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The Best Indigenous Music of 2013

2013 was a very good year for Indigenous music. Here are our favourite reasons why it’s an incredible time to tune in. We’re still here—and we’re still making amazing music.

Look around you: from the front pages of websites, magazines and the news, to the halls of art galleries, centre stages, and dancefloors, clubs, festivals and playlists, Indigenous artists are at the forefront of almost every form of art and culture. And although we love all kinds of creative expression at RPM, this is a particularly inspiring time for Indigenous music.

In a year that began with the sound of the drum, and in the #RoundDanceRevolution that followed, our music has continued to keep us in time and on beat as the world marches ahead—with our people leading the charge.

As we spin back around for #Revolution2 here at RPM, we asked our Indigenous community to weigh in with their picks for the Best Indigenous Music of 2013.

Mohawk radio host, writer and artist Janet Rogers always knows what’s up. At the top of her best album list is Derek Miller‘s Blues Vol. 1. Why? “Hot, rough, sexy, blues.” Other top album picks from Janet are The JohnnysRock – “A generous offering of the Thinking Man’s Metal Music” and Patrica Cano, Songs from Tomson Highway’s the (post) Mistress, for her “sultry vocals with perfect pitch.”

Anishinaabe broadcast journalist and writer Waubgeshig Rice just posted his Top 10 albums of the year, which includes the doomcore metal grind of Biipiigwan‘s Something for Everyone; Nothing for Anyone, and Leonard Sumner’s Rez Poetrywhich Rice praised as “a riveting portrayal of the unique struggles and triumphs of Anishinaabe people. It’s the album I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear.”

The other Wab (Wabanakwut Kinew, that is), also picked Sumner‘s Rez Poetry along with Inez Jasper, Winnipeg Boyz, and powwow group North Bear as some of his favourites. Anishinaabe musician, scholar and organizer Melody McKiver listed some interesting additions, including Northern Voice‘s “Dance of the Moon” and shouted-out the Aboriginal ‘Australian’ MC K-Otic One‘s righteous hip-hop compilation the “Idle No More (Invasion Day)” mixtape.

Indigenous Waves radio host Susan Blight echoed many of our choices, and also shouted-out the latest from Quese IMC “Handdrum” for bringing “it all back to the roots; the importance of the sacred fire, the ceremonies, and the sound of the drum” and a unique collab between Just Jamaal and Lena Recollet “What’s It All About” that was “released in solidarity with Idle No More–referencing broken treaties, environmental racism, and issuing a call for resistance all over slick production from Hyf the GypsySun”.

And, of course, a certain Polaris Prize-nominated Indigenous crew seemed to pop up everywhere we turned and at the very top of everyone’s ‘Best of’ list. But more on that later.

Shout-outs to these stellar releases:

K-otic 1“Idle No More Invasion Day Mixtape”
PozLyrix – “Chicago Native”
Impossible Nothing – “Alchemy”
Derek Miller – “Blues, Vol. 1”
Tara Williamson – “Lie Low”
Rebel Diaz – “Radical Dilemma”
The Johnnys – “Rock”
Inez Jasper – “Burn Me Down”
Kinnie Starr – “Kiss It”
Eden Fine day – “Things Get Better”
Fawn and Dallas – “Blessings”

The Top 10 Indigenous Albums of 2013

STREAM OUR BEST INDIGENOUS MUSIC OF 2013 PLAYLIST BELOW

10. Frank Waln – “Born Ready EP”

Ascending to the hip-hop pedestal with a calm, collected confidence and wisdom beyond his years, Lakota MC Frank Waln turned the heads of almost everyone this fall when he dropped the powerhouse video for his NDN rap anthem “AbOriginal”. With its massive “when I rise / you rise” hook, overflowing lyrical pride, and his obvious love for his people and nation, Waln brought some much-needed realness and a refreshing dose of youthful warriorism back into the Indigenous hip-hop game. Oh and The 1491s‘ Dallas Goldtooth directed a video for him. And did we mention that Waln composed, recorded and mixed all the tracks himself? And that he writes honorific rap dedications to his mother and grandmother? Yeah, good luck to the rest of you. Frank Waln is walking the talk. And raising the bar. Listen/download: http://frankwaln47.bandcamp.com/album/born-ready-ep

9. Cris Derksen – “The Collapse”

A now-ubiquitous fixture on the contemporary Indigenous music scene, Métis musician Cris Derksen’s soaring cello melodies and effects-laden staccato bursts, beats and wailing cries, are a haunting, soaring, cinematic soundtrack to our peoples’ burgeoning resurgence that give you chills and the increasing sense of possibility that so much is yet to come… Highly recommended. Listen/Download: http://crisderksen.virb.com/the-collapse

8. Kristi Lane Sinclair – “The Sea Alone”

Speaking of Cris Derksen, you can hear her cello stylings on Haida singer Kristi Lane Sinclair’s latest grunge-folk album that, as its title invites, carries you across waves of solitude, heartache, reflection, fierceness and vulnerability.  Kristi’s voice ranges from a low growl to a sultry spell (including one of the best musical deliveries of the f-bomb in recent memory) and her style is not for the faint of heart, which is to say there is a frankness, darkness and richness on The Sea Alone that pulls you deeper into her world with each listen. Dive in. Listen/Download: http://kristilanesinclair.bandcamp.com/

