Front lady for Tdot’s Red Slam Collective, Mahlikah Awe:ri, speaks on growth of the group and the ways that they give back. Red Slam will be headlining Redwire’s upcoming show Sentinel Shores: A Group Show and Event Exploring Land Defense February 2nd at Rhizome Cafe, Coast Salish Territories.
Marika Swan @ RPM: Wanna introduce yourself?
Mahlikah Awe:ri : My name is Mahlikah Awe:ri aka MC AngelHeart I am one of the four founding members of the Red Slam Collective. We also have other members that are a part of the collective now. We have four core members: we have a core drummer, a core bassist, we’ve added a saxophonist and then we mix it up with sometimes bringing in other emcees or a beatboxer or our B-boys.
MS: Who is making it out to Coast Salish Territories next week?
MA: So we’ll have MC 7th Son (Annishnaabe), Miles Turner (Six Nations, Mohawk), Isaac Llacuachaqui aka Riverwalker (Inca), myself (Mik’maw, Mohawk), Jav Bravo (Aztec), Will supporting us on bass and Paul our saxophonist cant make it but he’ll be there in spirit.
MS: How did the collective come together?
MA: In the fall of 2008 I was asked to do something at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, which is our Friendship Centre, around spoken word. At that time I was getting back into slam poetry competitions and I noticed there was no other natives in the circuit. So I thought maybe I should expose some other people to this art form. A set of people came to the workshops and they were into hip hop and into music. I had met Isaak a year before at an open mic so I asked him to join in. So it was 7th Son and Miles and our former member Lena who were always going. The youth coordinator encouraged us to apply for a grant to take things to the next level and take some of these lyrics and turn them into actual songs.
We applied and with that grant we got a mentorship with Digging Roots. Digging Roots took us on and got us to apply for another grant to record the single Bring It Back at their studios. They taught us how to make music and record in the studio and all the business side of music as well. We started with local booking at community centres and then we got a travel grant to go to different reserves and cities across Ontario. This was the spring to the fall of 2010. So we ended up doing a lot of little shows and it was really great exposure. We also got a chance to bond as a crew and figure out where we wanted to go. When we ended our tour at the ImageNATIVE opening for Martha Redbone, we thought ‘we need a band’. So we started working with other musicians and figured that synergy out and then we ended up with a new sound Isaak calls soul-rock hip-hop.
We have always been very forthright in our lyrical content in terms of issues that we know are relevant to our people. On a global scale because we are connected globally. Whether that’s about land, water or whether it’s dealing with residential school or whatever it is. When we were first trying to get bookings when we got our travel grant, there were some people that were hesitant to book us because of the lyrical content of our pieces. But now that we’ve had occupy all over Toronto and everywhere else we’ve had certain things come to light through the media in our different communities about the quality of our water and all this other stuff. Now we are inundated in our inbox. We cant even keep up with the amount of requests for us to come out and perform at various events dealing with the same stuff that people, even some of our own people, didn’t want us to be talking about. And I’m proud of us as a crew that regardless of what people had to say when we were coming up we steered that course and we kept on it. I mean, we talk about other stuff. We talk about love. We talk about the party. We’re people, we’re human. But at the same time we cant ignore the real issues that are affecting us.
MS: Tell me about the workshop side of the work you do.
MA: Yeah so aside from being a hip-hop fusion band we do Four Directions Community Arts Engagement workshops. We usually build collaborations with either a social group or a school or an arts organization and we deliver workshops based on what the kids want to do. My role is the artistic coordinator for the workshops, and based on what they want to do which members of the crew would be best to come in. So when we went on that tour in 2010, wherever we did a show we also had a workshop. It’s also a great way to embed our traditional teachings… so starting with orality. Rap is orality and our people are storytellers. Usually I’ll start by telling a traditional story and then I flip the same story but totally in rhyme. Then we’ll start getting them to write lyrics to visuals by various Indigenous artists that explore the same themes as the original story did. They come up with the hook and they decide what themes they want to discuss. Based on those themes we weave together a set of bars for each verse and then they decide who wants to be the emcees and who wants to be the musicians. And then we come together collaboratively and record it so that they can see how far they have come. We love doing that kind of work. We’ve got a lot more of that stuff coming up.
MS: Well we are all really excited to have you. It’s going to be pretty cozy at Rhizome but I think it’s going to be really special. We’ll have some speakers and some films and then mix it up with some live music to keep the energy flowing.
MA: It’s really timely for us, many of us have family out on the west coast so we’ve been talking about this for a while.
MS: So I was checking out a live clip of you all performing 7 Fires on youtube and was loving it. What’s that track all about?
MA: Woo yeahh! That’s a track a co-wrote musically with Isaac Riverwalker. We’ve just been working on that track in the studio. I wrote the lyrics and its about the Annishnaabe 8th Fire prophecy. Looking at the prophecies that have already happened and what it is that we need to do now as a people. It’s become a big track for us, people seem to like it. We weren’t going to play that one but maybe I should talk to the boys and put it on the set list.
The Collective expresses their creativity through their Okra (story) and their Owena (word) in the spirit of indigenous oral traditions using contemporary poetry live reggae hip-hop soulrock and drum talk. A variety of themes are expressed in their music and poetry, but the underlying goal is too uplift, self-identify and unify through spoken word. SLAM (Spoken Lyricism Arranges Meaning).
Find out full event info at redwiremag.com.
Sentinel Shores: A Group Show and Event Exploring Land Defense
February 2 @ Rhizome Cafe, starts @ 6pm
Featuring Artwork by
Joi Arcand, Erin Marie Konsmo, Christiana Latham, Chandra Melting Tallow, Marika Swan and Carrielynn Victor
A Mothers Nature by Vanessa Claxton
Bloodland by Elle Maija Tailfeathers
Business as Usual by Jay Cardinal Villeneuve
And Special Guests:
Arthur Manuel and Ta’kaiya Blaney
With RED SLAM COLLECTIVE!
Here is a video of the Red Slam Collective performing 7 Fires live: