The best parties are often those that are rooted in – and gather – communities of people. First Nations trio A Tribe Called Red has shown this with Electric Pow Wow, their popular monthly club night in Ottawa dedicated to good times and native talent.
While DJs Bear Witness (Bear Thomas) and NDN (Ian Campeau) founded A Tribe Called Red in 2008, things really got off the ground in 2010 when two-time Canadian DMC champ DJ Shub (Dan General) joined the crew. The three began to produce parties and, soon after, music.
“We started the Electric Pow Wow parties to showcase ourselves as aboriginal DJs in Ottawa,” explains Thomas of the events held at Babylon Nightclub the second Saturday of each month. “We quickly realized that we had created something that didn't exist before, a space for urban aboriginal people in the club environment of Ottawa. This inspired us to start remixing pow wow music to create something that indigenous people could relate to and claim as their own.
“But we also don't see EPW as a strictly aboriginal event,” Thomas adds. “One of the things I am most proud of is how the Electric Pow Wow has become a very inclusive space. We see people representing every community coming out to enjoy the party, and the pow wow sound seems to hit everyone in the same place.”
A Tribe Called Red’s early blend of dubstep production with traditional pow wow vocals and drumming may have inspired MTV Iggy to label their sound “pow wow step,” but the trio also incorporates hip-hop, moombahton, dancehall and a host of electronic styles. The trio is now set to flex the full diversity of their inspirations with a debut album.
Available from March 27 as a free download at A Tribe Called Red’s new website, the self-titled full-length features tracks familiar to ATCR fans – like their remix of Northern Cree’s “Red Skin Girl” – alongside new material, including “General Generations.” Here, ATCR works with vocals from an original wax cylinder recording of aboriginal singers supplied by Nolan Warden, a PhD student from UCLA’s ethnomusicology department.
“After we agreed to work on the project, Nolan asked us which nations each of us are from,” explains Thomas. “Shub and I are both Cayuga from Six Nations, and Nolan actually found a singer named chief Alexander J. General in the recordings who was not only from Six and Cayuga, but who also had the same last name as Shub. That's how the track got its name.”
By blending elements of their heritage with sounds and imagery very much of the now, A Tribe Called Red resonates across generations.
“Pow wow and the Electric Pow Wow are part of the same continuous cultural cycle, and all we have done is highlight our moment in the continuum,” says Thomas. “Everything we do in ATCR comes from a place of respect for our culture. We follow our guts and the things we have learned from our families and our communities.”