Aboriginal Music Week 2015: Shining a light on Indigenous Excellence

September 02, 2015

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+Print this pageEmail this to someone

AMW COVER PHOTO

“Indigenous Excellence” is the slogan of Aboriginal Music Week (AMW). That mantra is the crux of everything that AMW organizers are working towards—to nurture it and to inspire it within the Aboriginal community, particularly with youth.

Showcasing acts that cross “almost all musical and physical borders, without regret,” AMW 2015 featured 35 acts from Indigenous communities around the world—from traditional throat singers and drum groups to hip hops acts and powerhouse singers.

Now in its seventh year, the festival has become fertile ground for emerging Indigenous artists and future trailblazers—under-the-radar acts that will, in due time, make the mainstream take notice.

JUNO Award-winning act A Tribe Called Red were championed by organizers early in their careers, being brought back to perform for several years until they finally broke. Since then, hip hop group Mob Bounce and rez poet Leonard Sumner have been getting booked on the festival circuit.

And these are the success stories that festival chairperson Alan Greyeyes wants to continue to facilitate and celebrate. “One of the functions of the festival is to build stars within the community,” said Greyeyes.

Over the course of the five-day festival, below are just a few of the brightest that I saw.

T-Rhyme w/Exquisite Ghost at AMW at Lunch

On Portage Avenue, amid Winnipeg’s downtown core, T-Rhyme (aka Tara Campbell)—a Cree/Dene MC based in Saskatoon—and left-field beat-maker Exquisite Ghost of Peguis First Nation, whose experimental sounds have been compared to that of Flying Lotus, took a different live approach, trading off after each artist had shown off a bit of their distinct vibe.

T-Rhyme performing during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone. Saskatoon lyricist T-Rhyme pictured above. Credit: Julijana Capone.

While Exquisite Ghost’s complex soundscapes seemed to suffer from some shakiness, I have no doubt that his live show will develop as he continues to bring his music out of the bedroom.

Informed by early ’90s hip hop, T-Rhyme’s set was spot-on. Spitting verses over souled-out beats, the self-described femcee flexed her smooth-as-butter flow while Exquisite Ghost cued up her backing tracks. Her skills were put succinctly in the sentence: “I ain’t a new school rapper. I’m a veteran poet.”

As with many of the artists that I would see all week, her rhymes spoke to pride in Indigenous culture, Native issues and overcoming personal struggles, confessions intended to empower young people, especially young Indigenous girls.

Mariame at the Austin Street Festival

Over at the the Austin Street Festival, pop/R&B up-and-comer Mariame, a Cree/Algerian vocalist who calls Montreal home, was singing a rendition of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” Once a painfully shy kid, to hear the young singer powerfully belt out notes would suggest otherwise. Her velvety, pitch-perfect pipes literally sent shivers up my spine. As she would mention, that tune, unsurprisingly, was the one that wowed the people of her reserve in James Bay when she debuted it as a teen.

Mariame performing at the Austin Street Festival during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.Quebec R&B up-and-comer Mariame pictured above. Credit: Julijana Capone.

The community events are an important aspect of AMW programming that allows organizers to be more accessible to Indigenous youth, who they want to develop as a main audience. As Greyeyes noted: “It’s important for us as a festival to show other young people that exceptional people within the arts are in our community, and that they can pursue this on their own.”

Backed by her DJ/producer David Hodges—also the head of new record label, N’we Jinan—and slick guitarist Daniel “DJ” Joseph, Mariame performed mostly original tracks, including: “Vulnerable,” a poignant song about a girl’s struggle to overcome abuse and violence; “Electric,” an infectious body-moving pop gem that I still can’t get out of my head (and that’s not a bad thing); and an uplifting anthem for Indigenous pride, called “Native.”

Though the crowd was initially a little mellow, many were on their feet by set’s end—including feel-good rapper and AMW performer Mic Jordan—dancing and letting the positive vibes flow over them while Mariame smiled back from the stage.

Leanne Goose at the Good Will Social Club

The daughter of iconic Northwest Territories singer-songwriter Louis Goose, Inuvik’s Leanne Goose was born with music in her blood. If her musical pedigree is any indication, the Dene/Inuvialuit tunesmith sings with a confidence and conviction that commands attention.

Backed by a band, her songs traversed twangy rock and blues, classic country jams that nodded to greats like Loretta Lynn, and badass guitar licks strum with sass.

While there were dozens of artists that took to the stage that night as part of an epic Open Mic, Goose was certainly among the standouts.

C-Weed Band at the Indian & Metis Friendship Centre of Winnipeg

Having released 20 albums in their four decades of music-making, including their latest record aptly titled Forever, JUNO Award-nominated country stalwarts C-Weed Band rose to prominence playing Aboriginal communities throughout the country.

They are already legends in the community, to be sure. And when they play, their fans respond fervently to their songs, singing the words and hooting and hollering to each familiar note like they’ve been heard a thousand times. Led by Errol “C-Weed” Ranville with Clint Dutiaume trading his fiddle for a guitar, a cover of Trooper’s “Janine” had some very adorable couples taking to the dance floor for a little waltz.

With the audience consisting of parents and grandparents who had grown up on the C-Weed Band’s classic tunes and children simply feeling the grooves, it’s hard to imagine the group’s legacy fading away any time soon. C-Weed Band forever, indeed.

Errol Ranville of C-Weed Band at the Indian & Metis Friendship Centre. Credit: Julijana Capone.
Errol Ranville of C-Weed Band. Credit: Julijana Capone.

Closing Night Party at the Good Will Social Club

By the time T-Rhyme and Mariame had finished their warm-up sets, the laidback crowd at the Good Will Social Club was amped and the venue was starting to fill up.

