We’re mind-meltingly excited to share the brand new album from A Tribe Called Red with all of you lovely Noisey readers. If you’re not familiar with how Canada works, the Canadian Native population is experiencing a bit of a political and artistic renaissance right now. A massive protest movement called Idle No More has galvanized the aboriginal population into fighting for their personal rights, as well as the rights of the environment itself. At the forefront of this culture is A Tribe Called Red—a native Canadian EDM group that is extremely awesome.
We had Nigel Irwin, our resident aboriginal music expert, talk to the group about many, many things. Plus you can hear an exclusive preview of their upcoming album Nation II Nation by pressing the play button below.
Noisey: So, how's the reaction to your music been in the indigenous community?
Bear Witness: Amazing. It's really been important for us to have that support from our community first, and then bring it to the world next. The people from our community have owned it really quickly. it's something they've claimed, they feel it represents them. I think we couldn't be continuing the way we are without that kind of support from our community. That’s what makes it possible.
Dee Jay NDN: Tell him about the first time we went to the UK!
Bear: Oh yeah. Ian just reminded me of a good story from the fall. We started having mixed feelings about what it means to be bringing our music to Europe. Obviously we're not going to be playing for aboriginal crowds at all out there, so are people going to get it or are we just going to get a bunch of hipsters in headdresses? What's gonna happen? And even on a more personal level, like what does it mean there? It obviously means something different than it does here.
What kind of settled all those feelings for us is when we started getting all these Twitter messages from people all over Canada who were saying "Alright guys, get out there, tell ‘em who we are, represent us, you're our ambassadors, go out and do it!" So when we had that behind us, again, when we have the community get behind us and say, "Yes. Go, do this, we need you to do this, we're behind you." It's super important.
Do you guys feel, as aboriginal artists, your work will automatically come with a statement or a political message?
Bear: Well, the idea I was raised with was that, as aboriginal people, everything that we do is political. When we wake up in the morning—that's political. The fact that we're here driving and surviving is political because everything has been done in the past 500 years to stop that from happening. So the politics part of it is automatic. It's not even a choice. It’s a responsibility that we have to carry as aboriginal artists because it's just part of our life. It goes back to that holistic way of seeing life. We don't divide the political and the spiritual. The day to day. Those are all a part of the same thing
Is there a message that you guys can wrap up in a tidy bow for people who don't know much about aboriginals and are reading this? What can we say to them?
NDN: Start learning about us. We're here. We're not frozen in the past. I don't know why the idea of being First Nations always has to have some sort of feather involved. Or buck skins somewhere in it. When you think of a First Nations, or an Indian or any term that you want to use that has labeled us in the past, you always think of a plains Indian from 1805. You don't think of anyone today. What we're trying to do, I think, is just to say that we're still here. We're contemporary and we're doing cool stuff, so check it out.
Do you guys play Native reserves? Do they party harder than other places?
Bear: Yeah it's interesting. We were playing shows in communities on rezes…There's definitely a different vibe
Bear: We just played on a Navajo rez not too long ago and there was not a lot of movement going on in the crowd. We felt very watched and we were wondering how people felt about it, if they were into it. Then after the show, the crowd erupted and everybody cheered. We got mobbed by people afterwards wanting us to sign CDs and things like that. Obviously ,everybody loved it, and you just have to be ready for those kind of things to happen
Because you expect them to dance right?
Bear: Yeah, there are cultural differences when you get into certain communities. I don't know exactly why that is. We've had a couple gigs like that when we play rezes and we're like "I don't know if people are liking this." You know they’re loving it they're just not up and dancing. Like we had that same problem, even going to Winnipeg, our first few show in Winnipeg, people just held beers and watched us.
I’d like to talk a bit about whose voices you’ve used in this album.
Bear: All kinds of different drum groups.. We have an agreement with a record label based just outside of Montreal called Tribal Spirit and they are a powwow record label. They have about ten or twelve drums on their label and they've opened up their catalogue to us and are allowing us to remix stuff off of them with the agreement that all the drums we sample from, can be remixed on their album. It will be a traditional powwow album with a Tribe Called Red remix of the same group on it. The actual groups are Black Bear, Sitting Big—
NDN: Chippawa Travellers, Smoke Trail—
Bear: Northern Voice, Eastern Eagle, and Sheldon Sundown. Those are all the groups sampled on the new album.
You guys collaborated with Das Racist recently. Is there a spot for a permanent MC in the group?
NDN: We’re gonna do tracks with MCs for sure but we're not gonna bring an MC on with us. We don't need one.
Bear: Ian does all the MCing when we're on stage, he's the voice because Ian sounds like a strip club announcer. "Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the lovely…" I’m just terrible. "Hey hey, so... Well guys… Hi there!"
NDN: And then Shub just gets everyone’s attention: "How the fuck ya'll doing out there?" And they go crazy, and then I’ll do the same thing and then nothing. Crickets every time.
DJ Shub: Guys, please make some noise for him [laughs].
The first thing I noticed about you guys is the Tribe Called Quest/Tribe Called Red thing. How deliberate was that and was there any confusion or backlash?
NDN: Yeah, that's a good story. “A Tribe Called…” is used in powwows a lot—actually, at powwows, you'll see jackets with “A Tribe Called Mi'kmaq" or "A Tribe Called whatever." Then there’s the obvious Tribe Called Quest reference for people who aren't in the powwow scene and have grown up in an urban setting who could recognize that. So we thought the term was easily recognized by people in the rez and in cities. Then red is the color of the medicine wheel that represents indigenous people in the world.
Cool. What kind of music are you digging lately?
NDN: That Brillz-Twonk album is so on point.
Shub: That's all I’ve been listening to. On repeat, basically.
I’ll check that out. So what can we expect from A Tribe Called Red in the future?
Bear: Well we're working on our next album, which is a collaborative project, so we’re working with a lot of people who have become our family and circle of friends on tours. You'll see us working with a lot of aboriginal musicians.