The Indigenous Music Renaissance is here to stay and Native artists are leading the way. Here are our picks for the best Indigenous music of 2014.
In another incredible year for Indigenous art and creativity, Native artists continued to break down walls, claim new spaces and make their presence felt…everywhere. As a renewed wave of uprisings for freedom and justice swept the globe, Indigenous musicians played a central role in soundtracking the struggle and making rebel music for the movement.
From the rez to the streets, from pipeline protests to massive music festivals, Native music made an indelible intervention into the cultural and political landscape of 2014.
The RPM extended fam weighed in with their picks and favourite sounds of the year. Some songs and sounds that found their way into our headphones and hearts included:
Iskwé‘s “Will I See”
Sister Says‘ Heart Placement
Kait Angus‘ “The Mason’s Heart”
Moe Clark‘s Within
Sean Conway‘s The Blue Acre
Logan Staats‘ “What You Love”
Kinnie Starr‘s “Save Our Waters”
Tall Paul‘s “I Don’t Need Glove”
Quese IMC‘s “The Comanche”
Sacramento Knoxx‘s “The Trees Will Grow Again”
Frank Waln, Naát’áaníí Means, Mike Cliff & Inez Jasper‘s “The Revolution”
Boogey the Beat‘s “DJ Set for MMIW”
A Tribe Called Red‘s “Burn Your Village to the Ground”
And that’s not even counting our Top 10 Albums of the year. Let’s go.
The Best Indigenous Music of 2014: Impossible Nothing Remixtape
This year we’re excited to present not only some of our favourite songs, mixes, EPs and albums by Indigenous artists, but also a very special Best of 2014 REMIXTAPE assembled by the prolific beatsmith Impossible Nothing of the Skookum Sound System crew. We compiled our selections and IMPLNTHG fed the sounds through his rapid-fire maximalist machine. The results are an incredible blast of rhythmic sample chops and skillful sonic wizardry.
Grab the remixtape below and head to Impossible Nothing’s Bandcamp for the individual remixed tracks.
Download: The Best Indigenous Music of 2014 – Impossible Nothing REMIXTAPE
RPM’s 10 Best Indigenous Albums of 2014
10. City Natives – Red City
Claiming their rightful spot in our Top 10 for the second year in a row, City Natives returned this year with their sophomore album, Red City, a confident declaration of the group’s equal skills on the mic and behind the boards. From front to back, what elevated Red City from many other Native hip-hop releases this year was consistency. On a record with no weak links, Red City‘s tightly woven ten tracks of heartfelt boom bap beats showcase Beaatz, IllFundz, Gearl and BnE proving to the world why they’re a force to be reckoned with. Game elevated. Now who’s next?
9. Digging Roots – For the Light
After four years of heavy touring and much anticipation from their fans the world over, husband and wife lead Digging Roots released the For the Light, this summer. Life on the road and innate wanderlust inhabits the sonic kaleidoscope of roots and blues infused songs that travel, lyrically, from inner cities to back roads and everything in between. Raven Kanatakta and ShoShona Kish wrote and produced the collection of 12 love songs – and while the stories touch on desperation, resiliance, troublemakers, lovers and freedom fighters, Kish will emphasize they each stem from love – that pulsate with passion and focus. The title track, sung in Anishinabemowin and English, chants “push, push, reach, reach” with bluesy intensity, exemplary of why Kish’s smokey wailing vocals and Kantakta’s bombastic guitar pushed For the Light into our top 10.
8. V/A – The Invasion Day Mixtape 2014
Kickstarting the year with a blast of hip-hop firepower, The Invasion Day Mixtape contests the colonial occupation of “Australia” with lyrical finesse, banging beats and a rockstar list of Indigenous hip-hop artists. With standout tracks from La Teila, MC Triks and bAbe SUN, and Provocalz, this compilation boldly declares its ancestral connections while giving urgent voice to blackfellas’ resistance. Why celebrate the settler invasion when we could be celebrating ourselves? Shout out to Brisbane Blacks, it’s time to “raise ya fist for revolution!”.
7. Angel Haze – Dirty Gold
Bold, defiant and with a straight up give no fucks attitude, Angel Haze took her album into her own hands and surreptitiously leaked it free to the world in the last days of 2013. Mired in a fight with her major label Island/Republic, Haze pushed the album directly into the spotlight of public attention and the label scrambled to move up its release date. On the eve of 2014, as the new year swirled into motion, Dirty Gold got its “official release”—and Angel Haze’s rapid-fire lyrical acrobatics paired with A Tribe Called Red’s beats, and her acoustic reworkings of crossover pop anthems like “Battle Cry”, have been stuck in our heads and on rotation all year long. Angel Haze is a confident lyricist, a dope MC, and a compelling singer who seems most in her element when spitting pure fire over rap anthems, but she could easily direct her talent wherever she damn well chooses. We can’t wait to see where she’s going next.