Fresh off the heels of his Indigenous Music Award-nominated album, #FOE (Family Over Everything), Winnipeg rap alum Hellnback of Samson Cree Nation swaggered onto the stage with the brim of his hat slung low. The energetic lyricist wasted no time getting into the hyped-up “Cree Boy,” along with the Eric B. & Rakim-inspired “Know the Ledge,” and his latest single “BTBB.”


“BTBB” by Hellnback off his his latest album, #FOE (Family Over Everything).

Aside from his founding membership in seminal Native rap group War Party, formed in 1993, Hellnback is also known for his work in Team Rezofficial with Plains Cree-Saulteaux hip hop vet Drezus. Hellnback and Drezus are especially noted among the Native rappers who paved the way for other Aboriginal hip hop acts in Canada today.

With a last minute cancellation from Minneapolis rapper Tall Paul, Drezus stepped in for a trip back in time with his Rezofficial cohort Hellnback that included a performance of 2008 single “Lonely,” a track that whipped the crowd to the front. The single is noted for bringing wider attention to the group, topping the MuchMusic countdown for four weeks after its release.

A surprise appearance followed by Winnipeg Boyz, which includes two members of multi-award winning rap crew Winnipeg’s Most, among them Jon-C and the lightning quick Charlie Fettah. Rich Kidd would also make a cameo later in the night. It was a reunion of sorts for all of the veteran Prairie rappers.

Drezus reemerged to the stage for his headlining slot, featuring songs from his latest album, Indian Summer, a striking lyrical document of his Native heritage and the struggles that Indigenous people face, which was also nominated for a 2015 Indigenous Music Award in the rap category.


Drezus’ “Warpath.”

“Hip Hop” by Dead Prez, the rap duo known for blazing cuts about Black consciousness/liberation, was used as the backdrop for Drezus’ “Red Winter,” inspired by the Idle No More movement of 2013.

Between the echoing refrain “It’s bigger than hip hop, hip hop, hip hop, hip hop,” Drezus expressed his frustration towards the Canadian government with powerful lines, like “[Harper] letting women die outside of the parliament. Opposition’s only siding for their benefit. The only ones we really got is us and it’s so evident.”

Spotted bobbing his head in the audience was Wab Kinew, the rapper turned CBC journalist and community leader, who Drezus took a moment to recognize. “Shout out to Wab Kinew,” he said. “He’s a huge inspiration to me.”

Also present at the final night’s showcase were filmmakers from VICE News, who are currently working on a documentary about Aboriginal rap in Canada, due out in October on VICE’s music affiliate Noisey.

With this year’s lineup especially laden with hip hop artists, Greyeyes explained the importance of hip hop as a medium of expression to Indigenous youth, who are using their rhymes to chronicle the Native experience.

“Kinnie Starr once said that ‘hip hop and rap is our generation’s folk music.’ It’s a way that our generation is expressing themselves and sharing our experience,” Greyeyes told me in an earlier interview for BeatRoute. “I think for a lot of Aboriginal youth, they see music as a mark of time, and they are using this music to mark their time and reclaim a spot in the history books.”

Elsewhere, the man on the decks, Anishinaabe DJ/producer Boogey the Beat, capped the night with a solo set that traversed party-rockin’ jams and powwow chants.

Indeed, as the experimentation of contemporary and traditional influences continues to be nurtured and the voices of Indigenous people in Canada—and beyond—grow louder, the next wave of Indigenous acts to break through the mainstream are likely not too far behind.

 

More photos of Aboriginal Music Week 2015

  • Loud Thunder at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Drum group Loud Thunder performing at the Turtle Island Block Party during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Exquisite Ghost at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Beatsmith Exquisite Ghost. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • T-Rhyme at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    T-Rhyme performing during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • T-Rhyme at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    T-Rhyme performing during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Mariame at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Mariame performing at the Austin Street Festival during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Mariame at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Mariame performing at the Austin Street Festival during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Mariame at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Mariame performing at the Austin Street Festival during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Dustin Harder at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Dustin Harder performing at the Good Will Social Club during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Dustin Harder at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Dustin Harder performing at the Good Will Social Club during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Leanne Goose at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Leanne Goose performing at the Good Will Social Club during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • C-Weed Band at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Errol Ranville of C-Weed Band at the Indian & Metis Friendship Centre. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • C-Weed Band at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    C-Weed Band at the Indian & Metis Friendship Centre. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • C-Weed Band at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    C-Weed Band at the Indian & Metis Friendship Centre. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • C-Weed Band at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    C-Weed Band getting people on their feet during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Julijana Capone.

  • Mariame at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Mariame at the Good Will Social Club during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Tyson Anderson.

  • Drezus at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Drezus at the Good Will Social Club during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Tyson Anderson.

  • Boogey the Beat at Aboriginal Music Week 2015

    Boogey the Beat at the Good Will Social Club during Aboriginal Music Week. Credit: Tyson Anderson.

 

— Julijana Capone

Wanna talk music? Email me at julijana.capone@nmc.ca or follow me on Twitter @thejulijanaruin.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+Print this pageEmail this to someone

About the Author

Julijana Capone

A Calgary-by-way-of-Winnipeg writer and publicist, Julijana's bylines have appeared in HuffPost Music Canada, BeatRoute, and Winnipeg’s now defunct alt-weekly Uptown Magazine. She is also NMC's publicity coordinator and a senior editor of Amplify.


Play Your Part and Support NMC

More information

Alberta Music Cities Initiative

More information

The National Music Centre Mailing List

Subscribe to receive news, updates and special promotions.