How A Tribe Called Red Blend Pow Wow with Electronic Music (feat. Iron Boy)

How A Tribe Called Red Blend Pow Wow with Electronic Music (feat. Iron Boy)


– So where are we going now? – We are going to our– – The cabin. – The cabin? (electric powwow dance music) – This place is, we fell in love with it when we started working here, it’s like this little
hidden spot in the city. – [Nahre] Electronic dance
music has always been fertile ground for the
blending of musical genres. Canadian DJs 2oolMan and Bear Witness, collectively known as A Tribe Called Red, combine the sounds of traditional
native powwow drum circles with electronic dance music
to create something they call electric powwow. – We’re here. – [Nahre] I was able to sit
in with A Tribe Called Red as they started to work
on a new batch of music. – [2oolman] So it’s a little
bit of a tight squeeze getting in here (laughs) – [Nahre] At a hard-to-find studio on a residential street in Toronto. (electric powwow music) – [2oolman] I love this unit. – [Nahre] So how did
Tribe Called Red start? – It all grew out of a club night. – [Nahre] A club night? – Yeah, so back in like 2008, a few of us got together in Ottawa. We didn’t really know
each other all that well but just came together under the idea that we’re all Native
DJs working in the city and let’s throw a party together. The reaction that we got
from our community was that, you’ve started something, you’ve
created this space for us, and you have to keep doing it now. – [Nahre] Did you feel
pressure in any way? – Not so much pre… Well, I mean there was a
really quick realization that we were doing something much bigger than we thought we were. We thought we were just throwing a party and would advertise to our community, but really quickly we realized that it meant a lot more to them than that. That taking up space within
the urban environment as indigenous people is a
difficult thing sometimes. To actually have a community and a culture that is urban and is
indigenous, isn’t new. We’ve been here since these
were forts and villages, but our visibility has changed. – [Nahre] You guys are pioneering then. – Well, I mean–
– [Nahre] Parts of it? – I’ve always said that
we’re part of a wave, like we threw this party and got told we had to keep doing it
by people in the community so we’re always following that
wave, not really leading it. (electric powwow music) – [Nahre] When you’re
creating new projects do you keep in mind
this cultural landscape, this wave that you’re talking about? – I mean, I guess it’s finding a balance between those things. Break it down into DJ terms,
you’re reading the room. (electric powwow music) – [Bear Witness] Our
second album was called Nation II Nation because we
were producing it at a time when there was a new
movement happening in Canada called Idle No More. – A First Nations protest movement is quietly spreading across the country. – First Nations protestors
gathered on Parliament Hill once again, and– – [Bear Witness]
Indigenous people in Canada all together stood up and said, “We’re not going to quietly
let things happen anymore.” There was this huge influx of
indigenous people in Ottawa who came from all over
the country to protest. So that album, Nation II Nation, it even got its name, Nation II Nation because that’s what we’re calling for, we’re calling to have a
conversation, a talk with Canada, from the indigenous nation
to the settler nation. So, you know, that vibe, everything that was happening got put into the album. (electric powwow music) – [Nahre] The energy of a protest movement is only one ingredient in their music. A Tribe Called Red uses
samples of native drum circles as the basis for almost
all of their music. What started off as an experiment, sampling drum sounds from
powwow videos they found on YouTube, has turned
into a collaboration. – [2oolman] So I was going to
bring this up really quick. (computer mouse clicking) I asked ’em to give me different patterns, so they gave us different
patterns that they sing with. (powwow drums playing) So this is a sidestep
groove, so it’s a sidestep. And then there’s straight. (computer mouse clicking)
(powwow drums playing) – [Bear Witness] The very
first thing we ever did with powwow music was just
doing a a live mash-up. And it’s because we had a
grass dance song that was open at the beginning so you
just had straight singing and you could just loop that and then threw a dubstep
instrumental underneath it. You know, it’s like
finding any other sample, like finding a breakbeat
that was like a clean break that was super funky– – [Nahre] Isolated. – that you could sample that was isolated. And it’s slowly grown into
us having this relationship with the drum groups now, where
they give us what we need. (powwow drums playing) – [2oolman] So it’s hitting
off the side of the drum, so it’s a stick. – So those drums that you heard, one of those is in almost every
song that we make (laughs). – [Nahre] So what is a drum circle? LA went to Prior Lake,
Minnesota to find out. (powwow music) – [LA] I met up with Iron Boy, an inter-tribal drum circle
based in Minneapolis. Although they haven’t collaborated
with A Tribe Called Red, they’ve been performing at powwows all over the United States, including what’s considered the
largest powwow in the world, The Gathering of Nations in New Mexico, where they were crowned champions in the Northern Drum Contest in 2015. (drumming and singing) – I’m breathing fast, like… A typical northern drum circle song has a call-and-response structure divided into pushups, or verses. (drumming and singing) The first lead will sing a line, then the group will respond with a chorus. Once the chorus is sung and repeated, the next singer in the
circle takes the lead to start the second pushup. Although the sound might feel traditional, the members of Iron Boy
write their own music, like this song composed by
member Charles Larrabee. – For the most part, I try to visualize the dancers dancing and just
talk about their movements. Like (speaking native
language) is talking about the women’s long braids when they spin you can see them flying. – Y’all got chemistry so
learning something new, it happens quick, you know what
I’m saying? It seemed like? – Well, when there’s something
and I feel like it’s worthy then I’ll send it to the boys. And if it clicks, then we’ll
stick with it, you know? – [LA] This is very similar
