Listen up, Tucson: A Tribe Called Red are coming.
Participants in this year's annual All Souls Procession celebrating the Day of the Dead on Sunday, Nov. 3, will have something remarkable awaiting them at the end of the parade route, across from Mercado San Agustín: a post-procession performance by the Ottawa, Canada-based First Nations DJ collective A Tribe Called Red.
A Tribe Called Red's first Tucson appearances are actually back-to-back shows: After they play the procession finale, they move east to the Rialto Theatre to headline Dance of the Dead, the official afterparty. Add a DJ workshop for local Native youth the day before at Solar Culture Gallery, and it's an intense 24 hours in Tucson for the collective.
A Tribe Called Red's rep has been picking up speed in the last couple of years, and spiked considerably with the recent release of their second full-length album, Nation II Nation, on Tribal Spirit Music. Their first, self-titled, release was a digital-only album in 2012. They also have a pair of digital-only EPs and have done several collaborations and remixes, including a new one with Das Racist, "Indians From All Directions," and the song "A Tribe Called Red" on Angel Haze's Dirty Gold release.
A Tribe Called Red consists of three Native DJ/producers from Ottawa: DJ Shub and Bear Witness (both Cayuga, Six Nations); and DJ NDN (Ojibway, Nipissing First Nation). Shub is a two-time Canadian DMC champion; Bear Witness also does the group's videos. The trio came together out of the monthly Electric Pow Wow dance parties that NDN and Bear Witness started throwing in Ottawa in 2008, and really jelled as a group when Shub joined. Since then they've been taking it out to the rest of the world, touring in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Greece and Mexico. They return to the U.K. in November and December.
Sonically, A Tribe Called Red fuse the most direct, elemental electronic building blocks of dub and dubstep, hip-hop and hardcore EDM with Native chanting and tribal drumming. The message, both implicit and explicit, is highly politicized but also liberating, as only the best dance music can be. It's simultaneously localized and globalist in its intent. It's also one of the most potent and original things happening in contemporary music.
I recently spoke to NDN (Ian Campeau) and Bear Witness (Ehren Thomas), who were on their first tour of Mexico, and asked them if they start with the tribal chanting and build their tracks around them.
"It depends on the project and what we're working on, but that is one of the processes. We work with a label, Tribal Spirit Music, and they have 10 to 13 drums on their label. They're all new drums, all young drums, like between the ages of 17 and 35. The relationship that we have with the drum groups is that we get to remix anything from their catalog, and in return whatever we remix goes on the album of the drums that we sampled."
I also asked them about Idle No More, the indigenous civil rights movement in Canada. "Most First Nation people are involved. It's something that's happening all across Indian country. ... It's something that pretty much everyone is involved with one way or another. It's just not indigenous issues, it's human issues."
And who might their precursors be? "There are lots of groups and artists who are precursors to us, fusing traditional and modern music. There was Buffy Sainte-Marie, and also in Ottawa there was Seventh Fire. And in electronic music, there's Jackson 2bears, an audio-visual artist who is doing similar work, and Mad Eskimo out of Montreal."
I asked Paul Weir of Flam Chen and Many Mouths One Stomach, who booked A Tribe Called Red to play the procession finale, what he thinks ATCR will bring to the event.
"What was inspiring the first time I heard them was that cellular wake-up feeling of hearing those Pow Wow sounds fused with contemporary beats," Weir said. "I imagined what it would be like to be a Native youth in Tucson and hearing this for the first time ... that is what inspired the Native youth workshop at Solar Culture on Nov. 2.
"I think having their participation will add yet another amazing facet of sonic spiritualism to the whole effort. We have worked with lots of dynamic musicians but this is the first time with both First Nations artists and DJ music in general as the main soundscape for the ceremony. Tucson is in for a treat on all facets of the 24th annual All Souls Procession."