On December 14 2016 A Tribe Called Red brought their Electric Pow Wow to Kingston, Ontario and raised the roof at Stages Night Club. The three-man DJ crew (Ian “DJ” Campeau, Tim “2oolman” Hill, and Bear Witness) mix traditional indigenous music from Canada and the rest of the world with electronic beats, samples of pop songs, and spoken word to create some of the most exciting and exhilarating dance music out there.
While their recent album We Are The Halluci-Nation was perhaps their most overtly political yet, that hasn’t done anything to diminish their abilities as entertainers. In fact judging by the sold-out audience filling the space, not only has their popularity increased, they bring together one of the most diverse audiences I’ve ever seen at a concert.
All races and ages mixed under one roof dancing and grooving to the sounds these three guys generated without any of the crap you usually find in an atmosphere fueled by alcohol and loud music. It was something of a miracle to me. Normally you can’t walk into any bar in this city without some sort of testosterone overload happening. So to see everybody simply focused on having a good time and on the music was a tribute to the potency of their performance.
I say performance, because the three men of A Tribe Called Red don’t just stand behind a stack of equipment. They are involved with the audience – looking around, smiling, and even jumping out from behind the equipment to dance on the speaker stacks. I’ve not seem many other DJ acts recently, but these guys are not only able to do their mixes live, they make it seem like they are just as, if not more, involved with their audience than most bands with instruments.
The music itself was a brilliant collage of sampled music, electronically generated sounds, and spoken voice, all anchored by the sound of various First Nations drum groups. While as expected there were tracks from the recent disc – “Halluci-Nation” (featuring the voice of the late John Trudell) and “The Virus” – there were some unexpected delights as well. To suddenly hear bits of the old Paul Revere and the Raiders song “Cherokee Nation” blasting out of the speakers was a hoot. It’s obvious A Tribe Called Red have a sense of humour.
While I said the political content of the songs wasn’t as prevalent in concert as it is on the album, in some ways the whole concert is a statement. They are telling a room packed with predominately non-native people that this is who First Nations people of Canada are today.
Their music is firmly based on the heartbeat of the traditional drum and deeply embedded in the culture of their people. But it is not wedded to the past. It is saying we are not the stereotypical stoic Indian braves of the movies or the cartoons of your mascots – we are a living, breathing people and we’re not going anywhere.
A Tribe Called Red is coming to the end of their touring for 2016, with only a few more dates in Canada. However, they’ll be back on the road in 2017 and if you have a chance check them out, they’re amazing. If you’re like me, hesitant about going to an electronic music party, don’t be. These guys are not your typical DJs and they put on an amazing show.
As a final note I’d like to congratulate the venue, Stages Nightclub, and the promoter, Flying V Productions, for putting on a show where everyone felt truly welcome. Everyone from the security staff to the bar people worked to create a safe environment. Very cool in these weird times.