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A Tribe Called Red’s ‘pow-wow-step’ thrills and excites

Did Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus ‘discover’ America 500-odd years ago? No! He may have been one of the first white men to open up the Americas for western imperialism, but in America, Canada and Australia there were already indigenous people living in those territories. Their colonisation and suppression has been one of the biggest scandals in history.

The Native peoples of Canada have faced similar experiences of genocide and systematic racism as most other Aboriginal peoples in settler nations around the world,” Canadian trio A Tribe Called Red tell DJ Mag.

ATCR are a Native American DJ crew from Ottawa, Canada. They’ve adopted the name ‘pow-wow-step’ for their mix of dubstep and other electronic music with Native chants, wails, and samples of discriminatory ‘cowboys and
indians’ films from Hollywood. Their shizz is explosive — they are absolutely fucking wicked.

DeeJay NDN and Bear Witness started putting on Electric Pow Pow parties in Ottawa a few years back. 

“There is a Native talent show that happens every summer on a small piece of reclaimed Algonquin land on the Ottawa river in downtown Ottawa,” Bear Witness informs. “We heard that there was an Iroquois DJ coming up to compete from my rez (Six Nations) and he was a two-time Canadian DMC champ. We had an Electric Pow Wow party that same night and we invited DJ Shub to come and play.

It went off, and Shub soon joined the crew. Bear Witness quickly explains how the three of them bring different influences to the table. He himself was into dub, jungle and dancehall — “I think in Canada we get music from the UK a lot sooner than other places. I listened to a lot of jungle in the ’90s, then two-step and grime in the 00s,” – while for DMC champ Shub it was definitely hip-hop. DeeJay NDN, meanwhile, played in pow-wow drum groups when he was in his teens, and in his twenties was the drummer for the Canadian punk band The Ripcords.

Their vibrancy is immediately evident on their eponymous album. Following the stomping opener ‘Electric Pow-Wow Drum’, with its shrill chanting and grinding bassline, ‘Red Skin Girl (Northern Cree)’ could be a Major Lazer cut. But the difference between producers who have sampled Native instruments or chants in the past (The Fire This Time’s ‘At Least American Indian People Know Exactly How They Have Been Fucked Around’ on Dorado offshoot Filter from 1996 immediately springs to mind) and ATCR is that these guys are actually living it.

“We have received huge support from the
native community in North America, from both the urban and reservation communities and across all age groups,” Bear Witness tells us. “We are always hearing about whole families that listen to our music. One of the most important things to us in ATCR is to create something within pop culture that Aboriginal people can own, something we can call our own and that reflects us as fully-formed people in 2012 with a strong context to our history and culture.”

From the flappy b-line’d junglist dancehall hype of Munchi ‘Shottas (ATCR Remix)’ and ‘Moombahwow’’s moombahcore to ‘Woodcarver’, which samples news reports of the killing of a disabled Native person by Seattle police, ATCR are on the money.

Elsewhere they sample films like Jim Jarmusch’s positive portrayal Dead Man, but also the typically racist western Buffalo Stampede from 1933 where the Native characters are played by white actors in wigs and painted faces. “It’s just re-contextualizing, we are reclaiming these misinterpretations of Aboriginal people and as a result we are indigenizing them,” Bear Witness says. “I see it as part of the healing process as well as an active way of demonizing the messages in these films.”

A typical ATCR show is riotous, righteous and joyous, and features VJing from the stage, too. “The images you see on screen are much like the audio samples on our mixtapes, and videos we put out for our songs,” they say. “Most of what we do is sample-based. Taking misrepresentation of Aboriginal peoples from the media, deconstructing them, flipping them around and taking that negative power away from them and turning them into something empowering.”

Download their album for free at www.electricpowwow.com