Monday, April 4, 2016

Juno Awards mark another breakthrough year for Native Music

In 1991, Elaine Bomberry was spinning records as a DJ at CKRZ-FM, the hometown radio station of the Six Nations of the Grand River. She had also started her company All Nations Talent Group. Around this time she was asked serve as Juror for World Music category by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS). It lead to a chance to create a historic opportunity in the Canadian Music scene.

"I was asked by Anne McKeigan to be on the Advisory Committee for the (World) category, and during one of the meetings I was sat beside Daisy Falle (former Executive Director for CARAS), and I kept shaking my head saying, "our music doesn't fit here in this category, or that category'. Then Daisy leans over to me and says "Why don't you start your own category?" 

Native music has always been an essential part of North American music. Indigenous rhythms and singing styles root all music created in North America including Country, the Blues and Jazz. Traditional Indigenous sounds and songs are a unique form and have survived in Canada despite the government policy of cultural genocide that outlawed singing and dancing.

Indigenous artists have been significant creators in contemporary Canadian music for decades with artists Buffy Sainte Marie and Robbie Robertson internationally renowned. Local and regional artists also shared their songs, stories and styles for just as long. This year, the Grammy Awards nominated a recording filled with Canadian Aboriginal artists that span twenty years beginning in 1966. Native North America vol. 1  documents a period of music unheard on mainstream radio and unrecognized at the Juno Awards the annual celebration of Canadian music.

The awards began to take form under other names in the 1960's and by 1971 it was officially named after a bureaucrat.  In the 1980's, in order to be more inclusive CARAS began to add more categories. By the early 1990's there were categories for Best Francophone, Best Reggae/Calypso and Best World.

The Aboriginal award faced controversy in its first year. In 1994 the nominee list included Nancy Nash performing under the name Sazacha Red Sky. She was nominated for her recording of a sacred song that she said was given to her by Chief Dan George in a dream. The George family filed an injunction to stop the award from being handed out. A compromise was achieved and the awards went ahead.

Lawrence Martin took home the first award for his album Lawrence Martin is Wapistan. The category has consistently recognized the best recordings by Aboriginal artists for over two decades. There was a ripple effect throughout the country as regional music awards added Aboriginal music categories.

The category soon became overwhelmed in diversity. As someone who has served as a judge in the Aboriginal Recording category it is very difficult assessing new country versus hiphop versus traditional powwow versus folk versus experimental and on and on. In fact many recordings nominated in the category should have been considered among the best recordings in other categories.

There was criticism that the category creates a ghetto and that artists are considered Aboriginal first and artist second. Although the Junos haven't been entirely closed.

In 1995, the year after the award was created, Robbie Robertson won Producer of the Year recognition for his Music for the Native Americans soundtrack. Susan Aglukark won Best New Artist and Aboriginal Recording of the Year award. That same year Buffy Sainte Marie was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

In 1996 Susan Aglukark was nominated in the category of Best Female Vocalist. In 1998, Metis artist Holly Mcnarland won for Best New Artist. In 2004,  Kinnie Star was nominated for Best New Artist.

In 2014, A Tribe called Red took home the Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year and was also nominated in the best Electronic Album category. In 2015 Tanya Tagaq was nominated in the Alternative Album of the Year category.

The Nominees this year marked another big step towards Aboriginal nominees being considered in all categories. Sainte Marie's Power in the Blood won in the category of Contemporary Folk Album as well as taking home Aboriginal recording of the year. Ms. Sainte Marie was also nominated as Songwriter of the Year. Don Amero's Refined was nominated in the Adult Contemporary Album. Not nominated in the Aboriginal category yet a nominee in the category of Instrumental Album of the Year was Cris Derksen for Orchestral PowWow.

Following the awards which opened with a beautiful performance by the indomitable Ms. Sainte Marie, Bomberry shared that she "loved Buffy's spoken word," and added, "Its been amazing to watch our Indigenous music scene grow before our eyes."

Friday, January 8, 2016

Year in Music - 2015

It was another amazing year in Native Music and saw things come around full circle as it was Buffy Sainte Marie who lead the dance. Power in the Blood is another work of art in an unmatched canon of contemporary music. Her songs have been covered thousands of times and she has won an Academy award for the classic Up Where We Belong. There is no artist who has ever been more radical and more mainstream at the same time. Watched by the FBI and viewers of Sesame Street.
Ms. Sainte Marie has made an album for our time and all time picking songs and styles from eras and inspirations. The music is country and blues and folk and rock, a lullaby and of course, electronic which may be in vogue these days, but is something she has been experimenting with for years. The album was selected for the Polaris Prize, the top music prize in Canada. The record kicks off with a new take on It's My Life from her debut album.

I've got my own stakes in my own game
I got my own name and it's my way
I got my own wrong I've got my own right
I've got my own fight and it's my way

When it was released over half a century ago in 1964 the fires of the civil rights movement was growing in the United States and in Canada, First Nations had only received the right to vote four years earlier. It was a time of repression and fear but also of the people beginning to stand up and stand together. It was a time like today and the album speaks to that young generation that ignited the Idle No More Movement.

The title track Power in the Blood is a call to arms but also a call to heart and mind and spirit.

I don't mind dying 
Well I don't mind dying 
I don't mind dying 
But when that call it comes 
I will say no no no to war 

She also has a call to love and lust. Love Charms is a classic pop song, delicious and earthy and maybe too much for the squares. It should be a huge hit for her but will likely become another hit for someone else. Perhaps another "Until it's Time for You to Go" a contemporary standard covered hundreds of times by everyone from Neil Diamond to Elvis to Barbra Streisand. 

This is music for everyone. She sings the love song lullaby Ke sakihetin awasis which means I love you in her warm Cree language. She sings to the future generations.

Singing come back to the Sweetgrass 
come back to the Pipe and the Drum
and be your future.
Ke sakihetin awasis (I love you)

The music of 2015 reiterated, reflected and resounded that spirit that has been Buffy Sainte Marie's call to heart for over 50 years. 

Beatrice Deer Band's electro-Inuit alterna-rock sound is absolutely captivating and her fourth album Fox is one of the best of the year. Beatrice is from Quaqtaq on the northeast coast of Nunavik and describes herself as "a seamstress, a songwriter and an advocate for good health."
Her mix of singing and throat singing with the band's mix of electronic and rock is highly addictive. Relocation is sung in her beautiful language and there is tragedy in the title. The song hits a wonderful groove and one can well imagine that the Beatrice Deer Band must become otherworldly in a live setting. 

The title track Fox (the only one all in English) tells the story of a lonely hunter who comes home to find that a fox has become a woman and has begun to act as his wife. The band is plowing away with their electric grunge and Beatrice is howling like it's 1992.

And there a woman stood looking at the hunter, looking at the hunter
With a fox skin hangin’ on the line, hangin’ on the line...

Kristi Lane Sinclair released her second album Dark Matter which finds the brooding songstress backed by a stellar band that includes Derek Miller on guitar and Cris Derksen on cello who both played on Power in the Blood. The music inside suits the title with some tracks speeding along like the first single Kiki and others that veer into the more gloomy end of alternative with the bare depth of Sinclair's voice and Derksen's cello. This would be a great album to listen to when you have to drive all night long.

Sinclair continued the Red Ride Tour which toured across Canada and included live performances with Miller and Derksen. There must have been absolute electric magic at some of those shows this summer.

Black Bear released Come and Get Your Love, a breakthrough set of powwow songs for this talented cast of drummers and singers. For the first time they recorded live in studio working with the team from A Tribe called Red. The sound is amazing. If Kakakew doesn't get you moving I don't know what I can do for you. The group is clearly having a great time in the studio like they know they are on to something. After they run through the title track one of the singers says "That is going to be a hit." Then they hit it again. And it should be a hit. Some of the songs will be part of future ATCR recordings and they could be monster hits. But dig on the rawness of this beat right here.

Other notable releases in the powwow circle included Young Spirit - Nitehe Ohci, From the Heart, which won the Best Hand Drum CD at the Indigenous Music Awards. The Chippewa Travellers were winners at the annual event in the Traditional PowWow Category, while Northern Cree took home the honours for best Contemporary PowWow.

Derek Miller's tribute album Rumble - a Tribute to Native Music Icons was produced in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the Native American in honour of what he called "the blueprint of American Rock n' Roll." It features Millers covering songs like Come and Get Your Love by Redbone, Rumble by Shawnee guitarist and inventor of the power chord Link Ray, as well as Codine by who else Ms. Buffy Sainte Marie. It is available online from the Smithsonian Institute

Another big year in Hip Hop with stellar releases from City Natives, Enter Tribal and North Stars. Edmonton's Rellik released The Dream in which he continued his fruitful collaborations with Nathan Cunningham and Plex. The Hour (Mama's Song) is Tupac meets Merle Haggard and is deserved member of the great Mama songs of all the time. Another solid track is the title song with dynamo vocalist Leanne Goose singing the hook.

