A Tribe Called Red: Truly An Electric Pow Wow

photography by: Destino Mendez Photo Journalism Student – SAIT

­To become completely captivated by any kind of DJ seems to have become somewhat of a rare occurrence this day-in-age. It is a melancholic object when, more often than not, one spends a premium cover for a night featuring a notable DJ only to become presented with an overly hopeful crowd swaying aimlessly to a lacklustre sound-scape. Although, if you were to ask any attendee to A Tribe Called Red’s renowned Electronic Pow Wow party, which began in Ottawa in 2008, their reply would not only articulate on crowd captivation and rhythmic intoxication, but commend on the DJ trio’s ability to generate a kind of palpable energy that both cultivates contemporary EDM as well as encapsulates first nation heritage.

A Tribe Called Red, comprised of Daniel General (DJ Shub), Ian Campeau (DJ NDN), and Thomas Ehren Ramon (Bear Witness), have been electrifying various venues and clubs with their unique sound as they make their way across Canada, and parts of the United States, on their most recent tour. “We’re out to have fun,” say’s Ramon before their show in Calgary on February 20th. “We’re here to throw a good dance party and make people want to dance.” The trio has been doing just that, generating a culturally transcending kind of energy for club-goers of all ages and races to move and swivel their feet and hips to. It literally is, as the name Electric Pow Wow would suggest, a party pow wow in the midst of an urban landscape.

All three members are adamant and focused when it comes to their fans pleasure. “In the beginning, what inspired us were the people who were supporting our parties,” says Ramon. “Right away our Electric Pow Wow parties were packed and selling out in Ottawa, and there was a real feeling of reaction from the people coming to support it. It was something that they needed and they wanted, so it was something that we had to continue. With the way that the indigenous community in Ottawa admired what we were trying to do so quickly, we wanted to make something to give back to those people who were showing us so much love. So that’s when we started mixing pow wow music with electronic music. It was to make something that represented the urban indigenous population of Ottawa.”

Along with their talent for creating electronic music, the trio’s ability to couple their unique sound with first nation traditional drumming and vocal segments is what makes them truly exceptional.“On Nation II Nation, we specifically used a record label called Travel Spirit. Under their label are ten or twelve young drum groups, so we used their catalogue,” notes General. This incorporation of traditional pow wow juxtaposed with the groups contemporary EDM sound is what sparks the ears of music lovers, and has successfully placed them in the ranking for Canadian music recognition.

The troupe have been longlisted nominee’s for the past two annual Polaris Music Prize’s, and have won several awards at the 2013 Aboriginal Peoples Choice Awards. Most recently, though, the group received a dual Juno nomination for breakthrough group of the year and electronic album of the year for their most recent album Nation II Nation. “We couldn’t be more excited and honoured for both nominations,” say General. Alongside standout artists such as Ryan Hemsworth, July Talk, and Born Ruffians, A Tribe Called Red collectively agrees that they are ready, and ecstatic, for the 2014 Juno Awards ceremony and festival in Winnipeg later on this month.

However, despite being considered for these two Juno awards, which is a feat in and of itself, one may ask why this stand-out first nation group was not nominated for the Juno aboriginal album of the year award.

“We didn’t want to compete with people for our background,” says Campeau. “We wanted to compete with people for our music. [The aboriginal music award] is fantastic, don’t get me wrong; we just didn’t feel comfortable competing our album with, say, George Leach’s album [Surrender]. You can’t really pick between a rock album and an electronic album and decide which ones the better album, yet, we’re put in the same category because we’re the same race? It didn’t really make a lot of sense to us, so we just didn’t apply for it.”

This doesn’t go without saying that the group displays a distinct passion for their cultural background. “The unique perspective we have is that we are urban indigenous people,” states Ramon. “It’s something that hasn’t been too widespread in the past, the urban indigenous experience, and that’s where it’s coming from with us. There are few other groups that have pursued to express that.” This perspective is exactly what fuels the group to create the music that they do, and has put them on the cultural forefront for all urban indigenous people, especially with the First Nations political protest and movement Idle No More.

“Idle No More,” nods Campeau. “The battle ground was Ottawa, and we were making Nation II Nation when that was happening. So, a lot of that emotion that was going on at that time fuelled what was put into that album.” Along with Nation II Nation, the groups freestyle live act also brings to focus the political side of what they pursue to achieve through their music. “With our party,” says Campeau, “people come to dance and it’s a really good time. But we’re playing pretty political music with, say, the comments on the relationship between first nations and non-first nations, as well as the overall misrepresentation of first nations in the media.”

Although, the group doesn’t pursue to push their, or anyone’s, political perspectives on fans. “All of the politics, and all of the rest of it that has to come with being an indigenous artist, is not on the forefront of what we’re doing,” states Campeau. “I mean, it’s on the forefront of what we’re talking about, and is a huge part of what we do. But the main goal that we have is to have a good time, and throw a wicked dance party.”

A Tribe Called Red plans to continue touring throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe, and is set to perform in festivals this year including South by Southwest, New Orleans Jazz Fest, Riddu Riddu Festival, and Pohoda Festival. In addition, the group is also in the works of creating and dropping a brand new album. “It’s going to be a collaborative album,” says Campeau, “showcasing a bunch of aboriginal and non-aboriginal artists from all over the place.” The trio plans to incorporate a heavier amount of rap infusions in their new material, and hopes to highlight local and independent hip-hop artists. Want to stay in check with what the group is up to? Check out their website atribecalledred.com for general information, advanced tickets, and their tour schedule, as well as follow their Twitter and Facebook pages @atribecalledred to track their all of their progress up-to-date.