to a jazz band setting where we record the
rehearsal, then we send it out to all the homies and we
listen to it in the car, you know what I’m saying, we’re driving and then come back knowing your part. Same, same kind of format. – Basically when you have a song, you kind of have these
basic rules, but you try to bend those rules as much as you can. Like, contemporary music is going to usually use a lot of words. Old school is usually
straight songs not many words just because of there
was a time up until 1978 everything was outlawed so really, you kind of see this movement now. A lot of people are moving
back toward some of those ways, like using words in a
song and stuff like that, a lot of language and taking
pride in that language. – [LA] In 1978, not that
long ago, the US government passed the American Indian
Religious Freedom Act, which aimed to protect the rights of Native Americans to
practice their culture. – Something that we value, our culture, we value it so much that
we’re gonna carry this on until we make our journey
and we’re gonna teach as many young people as
we can along the way. It’s a huge responsibility. You know, this drum here is
very, very, very, very sacred to us and this represents
a grandfather spirit. The drum takes care of us,
we take care of the drum. (drumming and singing) (electric powwow music) – [Bear Witness] You know,
instead of using, like, airhorns or sirens like a
lot of electronic music will we use the calls, powwow calls. (demonstrates powwow calling) – [2oolman] Yeah, we got stuff like this. – Stuff like that that we throw in. (powwow call echoes) – So that’s like our airhorn.
You know what I mean? (electronic music) – [Bear Witness] But
it has the same effect. You’re playing to an indigenous audience, those have the same effect. People react to it the same way. (imitates air horn blasting) – It’s so crazy. I get people who hit me up
all the time and they’re like, “Hey man, do you think you can give me that sound you guys use? “‘Cause I’d really like to play it “at like at a lacrosse game “or something like that back home.” So it’s like, they want to use that as a goal horn, you know what I mean! (laughing) It’s so weird! But that’s where we’re at right now. – [Bear Witness] Replacing
the airhorns and that, that’s just a way of indigenizing
the space that we’re in. – Yeah, we will add a
ton of other instruments. Anything we get our hands on, really. (electronic effects playing) – Like, it goes faster, slower. – Tim made a decision early on
that he wanted all the risers to be self-made, so it’s a lot of stuff that we messed around with in Calgary. – We were in National
Music Centre in Calgary and they have just a bunch of
synths, like a synth museum, but they allow people to
have residencies there. They’ll have access to, basically to almost
every single synth known even the legendary TONTO. (electronic music) – [Nahre] This is TONTO, or The Original New Timbral Orchestra. It was created by Malcolm
Cecil in the early 1970s. The room-sized multi-timbral,
polyphonic, analog, synthesizer was used by many artists including the Isley
Brothers and Stevie Wonder. Only one was ever made
and it now lives in Canada at the National Music
Centre in Calgary, Alberta. (computer mouse clicking) – I can bring up to OG actually. (powwow dance announcer calls)
(powwow drums playing) – [Nahre] I asked 2oolman to break down some of the elements used in
a track they were working on. – So I’m just playing them through. (powwow music plays) (computer mouse clicking) – [2oolman] I just added
some drums to that. (modified music plays) – [2oolman] Yeah, so just added… (modified music plays) – [Nahre] One more element
for the track was found when member of Canadian
Parliament Romeo Saganash delivered a passionate speech
on behalf of indigenous rights to the House of Commons. (electric powwow music) – Why doesn’t the Prime
Minister just say the truth and tell the indigenous peoples that he doesn’t give a
(…) about their rights. – Watching indigenous Twitter
and Instagram and Facebook explode as soon as that
happened was like, okay, this is definitely a moment and I mean we felt that moment ourselves. – You become a part of it. – Yeah, you wanna do something
with it, because, again, like when we first
started making this music it was to make something
that everybody could enjoy and everyone can appreciate but that would be instantly recognizable and identifiable to indigenous people. So to take a moment for indigenous people and then weave it into a song, you know, that’s telling our fans
that this is for you. (eclectic powwow music) – Has there ever been resistance
from an older generation that didn’t understand the combination of
electronic music with powwow? That it’s different to them? – Yeah, I mean, nobody
has ever really told us that we shouldn’t be
doing what we’re doing, but people who don’t
necessarily connect with it have always said that
they see the relevance of what we’re doing because
it’s connecting with youth. So many of us didn’t grow up having people that represented us in
the media, you know. We all kinda go back to
the few little things that were there, you know,
seeing Buffy Sainte-Marie on Sesame Street was a huge one. And I think one of the things that we have an opportunity to do is start to give that to a younger generation that we are out here being
indigenous on our own terms. Not having to be boxed into
something that isn’t us. (electric powwow music) – [Bear Witness] We did a
video for our song “Suplex” about a native wrestler kinda
making it on his own terms. Next thing we knew after
that video came out all these parents were sending
in these different photos of their kids who had made
their own luchador mask, got them to cut the sleeves
off of their jean jackets to look like the wrestler in the video. And so, kind of with us
dreaming about what it would have been like to have
an indigenous representation that was true to who we were growing up, we had given it to a younger generation. Just through our imagining it. (electric powwow music) – [2oolman] In a lot of ways
that we make a lotta music that we have to have a purpose for, it has to service our
community in some shape or form or else it doesn’t make sense to do it. So that’s what drives us
to even create, to perform. It’s just, does it make
sense for our community. That’s the thing. That’s our moral compass that we follow. (electric powwow music)