Winnipeg's Drezus also followed the path of collaborative creativity on his beast of a record Indian Summer making music with Hip Hop luminaries Joey Stylez, Inez and Lightning Cloud.

Cody Coyote five track EP Lose Control is anchored by the track We Will See which swings like some old school RnB hip hop soul.

We, we, will see..a better future man
It's for my people man 
For my Native People, man

In addition to her standout work with Buffy Sainte Marie and Kristi Lane Sinclair, Cris Derksen continued her own musical journey with the release of Orchestral Powwow which features the classically trained cellist and powwow groups such as Northern Cree and Black Bear.

Don Amero should be Canada's Ed Sheeran. The guys writes and sings like an angel that is alternatively head over heels in love or completely broken hearted.  Refined is filled with middle of the road sound that Amero proudly occupies with great songs and sincere vocals. The highlight of the album is the duet Broken Hearts with Crystal Shawanda meeting Amero heartbeat to heartbreak.

Armond Duck Chief won Country Album and Songwriter awards at the Indigenous Music Awards with his album The One. Duck Chief was born and raised in the Siksika nation and has a classic country voice and he writes the songs that put it to good use.

Nick Sherman from Sioux Lookout Ontario released his self produced album Knives and Wildrice an album of guitar driven songs about the heartbreak of love and the love of heartbreak. Tears and Time is so good. 

I could never have stayed.
Every debt in this life I've paid
With Time and tears and this heart
and a year too late.

Jason Burnstick partnered with Nadia Gaudet for the trilingual album Dream Big Little Ones an album of lullabies in French, English and Cree.

Let your light shine in the dark Fill the room, the night, with your lion heart
Let your dreams take flight, little one To the moon, to the stars, to the sun

Nikamo is a Cree Lullaby written by Burnstick with Winston Wuttunee and Marlene Poitras. The song is absolutely gorgeous and should be the starting point for anyone who would like to start passing on the Cree language to the next generation.

In a similar vein Burnstick recorded Wrapped in Daisies with Nadine L'Hirondelle an album of songs for children in a daycare or pre-school environment and is filled with delightful tracks like Take Care of Your Body, Your the Best and Bannock in my Belly.

Other notable releases in 2015 included Will Belcourt and the Hollywood Indians who kicked off their album with punk rock hillbilly howl of Burn it Down. Digawolf continued to hammer out their northern grunge on Great Northern Man and Mariame earned the title the Cree Rihanna with her soulful release anchored by the ballad As Long as You are Here.

On December 8, Warrior Poet John Trudell moved on to the spirit world after a battle with cancer that had been deemed terminal earlier in the year. Trudell released 17 albums in his career including his 1986 classic AKA Graffitti Man which began his brief but brilliant partnership with Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Bob Dylan called it the best album of the year.

His story of tragedy and rebirth and the visionary music that came out of it is one that gives hope for all of us. We can survive. We can heal. We can create art in the face of horror. We can be grateful for every day. We can be "A human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human."

The year ended with the announcement that the compilation Music of Native North America Vol. 1 Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985 was nominated for a Grammy in the Historical album category. The past is honoured in the present and the circle is complete.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Vote but stop shitting in the water

I think people should vote if the want to and I hope they use their best judgement. It is hard to decide who to vote for in an election that comes around once every four  years. You cast one ballot and then you are stuck with that government for four years. Apparently, democracy is something that can only be done on the same schedule as the Olympics or the World Cup.

It looked like it was going to be Trudeaumania all over again and The Hair Guy was riding a wave to sure victory. His final week commercial clipped from his triumphant speech before the largest crowd of the campaign had just the right amount of fascist undertones to make him look darn near presidential.

Then days before the vote, news breaks that The Hair Guy's right hand man is sending around a  "How to get access to the Hair Guy's New Government" cheat sheet. The back room politics of access and corruption that drove the Liberals into the ground are still creeping around.

The sponsorship scandal and the insult heaped upon Quebec as being a corrupt province is what unraveled Liberal support in that province and ushered in the current regime. There is no mania if Quebec isn't dancing.

It wasn't supposed to go this way. If Jack were alive. It would be game over. It would have been a coronation. The Orange Crush would have been the new thing. Quebec and the Youth vote and the Native vote and the New Canadian vote would have crushed the Old Stock Canadians.

It would have been Real Change and instead we got Beard Guy who is no only the smartest guy in the room he's also the creepiest. He could not deliver that message of Hope that Jack delivered with so much conviction and so much humanity. But just because someone has zero charisma doesn't mean they can't be Prime Minister.

