Digging Roots is a dynamic four-piece built around singer ShoShona Kish and her guitar-playing husband Raven Kanatakta, a Barrie, Ont.-based duo. The band's album We Are has earned six award nominations for Friday's Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards gala in Hamilton. Kanatakta, 33, was born in a remote village in Northern Quebec. He studied music at Boston's Berklee School of Music, and appreciates Delta blues and Jimi Hendrix. Kish is the 35-year-old daughter of a draft-dodging journalist and his artistic wife, both active in the halcyon days of Toronto's Yorkville scene. "Our parents were part of all the exciting social and artistic things that were happening back in the late 1960s and early 1970s," says Kish. "We were kind of born into that."
They don't fit into a box - the head-nodding grooves of We Are include hazy hip hop, thoughtful pop, droning neo-blues ( Spring to Come ) and trippy soul-folk. "I like to think of us as experimenters," says Kish. "We push at the boundaries of what the various styles would traditionally be, and how the styles overlap." Parts of the album were recorded last spring in a cottage on Lake Simcoe, where the band, producer Kinnie Starr and other guests made music, stoked fires, ate marvellous meals and watched the lake's ice break. "A lot of what we do is business," says Kish. "So it was really nice to just do music."
The music is modern, but connected to indigenous traditions. An elder (Kish's great-great aunt) told the pair about an old way of creating music, using the contour line of the horizon for the melodies. "It was a simple, magical kind of thing," says Kish. The two songwriters snapped wide-angle photos, which were used as "song maps" for what eventually became the album's 10 tracks.
Lyrics are optimistic ("I came to all of this with flowers in my hair," says Kish), often referencing a sense of community and connection. Asked about such a line as "our roots still grow through the concrete of the times," she explains that indigenous customs, feared lost by her parent's generation, are still alive. "We're all living in houses in the suburbs and driving cars around, but we're still have some things carried forward from the past - things that we can learn from and refer to."
Hear Digging Roots tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. on CBC Radio 2's Canada Live, recorded this summer at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre.
The Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards happen tomorrow at Hamilton Place Theatre, Hamilton. Digging Roots also performs at the after-party at Hamilton Place Studio.