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Thursday, December 18, 2014

2014 - The Year in Music

2013 was the year Idle No More smashed Canadian complacency like a huge rock landing in the middle of a calm lake. 2014 saw a Tidal Wave of Native Music washing from sea to sea to sea created in that wake up call.

Canada's Conscience Award - Neil Young took up the challenge to Canada and rock n roll's conscience brought the message home. Young kicked off the year with the Honor the Treaties Tour on Sunday, January 12 at historic Massey Hall in Toronto. Young raised awareness but also money for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation to hold back further Tar Sand developments on their territory. Dianne Krall joined in with Young for some of the tour dates although support from Canada's music and entertainment community was sadly lacking.

Worth the Wait Award - In March, the Juno's recognized George Leach with Aboriginal Album of the Year and it was well deserved. Leach's Surrender came 12 years after his much loved debut album "Young Enough". It showcased a musician and songwriter expressing his art at the height of his talents. He continued to exercise his love of traditional and gutbucket blues while spicing up the disc with straight up rockers and more experimental sounds that veered into the pop polish of Coldplay. It was a great second album. Hey George, don't make us wait so long for the next one.

MTV's Rebel Music - MTV chose Supaman's Prayer Loop Song for it's video of the Week in March of this year and it signaled that the Music broadcaster south of the border was seeing rumblings of a musical revolution. MTV followed up that promise later in the year with the broadcast of Rebel Music which showcased Witko, Inez Jasper, Frank Waln, and Nataani Means.

Breakthrough of the Year Award-  The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science gets the breakthrough of the year for awarding A Tribe Called Red the Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Perhaps the glass ceiling won't be completely repaired by the time the Juno nominees are decided for 2015. If all the Native Artists are in one category and there is no room for us in the other categories then we will know.

Idle No More Anthems - Tara Williamson's Come My Way makes me want to blockade the railway and fall in love all at the same time.
Nadjiwan released Broken Treaty Blues which brought the message with a bumping guitar riff, war drum beats and angry chants.

Songs for our Missing and Murdered - Pray Sister Pray was the first single released from Crystal Shawanda's The Whole World's Got the Blues and it was no doubt intentional. In this powerhouse song Crystal lays down one of the harshest lines of the year a cold hard slap in the face of Canadian false humility. "They're just glad another is gone." The prayer at the end of the song is for all of us.
In the song Bella from Leela Gilday's fantastic disc Heart of the People, she sings, "They say we're still to blame for the things that happened to us." It was the truth and it was painful and defiant.
Shawnee who released one of the year's best rock EP's Let It Burn also released a single Canadian Cry to speak out against the silence and asking, "How can you sleep at night?"

Heart Tugger of the Year Award - Rellik's Hank Williams meets Tupac Shakur ballad The Hour about his late mother is beautiful and sad in all the right ways. The guitar is simple and soulful, Nathan Cunningham adds the hook and you have a song that deserves the names referenced.

Biggest WTF Moment of the Year 
- In June, Billy Ray Cyrus is the headliner at Aboriginal Day Live. The organizers must have thought this would bring some much needed mainstream media attention to the event. The only way that would have happened with Billy Ray Cyrus as a headliner is if he twerked his bum against Robin Thicke's crotch during the performance. This is one of the great years for Aboriginal Music and...and...WTF?

B-O-M-B of the Year - A Tribe Called Red dropped a bomb right on American Thanksgiving when they released Burn Your Village to the Ground. The single was trending on Twitter that day and the Huffington Post had it on their front page. The single builds around a speech by Wednesday Addams from the movie Addams Family Values. Wednesday shares that the Native Americans have learned the true intentions of the settlers and will now burn their village down. It is hilarious and menacing and you can dance to it. It may well become a Thanksgiving Classic.

How We Got our Groove Back Award - This was the year in which Native music reclaimed it’s sexuality in a big way. Meet Me at the Pow Wow by Lightning Cloud and Leonard Sumner was filled with cultural references, inside jokes, questionable pickup lines and a singalong chorus for the Men and for the Women. It was the Snagging Anthem of year. Digging Roots goes All Night Long to kickoff their For the Light album. Raven is singing about going deep enough for you baby and he doesn't mean his baritone. I played Crystal Shawanda's Cry Out For More at 2 in the afternoon on my radio show and I was blushing....my, my, Crystal.
It would seem to be some kind of cosmic karma that the original Native American come-on classic would make a comeback forty years later. It was certainly cosmic.

Come back of the Year - Red Bone's Come and Get Your Love was featured in Guardians of the Galaxy which became the biggest movie of the year and the top selling soundtrack of the year.
RedBone's funky classic kicked off the movie that many people are calling a Star Wars for a new generation. The song written by the late Lolly Vegas was the first song by a Native American group to reach the top of the billboard charts. Ring up a few more number ones to that list after this year.

Debut of the Year - Rikki Linklater's The Last Time sounded like Taylor Swift was making the kind of music that made us fall in love with Taylor Swift in the first place.

Album of the Year – Crystal Shawanda – The Whole World’s Got the Blues. This is the best album in a very, very good year. Not just for Native Music but for Canadian music. It is the Golden Age. The star on this glorious year in music is Crystal. I don't think it was easy to make this record. A continuation in the new country genre would be the critical and commercial safe bet. Crystal broke down all the barriers and released the album that sounds like the record she was born to make...bluesy, ballsy, hot and heartbreaking.
Crystal may have come up in Country but her voice always had a raw edge that was too much for Country to contain.  She's more Janis Joplin and Etta James than Martina McBride and "The Whole World's got the Blues" let's us hear that voice. This isn't computerized. The pain, the anger and the pleasure; it's all right here. The lyrics delve into the deepest darkest regions of the soul of Canada itself. It is the best album of the year in Canada. It may be the best album of 2014.

Collaboration of the Ages Award - Dawn Star Rising is the first truly Canadian contribution to the world of ballet. The story of the two young Native People who find that their lives in the city remain imprisoned in the cycle of violence and rape that began in the Indian Residential Schools. There are many moments of breathtaking beauty and heartbreaking silence in this historic work. There is a moment towards the end of the performance. A women is singing a solo hand drum song and it is filled with hope and is gorgeous at the highest. Then the strings come in. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra joins in with the drum and it takes all I have not to break down and start crying. Maybe there is hope for us to make something beautiful together after all.

Tanya Tagaq Wins Polaris Prize- It is the most prestigious award in Canadian contemporary music and this year the winner was Tanya Tagaq's Animism. Tagaq's selection continues the tradition of the Polaris where winners are often the most complex and challenging music of the year. I am not going to lie to you. I didn't get Tanya's music. I understood it. I respected what she was doing. But that's not what music is about. That is not what art is about. If you can't feel it, you don't get it. 

I was fortunate to be in the audience when Dawn Star Rising made it's debut. In the beginning of the second act after you have been introduced into the reality of the residential school legacy the second half takes you into the horrors of the past. In the darkness the voice beats and we see Tanya centre stage. She moans and grunts and screams and each breath and gasp and rise and fall and fire and will and life define what words cannot. I got it.

The Tour of The Year - Red Ride 2014 featured Kristi Lane Sinclair and Cris Doerksen two artists who are making some of the most dynamic music around. They performed with special guests including George Leach, Iskwe, Nick Sherman and others on every stop of the tour and we can only hope that the Red Ride continues to roll and grow.

Industry Builder We're Gonna Miss Her Award - Miss Melissa is heading to the Desert and a new gig at a rock n roll station in Phoenix Arizona. She built Streetz FM with her bare hands and the proverbially blood, sweat, and tears. The National Aboriginal Music Countdown is an institution that was built on the credibility of her voice and personality. 

Language in the Music Award - Tall Paul put his Prayers in a Song and showcased the struggle to maintain your identity in this world and threw down a challenge for our own community when he rapped how culture is "More than Frybread and Contest Powwows." Digging Roots brought in the flavour of the language to the title track of their album To The Light.

Drop the Mic on 2014 Award: The year ended with Derek Miller dropping his latest disc Rumble. Miller covers the Link Wray classic Rumble which has the distinction of being the only instrumental to be banned from the airwaves for being dangerous. That's how you end a year.


***

This is just what I heard. Great new music from a number of artists that didn't make the list but deserved to be heard such as Teagan Littlechief, Hugh Poorman, Janet Panic, Donny Paranteau, Gary Farmer and the Trouble Makers, Murray Porter, Kinnie Star and on and on. Here are other lists of artists and music that you might want to check out.

RPM's Best Indigenous Music 2014

RPM'S Best Indigenous Videos 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chickadee Forgot Memory


Each year the Chickadee would hide seeds in thousands of places and she would remember every one of them.  During the cold of winter she would recall seeds hid in light of summer that would feed her and her family.

She picked at the bark. There wasn’t anything there. She picked again. It was gone. It was gone. She moved quickly to the next branch and there wasn’t anything there and then the next and then she stopped.

Someone was watching.

She spun quickly and on the Great Oak sat the Red Headed Woodpecker. She froze in his stare. He held her gaze for a long breath and then turned deliberately and began stabbing and penetrating into the tree. 
He maintained one eye on Chickadee.

“I hate Woodpecker,” she thought.  She imagined what he would smell like when he was dead. She felt satisfaction. Then she shuddered and stilled. 

She scolded herself for creating those thoughts. There was only so much that she could remember.  Her winter feathers were coming in thick. Soon, it would be very cold.
She remained motionless with eyes held shut. She could hear the pounding of her heart and she held her breath until the beating plugged her ears from inside and she was drowning in syrup of dying plasma and tissue. There was blinding light that screamed inside her head and she pushed hard to the surface.

The light returned.

She opened her eyes and took a breath. She turned her head to the sound of the woodpecker hammering on the Great Oak.

She did not recall the bird.


*

The human beings began the forgetting ceremony by closing tight the door to the sweat lodge. There had been great discussion in the days leading to this moment. It was not a ceremony taken lightly. People had lost their minds and went back to when they were not human beings.

The lodge was small, there was enough room for the four and no more. The thick canvas tarp covered the sapling ribs and had been folded over twice to create a shell of darkness. The young man of the outside used his feet to push the tarp downward and inward. He was the doorman.
Unseen hands tapped against the inside of the lodge and he push down and in around there. Silence signaled that only darkness existed inside the lodge.

The Doorman returned to the fire and covered up the ceremonial stones with flaming wood.  The old man began to sing the song to Chickadee. His helper sitting to his right began to pour water on the stones. The young woman began to cry and her grandmother next to her in the dark joined in with grandfather. The old people sang the song of forgetting to the beat of the Chickadee’s song.

Outside the lodge, the young man was adding more split wood onto the pyre. He was facing the lodge when it started.

He could hear it behind him. It sounded like wind but became a hum and as the song inside had begun the fourth round he knew what it was. The old people’s song was the familiar Chick a dee dee dee Dee.
He stilled and looked into the fire as a thousand tiny wings flew around him and into the lodge.


**

In the morning Chickadee opened her eyes. She could see the spots all over the Great Oak where she had hidden seeds. The ancient tree was throbbing a hundred thousand bubbles of life. She could see around the Great Oak and into the forest beyond. She saw everything.
She saw every place where she had stored a seed during the warm days of summer. She was blinded by the memory of the thousands and thousands and thousands for the days and days and days and days and days.

Chickadee closed her eyes and squeezed as tight as she could. She would use her people’s ancient power to force this reality away. She would do it now; just as she had before, just as she had so many times before.

How many times? How many times? How many times?
She did not know. It was all too much. It was all too much at the same time.  A shiver went through her body and her claws gripped harder her perch. Her head was spinning and she felt like she was going to throw up.

Every little crevice, every little crack, every definition, all the spaces and the lines in between the trees and the branches and the leaves and the lumps and the secret places in the vines and the plants and the ivy.

All the work and work and work to find and collect and to find and to collect and to fight and to flee and to hide and hide and hide and most of all to remember and she could feel her body reeling.
It swelled with the living memory of every moment of her thousand days. It was in her blood pulsating in all the little voices that made up everything that she was. She could hear dead memories speaking the same thing.

HOW CAN YOU FORGET ME!

**

When the girl woke up she knew without checking the time that she slept too long. She couldn’t remember when she had slept as long. She must have been little. She thought for the briefest moment that it was the longest time she had slept.

She rolled over and found the clock. It said 6:25. She looked to the window and the sky was purple behind the venetian blinds.

She remembered that the clocks had fallen forward. It was a day ago. Two days ago. She hated losing that hour each fall. She was always losing track of time for most of the month. She preferred time springing forward. It would slap you into reality on the first day but with Fall Back you were still dealing with effects weeks after.

In school at the top of the hill they taught her that daylight savings was done to benefit farmers. She read on the internet that it was because the Germans did it during World Ward 1 and then everyone followed.

She knew Grandpa’s great uncles had served honourably in World War 2. So did Kookum’s uncles. Still it didn’t make any sense to her. How did we defeat following against our will in order to follow against our will?

She thought about the old movie that she watched with Kookum on Sunday. It was on Turner Classic Movies and was about a bitter writer in the days after World War 2.  The lead was Van Johnson and the bad girl was Kookum’s favourite, Elizabeth Taylor.

She could see Elizabeth Taylor and Van Johnson swoon in love and victory over fascism while a sign stating English Only was prominently displayed in the background.
The smell of bacon took over the senses and she got up. When she entered the kitchen she saw her grandfather at the stove cracking eggs into a cast iron skillet. In a similar pan on the other front burner sputtered strips of bacon.

She had never seen Grandpa cook. She looked out the front window and she saw Kookum. Her grandmother had turned from the prayer rock in the front yard. The girl knew that Kookum had been saying prayers. Kookum was wiping away tears.


***


Chickadee was fighting and crashing into the light of this world. The hunger and the cold were constant and her parents gave all heat and food. In the next breath her sibling is snatched away by something with fur and teeth and she can smell its breath.
Then she was free. She could hop and hide and fly and be wherever she wished to be and she could see the opening beyond the trees.
The next morning Mother had a Grasshopper in her mouth. It was fat and green and mother had sad eyes and Chickadee turned up her beak. Mother held the kicking grasshopper in silence.
She remembered all the spots she had planted the day Mother had sent her away. All the places she had placed seeds and dreamed of being free and on her own.
She did not look back to her mother when she had set upon her own perch for the night. The moon was full and its brightness swallowed up all the stars in the sky and Chickadee knew that this was how you would die; swallowed up by a great light.
She could see her fledging children captured in the air by the Hawks and they would scream her name when they were eaten and all of them would scream her name when they were eaten.
She didn’t want to have eggs anymore. She didn’t want to have any more babies. It was too much. She began to use the forget power of her people. Not just to forget all the thousands of seeds they had stored for the past winter. Chickadee began to willfully forget her pain.
Then she could not stop. She could not stop. She could not stop. Over every little thing until it was for nothing.
Her thoughts settled upon the night before. Her mother and her grandmother and her great grandmother and most of the elders had gathered at her nightly perch by the time she had returned for the night.
Her mother was saying something. She can’t remember what it was.


****