By Regina Sienra
“We are the tribe that they cannot see”, states John Trudell, the late Native American activist at the very beginning of We Are The Halluci Nation, the third album by A Tribe Called Red. Trudell goes on and lists names and categories that have been thrown at indigenous people in Canada and around the world. Names and categories soaked in otherness.
That’s why A Tribe Called Red is the spearhead of a much needed movement to make these communities visible. Through collaborations with musicians from across Canada and overseas, on We Are The Halluci Nation the Ottawa-based trio take the listener on a colourful and intense trip through indigenous music and contemporary sounds.
A Tribe Called Red are DJ Bear Witness, Tim “2oolman” Hill, and Ian Campeau, also known as DJ NDN. “This album is different. It is a bigger concept”, the latter told Mexican magazine Gatopardo. For We Are The Halluci Nation, the band got to record their guests in their homelands, whether it was swedish singer Maxime Märak or Northern Voice, recurring collaborators based in a remote area of Quebec.
Tanya Tagaq, winner of the 2014 Polaris Music Prize for her album Animism, is also a part of We Are the Halluci Nation. The singer from Cambridge Bay adds her signature throat singing to the A Tribe Called Red sounds, creating an incredibly organic and inspirational mixture. “It works really well in a way that her throat singing is very rhythmic”, said DJ NDN as he explained why both sounds complement each other. “[Tagaq] is a hero of mine and it’s really exciting to have people like that for my kids to look up to within popular culture right now”, he added.
Campeau pointed out that A Tribe Called Red has given indigenous youth a space within pop culture; a space where they not necessarily have been represented in a good light, or had ownership of their image at all. That’s why he advocates for “cultural continuance”: adapting traditional sounds by using contemporary devices. “All we really did was mashup dance music with dance music, right?”.
By incorporating more genres and sounds to their music, not only have they taken the discussion about the complexity of the indigenous cultures to a new level, but have made their album more universal. A Tribe Called Red have perfected their craft in the moment their craft is needed the most.