Friday, January 8, 2016

Year in Music - 2015

It was another amazing year in Native Music and saw things come around full circle as it was Buffy Sainte Marie who lead the dance. Power in the Blood is another work of art in an unmatched canon of contemporary music. Her songs have been covered thousands of times and she has won an Academy award for the classic Up Where We Belong. There is no artist who has ever been more radical and more mainstream at the same time. Watched by the FBI and viewers of Sesame Street.
Ms. Sainte Marie has made an album for our time and all time picking songs and styles from eras and inspirations. The music is country and blues and folk and rock, a lullaby and of course, electronic which may be in vogue these days, but is something she has been experimenting with for years. The album was selected for the Polaris Prize, the top music prize in Canada. The record kicks off with a new take on It's My Life from her debut album.

I've got my own stakes in my own game
I got my own name and it's my way
I got my own wrong I've got my own right
I've got my own fight and it's my way

When it was released over half a century ago in 1964 the fires of the civil rights movement was growing in the United States and in Canada, First Nations had only received the right to vote four years earlier. It was a time of repression and fear but also of the people beginning to stand up and stand together. It was a time like today and the album speaks to that young generation that ignited the Idle No More Movement.

The title track Power in the Blood is a call to arms but also a call to heart and mind and spirit.

I don't mind dying 
Well I don't mind dying 
I don't mind dying 
But when that call it comes 
I will say no no no to war 

She also has a call to love and lust. Love Charms is a classic pop song, delicious and earthy and maybe too much for the squares. It should be a huge hit for her but will likely become another hit for someone else. Perhaps another "Until it's Time for You to Go" a contemporary standard covered hundreds of times by everyone from Neil Diamond to Elvis to Barbra Streisand. 

This is music for everyone. She sings the love song lullaby Ke sakihetin awasis which means I love you in her warm Cree language. She sings to the future generations.

Singing come back to the Sweetgrass 
come back to the Pipe and the Drum
and be your future.
Ke sakihetin awasis (I love you)

The music of 2015 reiterated, reflected and resounded that spirit that has been Buffy Sainte Marie's call to heart for over 50 years. 

Beatrice Deer Band's electro-Inuit alterna-rock sound is absolutely captivating and her fourth album Fox is one of the best of the year. Beatrice is from Quaqtaq on the northeast coast of Nunavik and describes herself as "a seamstress, a songwriter and an advocate for good health."
Her mix of singing and throat singing with the band's mix of electronic and rock is highly addictive. Relocation is sung in her beautiful language and there is tragedy in the title. The song hits a wonderful groove and one can well imagine that the Beatrice Deer Band must become otherworldly in a live setting. 

The title track Fox (the only one all in English) tells the story of a lonely hunter who comes home to find that a fox has become a woman and has begun to act as his wife. The band is plowing away with their electric grunge and Beatrice is howling like it's 1992.

And there a woman stood looking at the hunter, looking at the hunter
With a fox skin hangin’ on the line, hangin’ on the line...

Kristi Lane Sinclair released her second album Dark Matter which finds the brooding songstress backed by a stellar band that includes Derek Miller on guitar and Cris Derksen on cello who both played on Power in the Blood. The music inside suits the title with some tracks speeding along like the first single Kiki and others that veer into the more gloomy end of alternative with the bare depth of Sinclair's voice and Derksen's cello. This would be a great album to listen to when you have to drive all night long.

Sinclair continued the Red Ride Tour which toured across Canada and included live performances with Miller and Derksen. There must have been absolute electric magic at some of those shows this summer.

Black Bear released Come and Get Your Love, a breakthrough set of powwow songs for this talented cast of drummers and singers. For the first time they recorded live in studio working with the team from A Tribe called Red. The sound is amazing. If Kakakew doesn't get you moving I don't know what I can do for you. The group is clearly having a great time in the studio like they know they are on to something. After they run through the title track one of the singers says "That is going to be a hit." Then they hit it again. And it should be a hit. Some of the songs will be part of future ATCR recordings and they could be monster hits. But dig on the rawness of this beat right here.

