For musicians and artists, it’s not uncommon to carry a certain aura of pride when it comes to your heritage. Many mainstream acts from Canada carry a distinct Canadian flavour but, for Ottawa’s A Tribe Called Red, the need and responsibility to wave that flag runs much deeper than most. The award-winning electronic dance music group that have proclaimed themselves as “powwow step” identify as proud First Nations.
Since the inception of A Tribe Called Red in 2010, the boys — Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau, Dan “DJ Shub” General and DJ Bear Witness — have gone from throwing parties for the indigenous members of their community to taking their culture-based party tunes to a global scale.

“It was a kind of just an idea to create a party in Ottawa that was directed towards the indigenous community and to showcase ourselves as indigenous DJs — which is kind of just the idea we sprung out from,” recalls Bear Witness.

“It was a real feeling that we got from people that this was something that was necessary, something that they wanted and something we had to continue doing.”
Since then, they have gone on to be nominated for the Polaris Music Prize in 2012 and 2013. They also cleaned house at the 2013 Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, taking home Best Group and Best Album. What is really amazing about this is how they’ve made such an imprint on so many different levels, even though it’s been merely four years of being together.

“That really grew out of the support that we got from the indigenous community at our parties and we wanted to give something back… and create something that represented, not just ourselves, but the people that were coming to the Electric Powwow parties. We started remixing powwow music for them,” says Witness.

The group has also been a large part of pro-First Nations activism and cultural identity. They even issued a public statement urging non-indigenous fans to not don any sorts of indigenous clothing while attending their concerts.

“It’s something that’s necessary. It’s our responsibility as indigenous DJs to address indigenous issues and talk about indigenous politics because we’re using our culture in our music. We’re using our community in our music. We don’t have that luxury to say, ‘Let’s just make music.’ It’s automatically gonna come with all the politics that comes with being indigenous.”

It’s a trend that will continue going into their third album, which is currently in the process of being put together in the studio. Witness notes that the group plans to take a different direction in regards to the actual beat construction on this one, instead choosing to bring in a whole plethora of outside resources, including MCs, song-writers, singers and instrumentalists.

“We’re trying to work more collaboratively with a bunch of different artists. Right now we’re just laying down our bed tracks in preparation to start working with other people.”

Photo: Brudder Falling Tree

Photo: Brudder Falling Tree

The album will still carry that signature A Tribe Called Red vibe, however, as the groups dedication to bringing the First Nations sound to the forefront is what got them to this far to begin with and, as Bear Witness notes, it’s important that artists everywhere continue to carry that aspect of pride with you in your work.

“Not just music groups, but everybody: I think being proud of who you are and where you come from and having that knowledge of your past and of your history is super important.”

Catch A Tribe Called Red at the HiFi Club (Calgary) on February 20th.

By Brandon McNeil



Say what? You haven’t heard of A Tribe Called Red? Based out of Ottawa, ON, these guys hit pretty big a couple of years ago, and there is nothing holding their type of momentum back. Musically, Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau, Dan “DJ Shub” General and Bear Witness are known for their astounding ability to take traditional First Nations songs and mix it into a contemporary dance music context.

This is something that has been craved from coast to coast it seems, and the worldwide popularity and mass tours don’t lie. Their music has managed to grab hold of people at their core, exactly where artists want to be. What A Tribe Called Red have managed to produce musically is refreshing, to say the least. “There’s this weird moment where it fits and everything is working really well, it get’s really exciting when that happens. That’s definitely the best part of making music.” Dan, being the musical architect that brings the input of three minds seamlessly together. “Dan typically sets up the helms or will build something quickly and ask what we think, where Bear and I will come in with our ‘change this,’ ‘how about this.’ It’s very collaborative between the three of us,” Ian confirms. “The pow wow samples we use are from a label specifically called Tribal Spirit, they have 10 drums on the label right now and they opened a catalogue for us to remix.”

Photo: Nadya Kwandibens

Photo: Nadya Kwandibens

Cultural protocol can be a touchy subject here and somewhat of a line is treaded lightly, however to the guys’ amazement, there has been little to no backlash from First Nations communities, elders, or individuals at all for mixing traditional music with the styles of hip hop, moombahton, dub, etc. “The one complaint I heard was from years ago where one elder vocalized that she didn’t like the fact that we use the term pow wow in a setting where alcohol was being served, but that was quickly followed with, ‘…but I really like what you guys are doing.’ So we are definitely walking this thin line between cultural protocol and respecting that.”

As much as it’s about the music for these guys, let’s get this straight, they are very aware of the platform they have been given and the voice they have when it comes to reaching many – from speaking up about cultural appropriation or the reason that perhaps you should leave regalia that generally have specific meanings at home and not bring them to a bar (especially if it’s not your culture), to the empowering movement of Idle No More, government policies, or just simply helping open up dialogue about issues some might prefer to ignore. Ian says, “I don’t think anyone in North America can say that the Indigenous/colonial relationship is the best, and I think with the soapbox we have it’s almost a responsibility for us to use that in a way to benefit the Indigenous people of North America. We try to give shout outs to people who are doing the same thing.”

Along with making music that captivates listeners, helping open up conversations about taboo or misguided/misinformed topics, and bringing traditional First Nations music into a more modern context, A Tribe Called Red has shown that the stereotypes some very dated people hold aren’t necessarily true. Ian says, “I didn’t have A Tribe Called Red when I was young, I wish that I had something that spoke about me specifically that we didn’t have in my day. I don’t know about role models, but we are able to show young natives that we are able to get a platform and we can be celebrated, we have something worth showing, so get in there and show it.”

ATCR rock Victoria alongside Monolithium and DJ Applecat at Club 9one9 on Wednesday, February 26th, and Salish Coast Live alongside Mat the Alien, Lido Pimienta, Self Evident and more at the Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver on February 21st (tickets still available) and February 22nd (sold out).

By Jamie Goyman

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