More Pow-Wow Panache: A Tribe Called Red added to Hillside lineup

A Tribe Called Red

GUELPH, ON - A Tribe Called Red has been added to Hillside’s lineup to complement a full program of indie, Indigenous, and World musicians for the July 13-15th, 2018 summer festival.  “We’re pretty excited,” says Samir Baijal, Hillside’s Artistic Director, “The band will close the festival on Sunday on a note of high energy and political intensity.”

“Indigenous Renaissance”

The heart-pounding dance music of A Tribe Called Red, the wildly popular Indigenous DJ group whose members are Mohawk and Cayuga, is part of an Indigenous rebirth in the arts, according to Wab Kinew, broadcaster and musician: “Because artists and fans of art are usually among the more progressive voices, you're seeing the leading edge of that transformation. The indigenous music renaissance is the symptom of a broader cultural change where indigenous people have more support amongst the average Canadian.” The group was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize in 2013 and 2017, and has won three Juno Awards, including Breakthrough Group of the Year in 2014 and Group of the Year in 2018. They performed at Hillside Inside in 2014, the organization’s winter festival, but have never appeared at the summer festival.

What does it sound like? The New Tradition.

The particular kind of music A Tribe Called Red creates coincides with the hallmarks of the Indigenous Renaissance: they mix old and new, traditional and modern. Indeed, the group calls its music “powwow step” and describes it as “the soundtrack to a contemporary evolution of the powwow.” It sounds like electronic dance music as well as powwow, but it is mixed with folk, rock, blues, pop, and hip-hop. As Janet Rogers, a Mohawk spoken-word artist explains, “New artists are creating a brand new musical territory for the new indigenous person to stand on and to claim and to play on and work on and dance on, and that's not an easy thing to do in music, to create something that’s new.”

More Indigenous Artists at Hillside

Other Indigenous artists on the Hillside Festival stages include Iskwé, Cris Derksen Trio, Jeremy Dutcher, nêhiyawak, PLUS workshops in the Indigenous Circle by Jan Sherman, Joanne Raymond, Al Potma, Tauni Sheldon, Albie Sheldon, Alisha Arnold, Carol Tyler, and members of Wiiji Numgumook Kwe, the Guelph Women’s Drum Circle. 

The “Classical” Examples: Derksen & Dutcher

Cris Derksen is from a line of chiefs from North Tall Cree Reserve on her father’s side and a line of Mennonite homesteaders on her mother’s side. She’s a classically trained cellist who uses new school electronics in a music that braids together her Indigenous ancestry and her classical background.  About her latest project, Orchestral Powwow, Derksen says, “What excites me most about this project is bringing our Indigenous music to the center of the European model and we as Indigenous artists lead the way with our drums and our heart beat to create new forms of music.” 

Jeremy Dutcher is a classically trained operatic tenor and composer who blends Wolastoq First Nation songs into his contemporary music. The Wolastoq songs Dutcher includes were recorded on wax cylinders between 1907 and 1913 by an anthropologist who studied under the famous Franz Boas and stored the recordings and stories in archives in Ottawa. That’s where Dutcher found them. “For me, it’s less about asking people to learn a new language and more about disrupting the bilingual Anglo-centric Canadian music narrative.” Growing up in New Brunswick, Dutcher was taught Wolastoqey by his mother, who spoke it. But there are only about 600 speakers of the language left. That doesn’t worry Dutcher too much; even if people aren’t inspired to learn the language (and he hopes that they will be), there’s a long tradition “within the opera sphere, where most people go to an opera and they don’t know the language, they have to experience it purely on a musical level. That is sometimes the most pure experience of music, and singing the language never really worried me.”