Case in point.

What is it with Damien? In his final commercial he is lit by the studio lights to look as white as humanly possible with pink skin tones and bright blue eyes while speaking blissfully from within his bleached out world.

It is shocking that he is even in this race after the corruption and scandal and crimes that plagued his government. Conservatives are supposed to follow the rules and manage money.

Conservatives support the Military. These Conservatives have treated our Veterans shamefully and yet we are at War. Conservatives are into hunting and fishing. They have removed the majority of protections for our rivers, lakes and streams.

They mismanaged the economy and watched the oil industry flounder and left Canadians put of work in that sector on their own. They sold out the last of the Canadian auto sector in the Trans Pacific Partnership. It's not about jobs.

Yet they might win this thing.

Is it really the race issue that is going to give Damien four more years? He knows the deep, dark, racist, misogynist Canadian spirit that exists in the Old Stock Canadians and that it is more widespread than most would like to admit. He knows we aren't all Martin Short and John Candy. He knows this is the heart of his base so he stirs up the shit and clouds the water.

Meanwhile we are getting ready to dump 8 billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Laurence River. We have the technology to pump out this sewage and treat it before putting it back into the river; but we are acting like a third world country when it comes to having fresh water. No one wants to spend the money to take care of our shit so the best response is the cheapest one dump it into the river.

This is happening in Montreal. You know it gets worse from there with raw sewage being dumped all across the country. That is not the worst of it, we are planning to bury nuclear waste under the Great Lakes.

We are shitting in pool. We are pissing in the garden and poisoning the well. These are bad times and the vote cannot be your only act to save this country.

Where you shit matters as much as where you vote.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Weesaykayjak and the Rainbow Smile

I had been in camp for two days when the girls asked if I wanted to see their Little People house. Absolutely, I replied. We walk up the path and by the sweatlodge and into the bush following the trail where fasters make their camps. I point out the small fire pits to the girls and tell them that I had fasted in this place a few years ago.

I am reminded about my experience with the Little People when I was fasting. I had a small red flashlight with the Metis infinity sign on it. It was taken from my camp and I knew it was Little People. I had planned to put out small offerings of candy before I started fasting and then I forgot. On the last night my flashlight disappeared.

Two months later when I returned to the Culture Camp I found my flashlight placed upon my pillow.

Not far from where I had fasted the girls and some of the boys had made a teepee about 3 feet tall and covered it with clumps of moss. Inside they had place three to four inch birch stumps and on each of those they had placed mushrooms caps. It was really cool and quite beautiful.

On the walk back to camp I told them my Little People story and there were expressions of fear or concern. I said, I have never seen Little People, although I know that children and Elders see them and that one should consider it an honor to see such a spirit.

As we were walking back I realized that my other visitors had not been seen. The Whiskeyjacks which had kept me company throughout my fast were nowhere to be found. This thought bothered me as much as the thought of seeing Little People bothered some of the girls.

It was Bobby Brightnose who told me that the Whiskeyjack was the first representative of the animal world to greet the human beings when they came into the forest. The Whiskeyjack will always be the first to come around when you are cutting wood or if you are cleaning a moose or once you have set up camp. He is the one that likes the human beings the most.

Later that afternoon as we were readying the sweatlodge I mentioned to Andrew Jacobson that I had not seen a Whiskeyjack. “That’s right,” he said. “Now that you mention it.” He thought that perhaps the bird had a 7-year cycle like other creatures and that this was the point in the Whiskeyjack’s cycle when their  numbers are small.

As I stood doorman to the lodge I could hear Andrew offering prayers and Herbert Sanderson from Moose Lake was singing the songs. It was the fourth and final door and I was thinking about how Andrew was concerned about his fishing prospects over the next few weeks before the fall season closed and how there was no pickerel this year.

It came to my mind that perhaps the Whiskeyjack was not happy with the human beings and that we weren’t taking care of the water and the forest like we should. As this thought came to mind I heard a “peep beep peep” and looked up to see a Whiskeyjack fly across the northern sky. Then immediately a hawk flew right above and I lifted my head to follow it. Directly above there was a partial rainbow. It looked like a rainbow smile in the sky.

Behind the rainbow there was a wispy Cirrus cloud that looked on one end like a herd of deer and on another end like a school of fish.

The next day the Whiskeyjacks were back at camp.

I told my mother this story and she said, “Don’t call him Whiskeyjack that is the White man’s word. He is called Weesaykayjak.”