have us erased from history, so the fact that I’m alive alone and ATCR is alive is a political statement in and of itself. Anything we do is going to be political just because we are alive.”
A Tribe Called Red’s debut album can be downloaded HERE.
by Zoe Koke
Gloobbi Correspondent based in Montréal