Being asked to be play in a supergroup has to be a dream for most musicians, and that dream is currently being playing out on Manitoba’s Aboriginal music scene.
A new group called Indian City has been formed, combining a veteran performer-producer with some of the most talented young, up-and-coming indigenous singers. It is the brainchild of Vince Fontaine, the visionary, modern indigenous music pioneer behind the multi-award winning (75 accolades and counting!) Eagle & Hawk.
Fontaine has been on a mission over the past year assembling who he considers to be the best voices in Aboriginal music. The stunning result is the album Supernation, which was released Feb. 18.
It was an idea the soft-spoken Fontaine had after watching a music documentary. “I saw this special on TV about a group from the ’70s that was called the Fania All-Stars. They were the salsa/latin music group of New York City in the 1970s, and they went world-wide,” he said. “They had a core group, and they had guest singers and I thought, ‘gee, I could do that. I should do that.’” And that’s exactly what he did.
Fontaine had a notion of the singers he wanted to work with, knowing how deep the talent pool was of Manitoba-based Aboriginal musicians. But there were some surprises too, like the sultry-voiced Pamela Davis and William Prince, whose voice could be mistaken for Elvis in his prime.
“I saw William Prince on Aboriginal Day Live. I thought he was fantastic and I'd never met him before, so I approached him,” said Fontaine. “The other new feature singer is Pamela Davis, who I first saw at a Manitoba talent search this summer and I thought she was a fabulous singer with a dynamite voice.”
“So really I just kind of recruited these folks and said: ‘Hey do you want to sing on this CD?’ And that became the first step.”
Rounding out the group is Neewa Mason (vocals and percussion), Marty Chapman (drums), Atik Mason (bass), Gerry Atwell (keys), Jamie Carrasco (percussion), as well as traditional singer Ray “Coco” Stevenson and the award-winning singer-songwriter (and friend of Fontaine’s) Don Amero.
The songs on Supernation all had a pre-established theme which Fontaine had set out before the recording began. Along with long-time collaborator and producer Chris Burke-Gaffney, most of the groundwork for the songs — including the percussion and instrumentation — was laid out beforehand in Burke-Gaffney’s studio. But this is not to say that each singer on the album didn’t help shape the final song.
For instance, the track “Laughing Song” ended up being a lyrical trade between Fontaine, who had come up with the concept, and Prince, who assisted with the words once he had been sold on the idea. The same can be said for other songs on Supernation, as Fontaine embraced all that these singers had to offer. “It wasn't just me speaking out with their voice, it was an opportunity for those young artists to voice their lyrical ideas on top of my themes for every song.”
LISTEN "Laughing Song" featuring William Prince on lead vocals.
Indian City has played only one live show thus far — a 60-minute acoustic concert to test out all the material — which Fontaine described as “a magical musical moment.” The band itself is really gelling and rehearsals for their first real show, on Feb. 18 during Winnipeg’s annual winter celebration Festival du Voyageur, are going better than expected.
As Fontaine says: “There is a real collective soul within the group — a great comradery — so there is a really nice spirit about it.” With such a rich musical collective, and a stalwart like Fontaine at the helm, we should expect big things from Indian City in 2012.
Singer-songwriter Don Amero shares his Valentine song with you
Line-up of Aboriginal artists at the Festival du Voyageur in Winnipeg
on Feb 16, 2012