Spun: A Tribe Called Red

By Tamara Cottle

There is a new genre manifesting in Canadian music today, and A Tribe Called Red is at the helm. This DJ collective from Ottawa started out by mixing traditional powwow music with club beats at parties for urban aboriginal youth in 2008. When they combined a grass dance song with a dubstep beat, they realized they were on to a fresh new sound they are calling ‘powwow-step.’

Within six days of its release, 5,000 people downloaded AtcR’s new album Electric Pow Wow for free. But for the founder of the collective, DJ Bear Witness, along with DJ NDN and DJ Shub, it’s all about the live shows and getting people out to the clubs and on the dance floor. ATCR integrates dance songs typically heard at traditional powwows, such as jingle dress songs and grass dances, with the broad stroke of electronic emotive music. The resulting mashup is nothing short of pure genius — it lets listeners dance in style while connecting with aboriginal tradition. 

ATCR is careful to respect Canadian aboriginal culture by avoiding using songs like sacred ‘honour’ or ‘veteran’ songs, which aren’t allowed to be recorded, in their mixes. They do, however, dismantle reggae tracks like Super Cat’s “Scalp Dem,” and pepper their music with heavy samples from the Northern Cree’s powwow cries. The album gives listeners a taste of powwow sounds — the deep intensity of the drum and the singers’ other-worldly awesomeness.

It is worth noting that DJ Bear Witness also produces music videos to accompany ATCR tracks. Bear Witness edits footage from stereotypical depictions of aboriginal people in the media to reinterpret and recreate aboriginal identity.

ATCR is part of a growing revolution in global indigenous music. Pride in native culture is brewing all over the world and, no matter your race or creed, the electrified pulse of powwow is sure to move you. 

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