Tribe transcends cultural division

DJ NDN speaks about upcoming music, recent successes and cultural re-approriation

The group recently played SXSW and band member DJ Bear Witness played Queen’s Aboriginal Awareness Week in 2009.
The group recently played SXSW and band member DJ Bear Witness played Queen’s Aboriginal Awareness Week in 2009.
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A Tribe Called Red is making progress.

The aesthetically unique First Nations powwow-dubstep-trap hybrid group is coming to Kingston for the first time next week in support of their critically-acclaimed 2013 record, Nation II Nation.
With both Juno and Polaris Music Prize nominations under their belt, the tour is somewhat of a victory lap for the group while they prepare their next record.

“We’re working on a new album, but we’re still playing a lot of songs from Nation II Nation. They’re still pretty popular and there’s still a lot of demand for them, so we’re gonna play them for a while,” Ian Campeau, also known as Deejay NDN said.

Last year, A Tribe Called Red released a collaborative track with the now-defunct hip-hop trio Das Racist called “Indians From All Directions” that hinted at a compelling new direction for the group.

According to Campeau, the new material is in the same collaborative vein.

“We’re gonna be showcasing a lot of contemporary artists, different rappers, musicians, different singers, that sort of thing,” he said.

The current tour also provides the group with an opportunity to road-test some of the new songs. “They’re not done by any means, so we’re testing them out a lot with the crowds,” he said.

One of the group’s ideological preoccupations is the prevalence of cultural appropriation of First Nations iconography in mainstream popular culture.

In recent years it’s become common for young music festivalgoers to attend in headdresses or face paint.

“It’s a pretty shitty worldwide trend in festival culture,” Campeau said.

In order to discourage this from attendees of their own shows, Campeau asked fans over Twitter last year to refrain from showing up in similar garb.

“It definitely got a lot of people talking and I’m proud to say that it changed some policies in different venues and festivals across the country. They decided that they were going to ban headdresses from the festivals and have a warning on the website saying stuff like ‘we’re gonna confiscate it if you show up with one, because we want everyone to feel safe and included,’” he said.

“[Now] people kind of know not to dress up at our shows like that. And on the off-chance that they do, someone in the crowd will usually address it. They’ll ask them to take it off and they take it off.”

On a more positive note, it’s difficult to deny that with artists like A Tribe Called Red getting national and international attention, Aboriginal arts are on the upswing.

“It’s emerging right now and it’s a really exciting time,” Campeau said. “There’s tons of artists that are doing all kinds of great things and creating the conversation that Canada needs to have about First Nations relationships.”

With this tour taking them all over the world, it’s clear that A Tribe Called Red have transcended any kind of cultural barrier that their music, so thoroughly aligned with First Nations culture, might have had to cross.

“I don’t think it really got its shine in a lot of pop culture, and pow-wow is new to a lot of people,” he said. “It resonates with them. It’s a good thing, it’s accepted by a lot of different people all over the world.” “It’s awesome. As long as we’re making people dance, right?”

A Tribe Called Red will be playing the ARC March 19 as part of QNSA Aboriginal Awareness Week.

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