Tanya Tagaq “Retribution”

Tanya Tagaq by Katrin-Braga

Tanya Tagaq’s latest album Retribution will be a defining album for Canada’s most original and integral modern artist. Not only does it occupy untouched spaces of sonic fury and guttural beauty but its’ message and mood will become woven into our history.

How the Canadian Government and the citizens of this country handle climate change and reconciliation will be a weight on the backs of future generations–so long as we get there–for hundreds of years.

Justin Trudeau has announced the approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 Pipeline Replacement Project. Accommodating and consulting First Nations is all the government is required to do when planning major projects like these but according to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr they do not need “free prior and informed consent.”

It is likely the pipelines will be met with noisy protest from Coast Protectors, enough to halt the process entirely.

I’d like to suggest that Coast Protectors, and all Canadians really, take the call to action at the heart of “Retribution” and the song itself as an anthem and mission statement of their fight.  

“Retribution” moves with a focused propulsion that is simultaneously calming and energizing ; perhaps ‘calmly energized’ is the right mindset for protesters and activists to have, at least to start.  

The mantra during its’ introduction speaks directly to the effect money and oil production and relocation have had on Mother Earth. “We squander her soil and suck out her sweet, black blood, burn it. We turned money into God and salivate over opportunities to crumple and crinkle our souls for that paper, that gold. Money has spent us.”

“Demand awakening” from those who don’t see how this would profoundly affect future generations of Canadians both environmentally and on the path to reconciliation.

As “Retribution” reaches its climax and Tagaq lets out her final cry, there is such a satisfying release that it clears your mind, makes you see things clearly and makes you want to stand up for the future.

Take Tanya Tagaq’s art to heart.  Let it inspire you to look at things differently. “Ignite. Stand upright. Conduct yourself like lightening because the retribution will be swift.”

The Jerry Cans “Ukiuq” / “Northern Lights”

The Jerry Cans, Iqaluit, NT
The Jerry Cans

In the first blog post on DOMINIONATED, I threw out this idea of Canadian music being ‘multitimbral’. Hoping it’s hashtag-readiness would stick to the conversations we hoped to be having, it was the best I could do to sum up the breadth and expanse of where Canada is heading musically in its 150th year.

Nunavut’s The Jerry Cans embody the idea of multitimbralism better than any band we’ve covered yet. Based in Iqaluit, their blend of traditional folk, alt-country, throat-singing, and reggae influences goes down like an ice-chilled smoothie of exotic flavours. Individual ingredients trigger different sensations. What seem like unusual combinations at first reveal unexpected pleasures on “Ukiuq” and its English version, “Northern Lights”.

The Jerry Cans let both their lyrics and music engage in a delicate dance across the two versions, capturing the natural/supernatural experience of the aurora borealis in song. Lyrical references to traditional ballad “Scarborough Fair” notwithstanding, “Ukiuq” / “Northern Lights” is a modern and magical reminder of the beauty and wonder that’s waiting for us when we look away from our technology. Look out from our insular world. Look up to the sky.

A Tribe Called Red, We Are the Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called RTed, We Are The Halluci Nation

Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook used a rich visual language to tell her story, to speak her truth. Unapologetically real, her drawings changed the conversation about what Inuit art is within her own community and the non-indigenous art world. As the global art community turned the spotlight on the unassuming, forthright Pootoogook, she used their attention to share the reality of what it meant for her to be Inuit in the 21st century. Always genuine to her tradition, always authentic to her lived experience.

There was a time in the not so distant past that media would have framed Pootoogook’s death earlier this month as a cautionary tale about poverty, dependency, and consumption. When news that Pootoogook’s body had been recovered from the Rideau River broke, three days after A Tribe Called Red released We Are The Halluci Nation, the narrative was as much celebration as it was solemn. As Marcia Connelly, the director of a 2006 documentary about Pootoogook told the Globe and Mail this weekend, “It’s so important that people hear her speak about her art and life, and not just think about her death.”

Like Pootoogook, A Tribe Called Red seize the opportunity attention affords them, using their own resonant musical language to share their truth on We Are The Halluci Nation. It’s a truth that has been suppressed for too long. Their third full length album is a cultural landmark, rooted firmly in A Tribe Called Red’s three interconnected communities: North American indigenous people, DJ/EDM club culture, and the post-millennial global music community. From their rock-solid pillar of powwow rhythms, DJ NDN and Bear Witness (now joined by Tim “2oolman” Hill) recruit a host of collaborators into the Halluci Nation, a termed coined by John Trudell, the late poet whose spoken word recitation opens the album. Through Trudell’s powerful, provocative words, the Halluci Nation makes itself known. “We have been called hostile; We have been called pagan; we have been called militant; We have been called many names,” he explains, “The callers of names cannot see us, but we can see them.”