Other notable releases in the powwow circle included Young Spirit - Nitehe Ohci, From the Heart, which won the Best Hand Drum CD at the Indigenous Music Awards. The Chippewa Travellers were winners at the annual event in the Traditional PowWow Category, while Northern Cree took home the honours for best Contemporary PowWow.

Derek Miller's tribute album Rumble - a Tribute to Native Music Icons was produced in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the Native American in honour of what he called "the blueprint of American Rock n' Roll." It features Millers covering songs like Come and Get Your Love by Redbone, Rumble by Shawnee guitarist and inventor of the power chord Link Ray, as well as Codine by who else Ms. Buffy Sainte Marie. It is available online from the Smithsonian Institute

Another big year in Hip Hop with stellar releases from City Natives, Enter Tribal and North Stars. Edmonton's Rellik released The Dream in which he continued his fruitful collaborations with Nathan Cunningham and Plex. The Hour (Mama's Song) is Tupac meets Merle Haggard and is deserved member of the great Mama songs of all the time. Another solid track is the title song with dynamo vocalist Leanne Goose singing the hook.

Winnipeg's Drezus also followed the path of collaborative creativity on his beast of a record Indian Summer making music with Hip Hop luminaries Joey Stylez, Inez and Lightning Cloud.

Cody Coyote five track EP Lose Control is anchored by the track We Will See which swings like some old school RnB hip hop soul.

We, we, will see..a better future man
It's for my people man 
For my Native People, man

In addition to her standout work with Buffy Sainte Marie and Kristi Lane Sinclair, Cris Derksen continued her own musical journey with the release of Orchestral Powwow which features the classically trained cellist and powwow groups such as Northern Cree and Black Bear.

Don Amero should be Canada's Ed Sheeran. The guys writes and sings like an angel that is alternatively head over heels in love or completely broken hearted.  Refined is filled with middle of the road sound that Amero proudly occupies with great songs and sincere vocals. The highlight of the album is the duet Broken Hearts with Crystal Shawanda meeting Amero heartbeat to heartbreak.

Armond Duck Chief won Country Album and Songwriter awards at the Indigenous Music Awards with his album The One. Duck Chief was born and raised in the Siksika nation and has a classic country voice and he writes the songs that put it to good use.

Nick Sherman from Sioux Lookout Ontario released his self produced album Knives and Wildrice an album of guitar driven songs about the heartbreak of love and the love of heartbreak. Tears and Time is so good. 

I could never have stayed.
Every debt in this life I've paid
With Time and tears and this heart
and a year too late.

Jason Burnstick partnered with Nadia Gaudet for the trilingual album Dream Big Little Ones an album of lullabies in French, English and Cree.

Let your light shine in the dark Fill the room, the night, with your lion heart
Let your dreams take flight, little one To the moon, to the stars, to the sun

Nikamo is a Cree Lullaby written by Burnstick with Winston Wuttunee and Marlene Poitras. The song is absolutely gorgeous and should be the starting point for anyone who would like to start passing on the Cree language to the next generation.

In a similar vein Burnstick recorded Wrapped in Daisies with Nadine L'Hirondelle an album of songs for children in a daycare or pre-school environment and is filled with delightful tracks like Take Care of Your Body, Your the Best and Bannock in my Belly.

Other notable releases in 2015 included Will Belcourt and the Hollywood Indians who kicked off their album with punk rock hillbilly howl of Burn it Down. Digawolf continued to hammer out their northern grunge on Great Northern Man and Mariame earned the title the Cree Rihanna with her soulful release anchored by the ballad As Long as You are Here.

On December 8, Warrior Poet John Trudell moved on to the spirit world after a battle with cancer that had been deemed terminal earlier in the year. Trudell released 17 albums in his career including his 1986 classic AKA Graffitti Man which began his brief but brilliant partnership with Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis. Bob Dylan called it the best album of the year.

His story of tragedy and rebirth and the visionary music that came out of it is one that gives hope for all of us. We can survive. We can heal. We can create art in the face of horror. We can be grateful for every day. We can be "A human being trying to make it in a world that is rapidly losing its understanding of being human."

The year ended with the announcement that the compilation Music of Native North America Vol. 1 Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985 was nominated for a Grammy in the Historical album category. The past is honoured in the present and the circle is complete.

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