Nation II Nation - A Tribe Called Red

Pirates Blend Records

Big praise has been heaped on A Tribe Called Red with good reason. The impressed press point to their “innovative blend of underground club sounds with pow wow music” and “Ottawa’s A Tribe Called Red displays their mastery subtly.”  Personally, I don’t think words like ‘blending’ and ‘subtly’ can accurately describe the impact of their new album ‘Nation II Nation’, which is a sensory assault, bringing the listener face to face with the raw essence of First Nations culture. The chants are visceral. Unison voices often crescendoing into falsetto wails are no doubt alarming to American Idol coddled ears. But, what A Tribe Called Red does with them is truly unsettling. Programming the vocal and frame drum samples to carry the house beats of dubstep, electro, glitch and their ilk, the nasal tonalities and harsh overtones become the sound of the rhythms themselves. It’s interesting to note that in some aboriginal dialects there is not even a word for music. Over time, aboriginal musicians have adapted their languages and traditional chanting/drumming to the conventions of country, the blues, rock, even reggae. A Tribe Called Red bypasses the middle man so to speak, hard wiring, not blending the ancient to the electronic. If there is any subtlety on Nation II Nation it is in the way the sparse electronics are used to prop up the programmed chants and, in a case of role reversal, punctuate simple melody lines to provide basic structure to the compositions.Through the trio’s multi-media presentations and obvious empathy for the visual arts, Bear Witness, DJ NDN and  DJ Shub have reclaimed the cliché iconography of popularized First Nations culture and have turned it into something beautiful and relevant. Watch their videos and shop the homepage at The trio has partnered with Tribal Spirit Music, an aboriginal fair trade co-op founded to protect artists’ rights and encourage economic development. Nation II Nation has been released on Bedouin Soundclash’s Pirates Blend label. Tribal languages and traditions from the Atikamekw, Ojibway, Seneca and Mi’kmaq are represented throughout the disc along with guest voices from Sitting Bear, Black Bear and Northern Voice. ‘Different Heroes’ which features Northern Voice, a young Atikamekw group from Wemotachi First Nations is an immediate stand-out. I have only been exposed to a couple of artists even remotely similar in their approach to A Tribe Called Red which leads me think that they will be inspirational for many to follow.