6. Blue King Brown – Born Free
The first time we heard Born Free we knew it was a contender for album of the year. Displaying an assuredness and power in both songwriting and production, the album expands and deepens Blue King Brown’s foundation in roots and reggae music while giving more shine to lead singer Nattali Rize’s hypnotic vocals. Every track on this record is filled with equal parts fire and love. BKB is on the move and headed for big things in the days to come. This is music for the movement, for life, for the people. Songs to uplift and inspire us to keep seeking freedom in the midst of our chaotic world. Calling all nations to RIZE UP.
5. V/A – Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985
Much good ink has been spilled about Native North America in recent weeks (when was the last time Native music was reviewed simultaneously in the Guardian, Pitchfork and Rolling Stone?), and we’re encouraged to know that many others, like us, are discovering—or in some cases re-discovering—this legendary generation of Indigenous musicians. NNA Vol. 1 highlights the incredible work of underrepresented artists from across Canada and up to Alaska, whose music both inspired and provided the foundation for what many Native artists are doing today. More than 12 years in the making, Kevin “DJ Sipreano” Howes, has compiled an awe-inspiring array of Indigenous music that, over its 34 tracks, is at once groundbreaking, revolutionary, and wonderfully familiar. We can hear ourselves in these sounds and, in looking and listening back, we can draw strength from those artists that have gone before us: artists whose time has finally come to be heard. And this is just Volume 1. Brilliant.
4. Princess Nokia – Metallic Butterfly
What is it about this record? Is it the quirky Game of Thrones-inspired D&B breakbeat ballads? The anime-flavoured, retro-futurist cyber-rap bounce? The Northern Cree-sampling, Björk-like swirl and swoon of haunted electronics? Somewhere in the flow and flux of Princess Nokia’s exquisitely defined 90s sci-fi bricolage aesthetics, Metallic Butterfly takes flight into an uncharted space-time reality suffused with effortless eclecticism. One of the most innovative and inspiring albums of the year. The recombinant future has arrived.
3. Silver Jackson – Starry Skies Opened Eyes
Meanwhile, in the outer reaches of the multiverse, Silver Jackson lights up the Sitka coordinates of the Black Constellation with a beautiful album of delicate sonics and folk-art electronic experiments. Expanding the future-now to its natural state of awakened presence, Starry Skies Opened Eyes does exactly what it sets out to do: it wraps you up in haunting melodies and carries you out to sea, drifting and reflecting a journey toward the morning horizon. By the time you arrive, you want to return immediately and dive deep into the sky all over again. That’s what we did. Over and over and over again.
2. Tanya Tagaq – Animism
After, and almost in spite of, the deserving accolades this album has already received, it’s still hard to find words that do Animism justice. Tanya Tagaq’s latest album is a pulse-pounding, haunting record of her incredible power to call forth an often dormant spirit of potent creativity from herself and from her audience. It is this restless mix of sonic fury and impassioned expression that puts Tagaq in a nearly singular category among her Indigenous art and music contemporaries. Animism, the album, is in some ways, incidental to her larger project—that of unleashing her creative spirit to the world in every available form. The album is incredible and devastatingly primal, but that’s a given. What is unique about Tagaq’s music, from her riveting live shows (including an absolutely spellbinding performance at this year’s Polaris Music Awards, which she won) to every recorded soundwave captured by Animism, is Tagaq’s transcendent capacity to demand that we, as listeners, become co-creators of her music. This is her gift to us, both an exhilarating and, at times, exhausting, call to creative action. Unbowed and undaunted by haters, naysayers, or the otherwise perplexed, Tanya Tagaq keeps expanding her artistic universe and power, orbiting around us, radiating light and sound. A force of nature indeed.
1. Thelma Plum – Monsters (EP)
All it took was four songs to put Thelma Plum at the top of our list. Four songs. Where other artists on this year’s list explored decidedly otherworldly realms and sonic terrain, Plum’s Monsters EP arrived fully formed, locked into a precise space of dark pop perfection. From the first notes of “Monsters” through the aching “Young in Love” and the anthemic “How Much Does Your Love Cost?” to the final haunting bars of “Candle”, Plum does more in the brief span of this EP than many artists do in entire albums. There are no misplaced notes here. Every song is wound tight, expertly produced, beautifully sung and absolutely mesmerizing. Monsters is poised to send Thelma Plum’s career into the stratosphere. All this before she’s even released her debut album. That’s coming next year. Did we mention she’s 19? Exactly.
Also check out our 15 Best Indigenous Music Videos of 2014 and The Most Slept-On Indigenous Album of 2014
Chi Miigwetch to Tara Williamson, Leanne Simpson, Susan Blight, and Melody McKiver for their expertise & impeccable selections.
Image credit: Sonny Assu, “Home Coming” (2014). Digital intervention on Paul Kane painting. More info at: sonnyassu.com