Only registered users can comment.

  1. This is really cool! I love how you show so many different musical movements otherwise overlooked! I also love the community aspect of the music making in this culture.

  2. 8:37 Honestly thought someone was sneezing. 😂
    This was interesting. Never heard of them. It's only necessary that you do golden age hip hop (A Tribe Called Quest, only fitting) 😏.

    Why didn't you guys make a EDM Pow Wow song? 🤔

  3. Another great video. You researched the music and where it was going in a way that respected a people who have gotten little respect in the past. My family hid their connection to the native people because they managed to drop out of the trail of tears. They stayed in a remote area and lived off the land for a long time. Those of us who came after they left the hiding place found out about it in the last ten years.

  4. Another delightful Canadian Indeginous project is Yamantaka // Sonic Titan which blends Metal and Indeginous-style vocals. I highly recommend their song "One" or, if you're feeling more experimental "A Star Over Pureland".

  5. Awesome! Never heard of them before but I excited to have some new interesting music to look into. So much passion and knowledge goes into their music.

  6. I love this. I wish Indigenous Peoples here in the Philippines also make music like this. There's so many different tribes and musical traditions!

  7. I love this way of keeping traditions alive by letting them adapt to fit new environments. Plus, the music, drum-based music, is so compelling!

  8. So I wasn't so hyped when you two told us that a video of A Tribe Called Red is in the works but when I watched this….

    …I was simply mindblown!

  9. Love the sound that A Tribe Called Red produce. I'm an Englishman so know and understand very little of what North American 1st Nation people have to put up with and live with day-to-day (people like Trump for instance). Music is certainly a good and constructive way to protest and to put your point out there and I support all the 1st Nation attempts at doing that. Rather un-Parliamentary language used by the MP but I totally understand his frustration and why it's being used in the music. Really interesting and informative episode of Sound Field. Please keep up the good work.

  10. I'm so glad to see you guys doing an episode on A Tribe Called Red, this is so cool. I'm not First Nations myself, but I've always had a lot of respect for all native peoples; so many unique, amazing, and fascinating cultures. And man, do I ever get chills down my spine whenever the group chorus starts singing in those drum circles. Gets me every time!

  11. Beautiful video! I love how Sound Field is making a platform to learn about and center different communities through music!

  12. Has anybody seen Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World? It's been a while, but it's basically about how the culture and music of enslaved Africans and indigenous people of North America fused together over time to create Rock n' Roll, as well as many other aspects of 'American' culture. I highly recommend watching it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *