Singing for so much more

I have been known to, well, brag about my skills as a musician in the past. When it comes to playing instruments, I pride myself on being able to play most mainstream instruments (drums, guitar, piano, bass guitar, ukulele) quite well, and if I cannot play it, you can bet i’ll sit down and lock myself in a room with said instrument and will not leave until I can produce a somewhat decent sound from it. Singing on the other hand… well that’s a whole different story.

Singing for me, doesn’t leave the comfort of my shower and confined space of my car with the radio blasting. So when I get the opportunity to listen to or find myself in the presence of truly talented singers, I can fully appreciate their talents.

I have just recently come across an Indigenous music trio called ASANI. The three that make up the trio are First Nations and Metis women, Debbie Houle, Sarah Pocklington and Sherryl Sewepagaham.  They use their voices in such an amazing way that one might compare them to an acapella singing group- in the sense that they create both sounds and lyrics with their voices- but they accompany their singing with “traditional First Nations instruments such as hand drums and rattles and the Metis fiddle.” (Sewell 213)

I knew from the second I heard them perform their version of ‘Oh Canada’ at the 2009 Northern Harmony Hall of Fame Induction that I wanted to write a blog post about them. It was upon further research of this music group that I realized ASANI took on a much larger role in the music scene than just singing and performing for crowds.

In an article by Catherine F. Sewell titled “Decolonization Through Harmonization” she spoke of how when ASANI travels to perform or to do shows that they were often met with frustrating circumstances. Of course the group was thrilled to perform and express their cultural heritage to a mainstream audience by way of their music. However, they were often “faced with the weary task of having to educate our audiences before we could even begin dialoguing with them.” (Sewell 213) It soon became apparent to ASANI that no matter how polite or good-intentioned people were that conversed with the group, that there was still an extensive amount of stereotypes present and a “phenomenal amount of ignorance about these cultures 500 years since contact.” (Sewell 213)

ASANI constantly faces the typical ‘Indian’ stereotypes and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to share one’s cultural heritage and cultural music to the world, only to be met with ignorant questions like “Are you an Indian Squaw?” (Yes this is unfortunately true). For reasons such as this, ASANI feels as though they often must educate their audience before performing in order to provide them with a blank slate, free of all predisposed judgments before listening to their music.

Upon hearing this, I couldn’t help but think about readings that our Indigenous Fiction class reviewed earlier this year that relate to the theme of Indigenous stereotypes and the need to confront, target, and then destroy these stereotypes. The first is Anthropologists and Other Friends by Vine Deloria, and the second is a poem that we read in passing during our lecture on September 23rd,  titled, How to Write the Great American Indian Novel by Sherman Alexie. While both of these works do not directly state what it means to be Indigenous or apart of the Indigenous community, they do however openly state the obvious stereotypes that plague the Indigenous culture and our Western society even today.

Anthropologists and Other Friends uses Juvenalian Satire to dictate that the way in which we are to identify Anthropologists is by their physical appearance. Here is an example of one of the descriptions used to distinguish Anthropologists from other people:

“Anthropologists can readily be identified on the reservations. Go into any crowd of people. Pick out a tall gaunt man wearing Bermuda shorts, a World War II Army Air Force flying jacket, an Australian bush hat, tennis shoes, and packing a large knapsack incorrectly strapped on his back” (Deloria 56).

This excerpt easily allows the reader to form a mental image of what the average Anthropologist is to looks like, but then reality kicks in and we realize that we can’t define an entire group of people simply by the way that they look…right? This is where the Juvenalian Satire comes into play. We can read the description of a ‘typical Anthropologist’ and laugh it off as being utter nonsense, but the sad truth is, this is how Indigenous people have been defined for decades. Many uneducated people (I say this in a kind way) assume that Indigenous people all dress in clothes made of animal fur, wear feathers in their hair, and paint their faces for ceremonies. This image is of course is due in part to the media portraying Indigenous people in such a way (Pocahontas *cough cough*) But the truth is, this is no different, and genuinely worse that the ludicrous description of Anthropologists found in Deloria’s  Anthropologists and Other Friends. 

I also find that Sherman Alexie’s poem, How to Write the Great American Indian Novel, successfully accompanies Deloria’s Anthropologists and Other Friends in the way in which it confronts Indigenous stereotypes. While Deloria uses Satire to compare the stereotypes of Anthropologists to the stereotypes of Indigenous people, Alexie candidly states the typical kinds of stereotypes used when describing Indigenous people, or in her case, when writing an American Indian novel. Alexie starts by describing how Indians generally are to look, they “must have tragic features: tragic noses, eyes, and arms. Their hands and fingers must be tragic when they reach for tragic food.” He then goes on to describe how Indian women are to look. “When the Indian woman steps out of her dress, the white man gasps at the endless beauty of her brown skin. She should be compared to nature: brown hills, mountains, fertile valleys, dewy grass, wind, and clear water.” Indian men, on the other hand “are horses, smelling wild and gamey. When the Indian men unbuttons his pants, the white woman should think of topsoil.” These are just a small few of the types of excerpts found in the poem; the more you read of Alexie’s poem, the more in-depth and descriptive the stereotypes become.

Like I said before, ASANI has faced (on numerous occasions) many Indigenous stereotypes. Some, just on the street in conversations with friendly strangers, and others in Q & A segments after their performances. I find it quite tragic that in the 21st century we haven’t become educated (either on our own or with the help of education systems) on the Indigenous culture.

Personally, I get nervous enough performing in front of a large audience when my band has a gig. I couldn’t imagine standing up on stage, as ASANI does, and wondering if the hundreds of eyes watching me even understand who I really am…

The video clip provided is of ASANI performing their rendition of Oh Canada at the Northern Harmony 2009 Hall of Fame Induction. I encourage anyone reading my blog to watch/listen to this amazing song and to check out ASANI’s other work. The song itself starts at 4:20.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Works Cited

_______________________________________

 Alexie, Sherman, How to Write the Great American Indian Novel. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/237270

Deloria, Vine, Anthropologists and Other Friends

Sewell, C. F. (2001). Decolonization through harmonization. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(2), 94-104. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/230307568?accountid=14391

Advertisements

Remixing Past and Present Music

A prior blog post of mine titled “Rapping Towards Reconciliation”, discussed how certain programs work with Indigenous youth in Canada to write, produce, and perform rap music. Doing so helps them to deal with and heal past and current traumas by expressing their feelings through the lyrics of rap music.

With this blog post however, I wanted to flip the theme and instead of focusing on lyrics, I want to examine purely the instrumental musicality of a specific style of Indigenous music, and doing so while featuring a specific music group, which just happens to be one of my favourites… They are called A Tribe Called Red.

I’ve been listening to A Tribe Called Red for just over a year now and instantly became obsessed with their music the second I heard their song “Electric Pow Wow Drum”. I would personally describe the music as being a mix between Hip-Hop, electronic, techno, and Indigenous ceremonial music. It is completely original, something I’ve never heard of before, especially not in main-stream popular culture music, and that’s why I love it. Music journalist, Nicholas Jennings, was able to interview A Tribe Called Red in the Fall of 2013. One of the members from A Tribe Called Red, Ian Campeau (also known as, DJ NDN), revealed how he and his fellow group members formed their band.

“We wanted to throw a party that was culturally specific to the First Nations people,” recalls Campeau, a.k.a. DJ NDN. “We started adding pow wow vocal and drumming samples to electronic dance music and people went crazy. It was obvious this was a big thing that was missing in the community.”(Jennings)

Ian Campeau teamed up with Bear Witness and Dan General, a.k.a. DJ Shub, and together they formed A Tribe Called Red. From the beginning of their musical career they not only became widely popular among the Indigenous communities, but group member, Ian Campeau, revealed his surprise to Nicholar Jennings that MTV (music television) even tweeted the music group.

There are two reasons why I wanted to discuss A Tribe Called Red, opposed to any other Indigenous based musical group or artist.

1) I love this group and feel as though I receive a fraction of authentic Indigenous Pow Wow music (whether that be drums or vocals) while enjoying the electronic, techno driven music that I am familiar with.

2) Though there are many musicians and artists that have been recognized by the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, they unfortunately, and quite often,  do not become popular outside of the Indigenous Community. I honestly do not know why this is, and out of fear of ignorance I don’t want to guess. A Tribe Called Red on the other-hand has received an extensive amount of success outside of the Indigenous Community, and I believe this to be attributed to their use of combining traditional Indigenous music, with contemporary electronic beats. When interviewed, group member Ian Campeau stated that:

“As First Nations people, we’ve always been seen as something from the past. With this modern twist, it’s showing that we’re still here. That’s the message of our music.” (Jennings)

When I read this quote by Ian Campeau, I couldn’t help but think of the idea of ‘Change’ that seems to resurface more often than not in our Indigenous Fiction class. In all the stories we’ve read, change seems to be a constant that the Indigenous not only face, but embrace wholeheartedly. We have learned about how stories prepare people for change. As paraphrased in Spiraling Webs 13,

“Words, in aboriginal theory, are not abstractions to be detached from signified or signification; rather “words carry friends to the stars, they keep one’s people safe, they constitute our being”. In indigenist criticism, the point is not to turn the focus on the port and the poetic process as much as it is to look at how language is used as an instrument of actual change in the world.” (Humphreys Lecture)

I believe the idea of change is even captured in Mourning Dove’s Cogewea, as she reconstructed what many have come to recognize at the typical Western. However, Mourning Dove Indigenized capitalism by showing how the overall whole or community of the ranch had value far beyond capitalist ideals of worth, mainly money and superficial wealth.

Though this idea of change may seem like a stretch when comparing it to stories and their themes as presented in our class readings to the musical group A Tribe Called Red, but I strongly believe that change is an all-encompassing, and all-embracing theme throughout Indigenaity and that it should be recognized and celebrated. A Tribe Called Red embraced change by writing, singing, playing, producing, and performing popular culture genres like Electronic, Hip-Hop, and Techno music, all while incorporating their heritage and culture with traditional Indigenous drum and vocal music. As group member Ian Campeau said, “As First Nations people, we’ve always been seen as something from the past. With this modern twist, it’s showing that we’re still here.”

I encourage anyone reading this to listen to the song provided below. It is my favourite song by A Tribe Called Red and the song that got me addicted to their music. It’s called Electric Pow Wow Drum.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Works Cited

___________________________________________

Jennings, N. (2013). A tribe called red create electric pow wow genre. Words & Music, 20(3), 12. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1447205428?accountid=14391

Sara Humphreys, Lecture on September 24th, 2013

Just Listen to the Stereotypes!

Before reading this post, I ask that you first listen, but more importantly watch the music video provided above. It is called “Looking Hot” by the band No Doubt.

Have you Listened? Watched?… Can you feel the stereotypical Cowboys and Indians theme oozing from every inch of your computer screen?

This music video caused for an extensive amount of controversy from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous commentators, and for good reason; this music video (whether intentional or not) is one big insult to Indigenous Identity. This Cowboys and Indians tribute video captured all the typical Indigenous stereotypes that we have come to know and love (note the total sarcasm); complete with feathers, Indians on horses, eccentric headpieces, and the beautiful, but helpless Indian Princess that has been captured at the hands of the Cowboys.

If the actual music video itself wasn’t offensive on its own, I’m sure you all would be equally as appalled as I was, to find out that this video was released to the public in November of 2012, also known as Native American Heritage Month. If that isn’t a slap to the face, then I don’t know what is.

As I stated previously, this video caused controversy among Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples alike. One statement that I felt perfectly described this video was said by Angela R. Riley, the Director from the UCLA American Indian Studies Center. With regards to what the video portrays, she said that:

“American Indians are mere historical relics,

frozen in time as stereotypically savage, primitive, uniquely-spiritualized

and — in the case of Native women — hyper-sexualized objects to be tamed.” (Paul Hiebert)

Another academic who holds a strong opinion on the theme of this music video is the Chair of the Native American Studies Program at Dartmouth College and a member of the United Houma Nation of Louisiana, Professor N. Bruce Duthu. When interviewed about the content of the music video, Duthu responded that his main concern was “the objectification and sexualization of a person depicted as a Native American woman.”(Hiebert) This refereed to the lead singer of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani, being dressed up as an ‘Indian Princess’ in skimpy clothing, being tied up with rope, and held captive by the Cowboys. Professor Duthu said that there is

“a long, sad history of the sexualization of Native women, who [also] face the highest rates of sexual violence

of any discrete group of women in the entire US….

So seeing Gwen Stefani tied up as a Native woman with lyrics that say,

“Go ahead and look at me/Do you think I’m looking hot?” was just pretty revolting.” (Hiebert)

So far in this post, the opinions I’ve quoted have been those of non-Indigenous peoples, and while their contributions to the Indigenous community are noted and respected, I knew that this post would be incomplete without consolidating Indigenous views of the events surround No Doubt’s controversial music video.

For an Indigenous p.o.v. I wanted to turn to Kim Wheeler, a well known figure in the media/music industry. She is a journalist, worked for the Canadian Press/Broadcast News, worked at CBC Radio One , she created and developed Ab-Originals – a weekly podcast of popular Aboriginal music in Canada on CBC Radio 3, and she is on the board for Aboriginal Music Manitoba while maintaining many other jobs and side projects. Needless to say, Kim’s extensive resume proves that she knows her music.

I happened to come across Kim Wheeler’s article for CBC Music titled, “No Doubt’s ‘Looking Hot’ video should never have been made” (Wheeler) while researching Indigenous opinions on the music video. Kim Wheeler not only states her own opinion on the controversial music video, but also relays the opinions of other Indigenous musicians on the topic. As you can tell from the title of her post, Kim believes that the music video is extremely insensitive to the atrocities that have occurred to Indigenous women. She expresses this by stating that

“It’s no secret in Canada that Aboriginal people have the highest incarceration rates in the country. To show someone dressed as a First Nations person in jail is incredibly insensitive [referring to a scene in the music video]. Not to mention that Stefani’s portraying the sexualization of Aboriginal women, when there are currently more than 600 missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.” (Wheeler)

Kim also touches on the improper use of “of sacred items such as the eagle staff, which represents our ancestors and our heritage, and is treated with the utmost respect. This misuse of native culture helps keep systemic racism alive and well.” (Wheeler)

While expressing her own views of the racism presented in No Doubt’s much video, she also shares the opinions of Indigenous musicians on the topic. Many musicians like “Yaqui musician Gabriel Ayala, are disappointed in the band.” While others such as Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit/Aleut musician express their concern that “Native culture has constantly been swept aside, and these forms of representation do not contribute towards educating the public.” (Wheeler)

Those who defend the actions of the band says that they did the right thing by taking down the music video and making a public apology on the band’s website. However, as Kim Wheeler rightly puts it, “the apology shouldn’t have been necessary, because a music video like this should not have been made in this first place.” (Wheeler)

This is true. It is nearly 2014 and what concerns me is that Western society still struggles with Indigenous stereotypes to the point that famous musicians think it is acceptable to make derogatory music videos about Indigenous culture. Where will society draw the line?

________________________________________________________________

Works Cited

Kim Wheeler, Blog Post Editorial: No Doubt’s ‘Looking Hot’ video should never have been madehttp://music.cbc.ca/#/blogs/2012/11/Editorial-No-Doubts-Looking-Hot-video-should-never-have-been-made

Paul Hiebert’s article, A Native American Expert on No Doubt’s Controversial Video and Cultural Appropriation, http://flavorwire.com/344807/

Rapping Towards Reconciliation

As mentioned in my “Who Am I?” page (which you should check out if you haven’t already), I find myself extremely connected with music. I listen to music, as I’m sure everyone reading this blog post probably has as well. However, beyond that I play several different instruments, teach music lessons, write my own music, have played in numerous bands, and I proudly consider myself a certified ‘band geek’. This being said, I have never considered myself to be a connoisseur of Rap music.  From listening to popular rap artists such as Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Eminem, and Kanye West (to name a few), I might even be so bold as to say that the subject matter often does not extend past sex, drugs, women, and gangs. While contemporary rap music and the image that goes along with the artists, is quite popular in society and clearly sells, I’ve never treated it to be more than just another section in my local CD store. It wasn’t until I began researching Indigenous music that I realized how prominent and influential rap music really is for certain Indigenous communities.