The Halluci Nation, whose “DNA is of earth and sky,” of “past and future,” includes Iraqi-born Canadian rapper Narcy, Yasiin Bey (aka rapper Mos Def), Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq, multiple Polaris Music Prize nominee Shad, Colombian singer/producer Lido Pimienta (now based in Toronto), award-winning author Joseph Boyden, indigenous MC Leonard Sumner, drum groups Black Bear, Chippewa Travellers, and Northern Voice (who ATCR frequently sampled on past recordings) and a host of others. They gather together as a nation who believe in a better existence for humanity, one where no one has to live in oppression, under rule of colonialism, and subject to xenophobic vitriol and hate.

The Halluci Nation are not deniers; they’re testifiers to the truth. “You don’t gotta tell me how you feel,” Shad says on the powerfully affecting “How I Feel”. He raps “I can see it in your eyes / You don’t gotta tell me the pain is real / ‘cus I can hear it in your cry,” as so too do listeners, as Northern Bear makes the message stick with their powerful vocal presence. It’s that message, politically charged and passionate, the resonates long after the album ends. “Light as helium but weighted by the drum,” the Halluci Nation is a people optimistically positive at heart. Hopeful that the struggle, the suffering, the pain and oppression of the past will not go forgotten into the future.

When Boyden says “our DNA is earth and sky, after all” on closing track “SOON”, the first-person plural he refers to is all of humanity. We are all indigenous to our mother earth. Some have forgotten that shared heritage. Some may still be intent on robbing that truth from others. But every one of us has the wherewithal to join the Halluci Nation; there’s no entrance exam or oath that needs to be memorized. You just need to open your mind to the truth. You need to open your eyes to reality. And you need to open your heart to love.

Sign me up.

Silla + Rise, Debut

Silla + Rise, Debut

Long before Justin Trudeau’s team even began planning for his swearing in ceremony, Tanya Tagaq changed the conversation around Inuit throat singing for indigenous and non-indigenous people alike. For one thing, Tagaq performs it alone rather than as part of a duo. For another, she throat sings while covering Pixies. Like A Tribe Called Red, Tagaq embeds contemporary cultural references into her own traditions, creating a new context for both to exist in.

Inuit based throat singers Cynthia Pitsiulak and Charlotte Qamaniq are also part of this conversation. Working together as Silla, the duo lays down their hypnotic, hyper-active vocal exchanges amongst the minimalist electronic beats of Ottawa based producer and DJ Rise Ashen. As Silla + Rise, the trio breathes new life and fresh air into house music’s stale, staid scene, reconnecting the synthetic beats and blips of the nightclub scene to humanity through the juxtaposition of Pitsiulak and Qamaniq’s syncopated interplay. Their performance is the heartbeat at the core of Debut, the trio’s name-your-price, free download LP released earlier this year.

Amidst the laid back, lounge-like vibe of some tracks, there’s an immediate sense that Silla + Rise want to be more than just background music for dimly-lit, downtown fashion boutiques and hipster artisanal barbeques. By its very nature, throat singers deliver a tension-filled, push-pull performance, and Pitsiulak and Qamaniq (who started performing together as Tumivut before becoming Silla) capture the playful spirit of the tradition while adding sleek, seductive nuances to their performance that dances in perfect synchronicity to Ashen’s production work.

Debut is more than just the first footsteps of a new musical collaboration; it is a new branch on an ever-diversifying musical tree that’s taken root, already bearing delicious, delectable, delightful fruit.

A Tribe Called Red “R.E.D (feat. Yasiin Bey, Narcy & Black Bear)”


A Tribe Called Red say anyone who shares their vision of “inclusivity, empathy and acceptance amongst all races and genders in the name of social justice,” and believe that “indigenous people need to define their identity on their own terms” is already part of the Halluci Nation.  For some, the notion of owning your own identity is just human nature. Defining oneself is as obvious to existing as breathing is to sustaining life. It’s mind-boggling that for so many of our brothers and sisters in the Halluci Nation, systematic oppression, cultural genocide, and blatant racism has all but wiped the concept of self-determination out of their collective consciousness. So many are denied our very birthright as human beings. And so many of us have stood by and watched it happen without so much as batting an eye.

But eyes are opening. Minds are waking. Nations are rising, and rising again. A Tribe Called Red is wiping away borders, dismantling  barriers that have stood between justice and ignorance for generations, and signing up recruits to the Halluci Nation. “R.E.D.” is spun from the indigenous tradition of oral storytelling, expounding the narrative. Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def)  and Narcy trade verses and rhymes, recounting the rise of a global force, champions of justice and honour, and reclaiming independence, identity and respect from the clutches of those who would see it burned and buried.

Sharing an ideal seems woefully inadequate in making a difference after years of pain and oppression, but this world’s story is an  epic one. It did not start with colonization. It doesn’t have to end there, either. Our world started with a lone atom that went in search of others. Together, these various atoms, driven by similar forces, bonded, built connections and wove together to form a universal fabric. Along the way, the tapestry has been tattered and torn, but we have the tools to mend it and make it whole once more.