7. Shining Soul – “Sonic Smash”

Shining Soul burst onto our playlists with their commanding album Sonic Smash just in time to make an appearance on the #NationHood Mixtape with their lead-off single “Get Up”. But the whole album goes deep with soulful hip-hop anthems that strike back against oppression wherever they find it and find root in the strength and vitality of their creative expression. Listen/download:  http://shiningsoulmusic.bandcamp.com/album/sonic-smash

6. Tall Paul – “Birthday Present EP”

The remarkably consistent Anishinaabe MC from the Twin Cities, Tall Paul, keeps up his stellar record of releases with a head-knocking EP of assured, intelligent hip-hop that made its place on the list just for the standout storytelling track, “Taurus the Bull” (ft. $kywalker). The rest of the record rocks too. This is everyday rap responding to the real highs and lows of trying to survive and thrive in the game. And judging by the sounds of it, the struggle is in good hands. Tall Paul’s got bars and keeps it moving, one beat at a time.
Listen/Download: http://tallpaul612.bandcamp.com/album/birthday-present

5. City Natives – “4 Kingz”

The dynamic mic skills and boom bap-inflected east coast production of rising hip-hop stars City Natives bangs all the way through. Barely a year into their collaboration as a crew, City Natives brings together the multi-talented forces of Beaatz, IllFundz, Gearl, and BnE, like a young Native rap Voltron. Featuring incredible beat production from Juliano, the pass and trade flows of this crew sounds hungry for respect, recognition, and social change in equal parts. If this is just the beginning, there’s no limit to where things can go from here. Listen/Download: http://citynatives.bandcamp.com/album/city-natives-4-kingz

4. Leonard Sumner – “Rez Poetry”

Speaking of realness, you just can’t get around the raw authenticity of Anishinaabe singer-songwriter Leonard Sumner. Landing right near the top of almost everyone’s year-end list, Rez Poetry, offers a clear-eyed personal take on choices and consequences, struggles and love, and the complexities of contemporary Indigenous life—all spun through Sumner’s unique brand of Native roots music that is deeply infused with acoustic guitar hymns, hip-hop rhythms and cadences, and just enough country and rhythm & blues to rep the urban, rez, and everywhere-in-between Indians with equal power. Tune in, kick back, and dream of that open, prairie sky. Listen/download: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/leonardsumner

3. Leanne Simpson – “Islands of Decolonial Love”

Bridging many worlds, storylines, generations, and forms of creativity with effortless poetics and heartbreaking, deceptive simplicity, Leanne Simpson was the only Anishinaabekwe that we know of who dropped a full-volume of published stories and poetry in tandem with a collaboratively composed album of the same, set to the expansive sonics of many of Indian Country’s rising stars (including Tara Williamson, Cris Derksen, A Tribe Called Red, and Melody McKiver). Halfway between story, song, and verse, Simpson’s poems flow through you like long-forgotten dreams suddenly remembered. Inspiring, strong and swift, these are the currents of sound that surround each island of decolonial love. All that, and it’s available digitally and as a beautifully bright orange analog cassette release. So go dig up that tape player from the basement and rewind into Simpson’s hypnotic spell.
Listen/download: http://arpbooks.org/islands/

2. Samantha Crain – “Kid Face”

Choctaw singer Samantha Crain is three albums deep, at twenty-seven years young, and her music already echoes and twists through generations of greatness. With her urgent, accomplished and irresistible craft on its finest display to date, Kid Face offers up Crain’s melancholy-infused melodic brand of Americana with a suite of songs that navigate pain, love, loss and growth with an aching resonance of unvarnished truth. Samantha Crain is the real deal. The rest are just pale imitations. Listen/download: http://thelineofbestfit.com/new-music/album-stream/samantha-crain-kid-face-album-sampler-premiere-142954

1. A Tribe Called Red – “Nation II Nation”

What other praise can be given to our brothers from ATCR that hasn’t already been said? Since dropping their plaintive instrumental “The Road” exactly one year ago today, in honour of Chief Theresa Spence and the Idle No More movement, A Tribe Called Red has continued their stratospheric rise from the booming dancefloors of the electric pow-wow to the forefront of the world’s musical consciousness. Seemingly overturning every false colonial conception about being Indian in the 21st century with each kinetic set of party-rocking, this three DJ crew blows the roof off everywhere they go, while always reppin’ for the people. With their second full-length album, Nation II Nation, ATCR single-handedly dropped the revolutionary soundtrack that we all knew we needed, while elevating and expanding the possibilities of contemporary Indigenous music culture and pushing their electronic/Indigenous aesthetic hybrid forms to new heights and levels of power. Raise your fist up and get ready. The Tribe stands with us—as we rise together. Listen/Download: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/listen-to-a-tribe-called-reds-new-record-nation-ii-nation

 STREAM: The Best Indigenous Music of 2013