There was a particular article that I came across in my research that I found to be both interesting and enlightening regarding Aboriginal relations with rap music. Elaine L. Wang wrote an article titled The Beat of Boyle Street: Empowering Aboriginal youth through music making, in which she explores a program called the Beat of Boyle Street. This program engages troubled youth, including Indigenous students in Edmonton Canada, to “establish a healthy sense of self” by way of “creating, recording, and producing their own rap and remixes” (Wang 61).

As we have been learning in our Indigenous Fiction class (and Wang recognizes this as well), Indigenous people have faced incomprehensible atrocities that not only compromised their rights, but also their way of life.

“Aboriginals at one time had to surrender their rights to independence with regard to culture, land, governance, and resources to become legal Canadian citizens. Further destruction of freedom and culture included alcohol prohibitions; barring of potlatch celebrations, pow-wows, and other ceremonies; and forceful placement of children into residential schools, distant from their family and community. The results were the destruction of children’s self-esteem and irrevocable harm to Aboriginal languages and traditions” (Wang 62).

As a result of what was previously mentioned, many Indigenous students in today’s society struggle with internal emotional trauma as well as existing stereotypes and racism that they face on a daily basis. The Beat of Boyle Street was initiated in Edmonton to work with inner-city Indigenous youth in school music programs with the intention of helping these students overcome their problems by means of learning to express themselves through rap and hip-hop music.

The reason why creating, producing, and recording rap music has been so successful in aiding these students to cope with their past and current trauma is due to the fact that “rap is regarded as a form of storytelling expressed by historically marginalized, silenced and otherwise ‘invisible’ people. The program was also built around hip-hop because it is a genre that urban youth are likely already familiar with” (Wang 64). This program creates a community where reflection and even partial heeling of their wounds are possible.

This idea of heeling by means of communicating through rap music in a community setting made me think of a particular book that my Indigenous Fiction class is covering this semester called Porcupines and China Dolls by Robert Arthur Alexie. In this story, the Indigenous community sets up workshops with the belief that by talking about their pasts and telling their stories, that it may help with the process of healing. It is obvious of course, that healing is a journey and that sharing their stories will not give these people full closure, but it is a step towards healing and doing it together, as a community, only makes it easier. I believe this concept to be similar to that of the Beat of Boyle Street program; that creative expression in a community with similar pasts and similar difficulties, can bring about stronger results and therefore, stronger healing.

Another positive aspect of this program (other than what has been talked about previously) is that it is credit-based, meaning that the students who attend this program earn school credits. This is just another one of the constructive features that this program brings about as many Indigenous youth often have problems with class attendance.  The Beat of Boyle Street program in Edmonton has shown not only that it raises self-esteem in the Indigenous youth, but also regenerates their interest in school.

As a musician, I can appreciate the community aspect of music as I have spent countless hours jamming with other musicians and writing songs in a band where all members contribute ideas to create a song, a whole, if you will, out of nothing. Though I know I will never truly understand the pain of those affected by colonization in the Indigenous community, I can completely understand the impact that music can have on the lives that partake in it, for I know it has drastically affected mine.

There are several programs similar to the Beat of Boyle Street, which encourage music as a form of expression within Indigenous communities and schools, this is just one that I found of particular interest and chose to focus on. For more information on the Beat of Boyle Street programs you can visit http://www.beatofboylestreet.com/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

Works Cited

_______________________________________________________________________

Wang, Elaine L. “The Beat Of Boyle Street: Empowering Aboriginal Youth Through Music Making.” New Directions For Youth Development 2010.125 (2010): 61-70. Academic Search Elite. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.