“Astum (ft. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson)”

Zoon • Vanessa Heins

Zoon’s Daniel Monkman has had a lot on the go these last few years. Last June, four days shy of its first anniversary, his 2020 debut, Bleached Wavves, was named to the 2021 Polaris Music Prize Long List and would eventually be one of the ten albums on that year’s Short List. In the meantime, Monkman was working on OMBIIGIZI with friend and collaborator Adam Sturgeon (Status/Non-Status). The pair released Sewn Back Together earlier in 2022, a hybrid album of Sturgeon and Monkman’s songwriting styles that showcased a new gear for Monkman’s artistry. 

Monkman’s continued musical evolution is evident on Big Pharma, his soon-to-be-released EP featuring his latest single, “Astum.” He says that astum (meaning “hurry up” or “quickly”) is the first Cree word he learned from his father, in much the same way my impatient father used to shout out “Sbrigati!” when I was dilly-dallying whenever we were in a hurry. As a kid, it felt like everyone wanted you to hurry up and get older, smarter, wiser, and more independent. And yet, what the adults failed to tell any of us is that the older you get, the more you’ll want everything to slow down so that you don’t lose those precious memories and moments. 

“Astum” (featuring Leanne Betasamosake Simpson) takes the tempo down a notch and provides some breathing room around Monkman’s wispy delivery and subtle melodies. There’s space for his thoughts to process, for the listener to absorb the song’s serious themes of addiction and the constant push/pull of the trauma that underlies the need to numb the pain. Like the fragments of Cree language passed down to him by his family, Monkman also carries with him the ramification of how the pharmaceutical industry ravished and destroyed communities like his, creating a systematic cycle of dependency that’s led to cultural genocide. In lesser hands, it could all feel overwhelming and disconnected. Still, in what’s come to be his signature musical style, Monkman unpacks his thoughts and ideas with unfussy poeticism and effortless musicality that signals a new gear for his ever-developing artistry and activism.

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