RPM’s 10 Must Hear Tracks by Native Musicians
The internet has become a place where everyone is on a level playing field when it comes to promoting music. The Vancouver film and video company Make Believe Media is taking advantage of this fact with the launching of RPM.fm, which is devoted to promoting Native music with MP3s, videos, streaming programming, and podcasts of Indigenous artists. The site was inspired by a documentary on Native blues artist Derek Miller, ‘Music is the Medicine,’ which the company produced for broadcast this fall on Canada’s APTN.
Jarrett Martineau, who is Dene and Cree, is the Creative Producer of the project. He comes from a background of working in digital media and is a hip hop artist himself. In the documentary Miller talks about the glass ceiling that Native artists seem to hit, and about the responsibility indigenous musicians have to their home communities and the Native communities they perform for while trying to reach a wider audience. This inspired Martineau and his team to start RPM.
“We all agreed that this is an experience that is common to a lot of indigenous artists,” Martineau said. “And we realized was there really wasn’t a contemporary pop forum to promote Indigenous musicians, particularly musicians who are breaking down genre barriers and who are seeking to expand their audience beyond these categorical definitions of what Native Music is, which is being relegated to the kind of categories you see in award shows, where Native music is treated as a solid music rather than looking at the diversity of music from Indian Country. As we started to build the site we did outreach to some of the artists, told them what we were doing, and the response has been amazing. The artists get to be associated with Native music hype that they don’t have to be embarrassed by.”
Martineau is very quick to point out that they do not exclude traditional music, though the site at the moment is heavily concentrated on contemporary music. “That’s why we have the tag line on the site, ‘Indigenous Music Culture’; it’s not just indigenous music AND culture, it’s the actual the culture of music that exists within people in our communities and the way music functions around Native people, which is a unique part of where we are.”
The core production team on the site is made up of Native musicians themselves so that, based on their personal experiences, they know what the artists are up against and also what the opportunities are. “We are posting music downloads and streams at least two or three times a week, so there’s a fair amount of new music coming on all of the time,” Martineau said. “A big focus for us is that we want to introduce visitors to new music that they have never heard of, and ideally, to break new music that way. We also have a running news feed on Indigenous music that will include news on pow wows, album release news, tour dates, funding possibilities - you name it. We also have a podcast series to get out the stories behind the music, and the podcasts are built around different themes. Being in Canada, we started close to home with local artists, because that’s what we know, but artists from all over are uploading their music to the site. The way we bill the site is as ‘Indigenous artists from across Turtle Island and beyond.’ We would love the site to grow to a worldwide forum for Indigenous music from everywhere”
For this list, which Martineau notes is not in any particular order, he chose up and coming artists.
Samantha Crain, "Santa Fe"
“Samantha is a Choctaw artist from Shawnee, Oklahoma, in her early twenties. Overall, you could say her music if folk, but there is definitely some blues and rock influence there. She has this amazing strong voice, it sounds much older than her years. She has some really great melodies, which is why we choose “Santa Fe.” She is an artist to watch. ‘Santa Fe’ is a great song and a good point of entry.”
Cris Derksen, "What Did You Do Boy"
“Cris is a unique artist; she is Cree from Alberta, though she lives here in Vancouver. She is one of a group of an indigenous art collective called Beat Nation, which just got back from Paris. Her music is really interesting because she’s a cello player and she plays through effects peddles and does a lot of looping of her cello. Sometimes she sings, a lot of time it’s just instrumental, and sometimes it’s semi-improvised stuff that she makes up as she goes along, and she performs with her whole body and her whole instrument. ‘What Did You Do Boy’ is a haunting track, and her music really needs to be heard live; this is as close as you can get without being there.”
Point of Contact, "Prayers in a Song"
“This song circulated around through a couple of different sources before it made it to us. Point of Contact is an Anishinaabeg duo, Tall Paul and G. Malicious. Tall Paul is an MC from Minneapolis. We found a post of him performing on a camp ground outside of a pow wow of him doing an a cappella version of this song where he goes back and forth from rapping in English to rapping in Anishinaabe. He commented on the post about his commitment to hip hop and to revitalizing his own language through hip hop.”
M.O. & Geothermal MC, "Muskox (featuring Kinnie Starr)"
“M.O. is an Inuk hip hop artist from the Northwest Territory. He just put out a new record with Geothermal MC called ‘String Game’ and they enlisted some pretty good people, among them is Kinnie Starr, a Mohawk woman who is an experimental hip hop and pop artist. It’s a very positive take on hip hop and on his experiences growing up Inuk. It avoids a lot of the negativity associated with the Indigenous experience.”
Elisapie Isaac, "Turning My Back"
Elisapie used to be part of a group called Tima, and she’s based out of Quebec. She is part Inuk, but she didn’t grow up with her birth parents, she was adopted by an Inuk family. In her music she also moves back and forth between singing in Inuk and singing in English and French. She just put out her first solo album called ‘Then There Will Be Stars.’ ‘Turning My Back’ is a beautiful single from the new album.”
Samian, "So Much"
“Samian is a hip hop artist, an Algonquin MC who raps in French as well as his own language. The reason we picked this one is because if anything, when it came across our desk we all agreed that this was the perfect illustration of what RPM is, because you have an Algonquin MC rapping in French and an Inuit guy singing reggae in English as well as his own language, and they shot the whole video in Cuba. It’s the perfect hybridity all in one tune and it’s a great song, a nice summer sounding hip hop / reggae song.”
A Tribe Called Red, "Red Skin Girl"
A Tribe Called Red is from Ottawa, Ontario. They are an Aboriginal DJ collective who have been getting a lot of attention in the last couple of months. They are doing a lot of interesting stuff like taking traditional music and remixing it. There’s a form of electronic music called ‘dub step’ and they have somewhat cheekily titled what they do as ‘pow wow step,’ or ‘electric pow wow,’ and they actually throw a regular night in Ottawa called ‘Electric Pow Wow.’ They bring together hip hop music, electronica, dancehall stuff, and dub step all thrown in with pow wow music and traditional music as well. They do video experiments with their videos as well, they do mash ups with clips from old movies, ‘Last of the Mohicans’ type of things. “Red Skin Girl’ was the first one that really caught my attention, it’s a remix of a famous Northern Cree song performed by the pow wow group Northern Cree.”
Lorenzo, "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?"
“Lorenzo is an Anishinaabe MC from the Little Saskatchewan First Nation. We featured him in our latest podcast. He is an up and comer on the Winnipeg scene; his hip hop music is infected with a little bit of country, it’s a really good track.”
RedCloud & Heath McNease, "Chopstlevania"
“Redcloud is an L.A. based indigenous hip hop artist, Heath McNease is not Native. This is collaboration between them. Redcloud has a new record coming out next month and in advance of his new album dropping he posted this tune, and we jumped on it right away. Redcloud is a very talented lyricist to begin with, but this track in particular is amazing for the lyricism and the speed of delivery. It’s basically the two of them rapping their asses off.”
Kristi Lane Sinclair, "Last Song"
“Kristi is a Haida artist from here on the West Coast; we interviewed her in our first podcast. She’s collaborated and toured with Cris Derksen as well. I guess you could call her music folk music, it’s acoustic music for the most part, but really raw and emotional. It is very influenced by alt-country as well. ‘Last Song’ is a powerhouse.”
For more information visit RPM.fm.