‘After what happened in the last hundred years, the simple fact that we are here today is a political statement. As First Nations People, everything we do is political.”
That’s the pullquote printed in the liner notes to the new album from A Tribe Called Red, an Ottawa-based trio who shake up dance floors across Canada. When you look at politics in music in the way A Tribe Called Red does, protest singers such as Bruce Springsteen and Joan Baez come off as pikers in comparison.
Daniel General, Thomas Ehren Ramon and Ian Campeau are DJs who go by the names DJ Shub, Bear Witness and DJ NDN respectively. They are all Indians within the meaning of the Indian Act, chapter 27, Statutes of Canada (1985).
The Tribe’s debut album was a collection of singles, released as a free download a year ago. This follow-up is more of an album proper, with contributions from such drum groups as Black Bear (from Manawan First Nation, Quebec), who wail with whip-like aim and chant in bluesy sheets in their first language, Atikamekw.
Lead track Bread & Cheese has declamatory chant, deep thud, the clack of percussion and the stuttering quick ripple of electronic drums.
Other tracks up the pace and drive a more modern beat, with low-buzzing synthesizer-cranks for effect.
It’s a party, EDM is transcended, and if there are any bears in the room, they are not of the sitting variety.
Some may grumble about repetition among the 10 cuts, but I don’t buy it – the variety here is more than subtle. Different Heroes, for example, is a wild, muscular trance. And then there’s Sisters, which twitches and grooves to house rhythms. Last track, Sweet Milk Pop, switches seamlessly between a four-by beat to the stoic traditional thumps that might have been the last thing heard by Custer.
Nation II Nation, as the title suggests, is a bridging. But it is not conciliation. There’s a proud strength to this record – a tribe’s manifesto and ownership of its traditional music, presented possessively and in a contemporary way. And although the sound is drum, all I hear is gong.
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