The chorus of Iskwé’s latest single, “Nobody knows where we been and where we go,” has a heart-wrenching doubleness. The song (“Nobody Knows”) is about the 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women, so the chorus implies that “Nobody understands Indigenous women—their histories, their aspirations” but also that no one can find these missing women, barely a trace of them. And the two, as Iskwé implicitly asserts, are related.  Iskwé’s music has been described as empowerment R&B and soul-pop. So powerful and smooth are her vocals that she has been compared to Shirley Bassey and Amy Winehouse (Grant Lawrence, CBC Music). Of Cree, Dene, and Irish descent, Iskwé has strong musical and storytelling roots that have commanded attention. Called “a breath of fresh air in a stagnant Canadian pop sceneby Dee Jay NDN, one of “10 Canadian Musicians You Need to Know” by CBC Music and “One to Watch” by The Grid TO, Iskwé is one of those performers you’ll look back on and say, “I saw her first at Hillside.”


The talented musicians in nêhiyawak are all of Plains Cree descent, with two of the three members—Kris Harper (guitarist, vocalist) & Marek Tyler (drummer)being cousins, and Matthew Cardinal being the bassist & keyboardist. “nêhiyawak” actually means “Plains people,” which is a traditional Cree word. Their Edmonton-based musical backgrounds are roots, rock, and alt-rock, and woven into these styles is that of their own heritage, expressed in a myriad beautiful ways but most readily felt in the “steady beats of carved cedar log and hand drums.” Like many Indigenous musicians, nêhiyawak can’t help but make music that speaks to status and condition, and wants to speak about issues of political and cultural relevance. About David Bowie’s concept of inspiration, Marek Tyler comments: “He said to never play to the gallery. Then he said that when creating, go a bit farther so that you feel you’re not touching the ground. When you’re not touching the ground you’re just about there. In a lot of ways that’s what we’re trying to do here. It’s easy to play on the back beat, but I find it a lot more exciting when musically there’s just that something more as well.” Of the mix of cultural footings and musical styles, Cardinal says, “I guess I hope that as with Tribe Called Red and Tanya Tagaq we’re calling into both the future and the past, saying we’re here.”

Workshops in the Indigenous Circle

All weekend long, activities take place in the Circle, where there’s a sacred fire, the Tipi, and workshop areas, including:

  • Flint Knapping with Al Potma
  • Walking with the Seven Grandfathers with Carol Tyler
  • Everybody Needs a Rock with Joanne Raymond
  • Truth and Reconciliation/Allyship Circles; group discussion
  • We are All Responsible for the Earth; group discussion
  • Our Children Are Our Gifts; group discussion
  • Education is Diversity with Garrison McCleary and Chris Green
  • Supporting Indigenous Communities; group discussion
  • Earth Warrior Yoga with Alisha Arnold
  • Stories Are Our Lives with Jan Sherman
  • Women’s Drum Circle with Members of Wiiji Numgumook Kwe, the Guelph Women’s Drum Circle
  • Inuit Cultural Circle with Tauni and Albie Sheldon
  • Beyond Territorial Acknowledgements with Jan Sherman
  • The Spirit of the Drum with Al Potma, Tauni Sheldon, Albie Sheldon and Jan Sherman
  • Da-Giiwewaat – So They Can Go Home Baby Moccasin Project with Joanne Raymond
  • Community Drum Circle

Indigenous music, drumming, and knowledge-sharing has been a constitutive element of the Hillside Festival for over 20 years. The addition of A Tribe Called Red to the Hillside lineup for 2018's summer festival complements the artists already on the bill and will make for an exciting dance party at night that connects people, genres, stories, and politics.

About Hillside

Hillside Festival is a three-day, multi-stage marvel of music and community. Touted as “one of the 10 best festivals in Canada” by CBC and The Globe and Mail, as well as a festival you "must see before you die” by Eric Alper, Hillside Festival is world-renowned as one of Canada’s most progressive, environmentally conscious, completely non-commercial community celebrations. Each year we create a family-friendly village on Guelph Lake Island that we fill with music, dance, drumming, food, crafts, and more.

“So synonymous with community, independent arts, culture, sustainability, inclusiveness…it’s practically its own holiday.”

 Richard Trapunski, NOW Toronto

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