Indigenous singer, songwriter, social activist and folk pioneer joined by electronic powwow DJs
Buffy Sainte-Marie looks at things differently. Since her very first release in 1964, It’s My Way, this luminous singer-songwriter, a member of the Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada, has viewed music as not just a means of personal expression, but as a way to effectively disseminate messages of peace to the global community. A prominent activist, pacifist, educator and visual artist, she split time in the ‘60s between NYC’s Greenwich Village, and Toronto’s equivalent, Yorkville. While performing next to the likes of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, she naturally set herself apart from other “folk” musicians, with a sometimes ephemeral, sometimes booming voice rife with culture, history and visionary ways of viewing humanity and our relationship with the earth. A Juno, Golden Globe & Oscar winner, Sainte-Marie has been recognized as an innovator with her protest anthems (“Universal Soldier”), her startlingly honest take on addiction (in the much-covered “Cod’ine”), her incidental pop-crossover mega-hit “Up Where We Belong,” and her most recent album Power in the Blood, a beautifully unapologetic look at identity and our place in the universe.
Oh, Canada! For those unfamiliar with “pow wow,” a chanting & drumming performed by North American Native people, Ottawa-based A Tribe Called Red will whole-heartedly introduce you to it – mixed with electronic rhythms, hip-hop, moombahton, reggae and dubstep, naturally. Their gloriously inimitable sound (which some refer to as ‘powwow-step’) has been transforming urban club culture in Ontario and beyond, helping electronic music fans to significantly broaden their horizons. The present roster includes DJ NDN, Bear Witness and 2oolman, and with their fantastically feral live shows/parties (replete with original, politically inspired visual art pieces and videos), they have been disseminating their message of aboriginal heritage embracement through wildly fun music.
Hailing from Winnipeg in central Canada, the wonderfully diverse Iskwé is of Irish and Cree/Dene lineage. Her full name, in Cree, translates to “Blue Sky Women”; Iskwé alone means “women,” and she chose this solitary moniker to represent both her culture and passion for shedding light on female causes and struggles. Strongly attached to her origins and spirituality, the skilled singer/songwriter instills her work with powerful elements of her heritage. Her voice is potent and luminous, her style a jazzy medley of trip hop and R&B. She attributes her inimitable sound to her “mixed indigenous and Irish ancestry,” as this cross-cultural experience had made an indelible mark on her life and music. A perfectionist with her work, her first album, the self-titled 2013 masterpiece Iskwé, took eight full years to produce. She subsequently released several singles to address the everyday atrocities that indigenous women must endure, including the heartbreaking 2015 track “Nobody Knows.” Her stage performances are bold and stunning; in tandem with her vital music, often she strikingly paints her face in the tradition of her Cree people.