Tribe Called Red plays ‘powwowstep’

by Perri Haser | 11/3/13 3:54pm

This Friday, the DJ group A Tribe Called Red performed two shows in Collis Common Ground, combining native tribal music with popular beats and samples from American pop music.

The band has grown in popularity since it was formed in Ottawa, Canada in 2010 and consists of DJ NDN, Bear Witness and DJ Shub, the two-time winner of the Canadian DMC Champion title.

A Tribe Called Red created its own style, “powwowstep,” defined by the blending of traditional powwow vocals and drumming with pop electronic music. The group’s campus performance incorporated, in addition to native music, clips from popular American music such as Kanye West’s “Stronger” and the Sesame Street theme song.

The music also made use of recordings that discuss Native American issues. One song started with a recording from a C.K. Louis stand-up routine on American “Indians” and European settlers.

In an interview with PolicyMic, Bear Witness said the group realized its music “inadvertently created something within the hip-hop environment that all cultures can appreciate, but it’s [native].”

A Tribe Called Red integrates its First Nation roots with a synthesis of pop and native sounds to bring the members’ identities into popular culture.

The group’s performances also aim to combat stereotypes about native culture, and this is most noticeable in the movies displayed in the background, created by Bear Witness, that incorporate common misperceptions of native people in a political and humorous attempt to reclaim the native image. These videos were not distracting, but instead offered a potent backdrop for the performances.

During the show it was impossible to forget A Tribe Called Red’s message. While the band remixes and takes samples of native music, its shows an incredible amount of respect for it.

A Tribe Called Red’s music provides a respectful application of native culture in tandem with some of the most fun electronic music available.

The band’s performances brought together students, Hanover families and their children and other avid local fans. There was no doubt people enjoyed the show; nearly everyone spent the whole time dancing.

“I thought it was an amazing new way to sort of bring people together, which is what a powwow is all about,” Ariana Mercado ’17 said. “The music relates to each person because it’s something that pretty much everybody listens to.”

In 2012, the group’s self-titled first album, was shortlisted for Canada’s Polaris Music Prize, a prestigious award for creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music.

The album was also ranked in The Washington Post as one of the top 10 albums of the year. This year, the group performed at South by Southwest Music Festival and the New Orleans Jazz Heritage Festival.

The group’s second album, “Nation II Nation,” released earlier this year and named one of 10 best Canadians albums of the year, won four Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards for best group, best producer, best album and best cover art.

This album also had the group again on the shortlist for the Polaris Music Prize.