About a year and a half ago, while taking my nightly stroll on soundcloud, the name caught my eye: “A Tribe Called”…not Quest, so what could it be? Who would start their name with A Tribe Called, and not be Quest? Obviously people with great taste in hip hop and who probably add an indigenous-ness to the mix? You know who…and now that they have won the CBC contest for the best Canadian Champion Anthem, everyone will know…Take a deep breath, because I'm going in. Say it with me. Ready?
Now are you also hearing the opening beat to Red Skin Girl in your head? Anyhow, the minute I saw song titles like “Electric Pow Wow Drum and I’m an NDN Too,” and the fact that these folks were specifically from Ontario, I knew that all those nights I spent searching for good music were well worth it. I follow tropical bass, but like the bass fish that lives in the sea, I have to sort through a lot of sounds. ATCR has been an anchor that represents home to me and always has something good to put on the table. Like fish, I mean bass. (Enter bhangra shoulders)
The first song that I heard was a cheerleader-type play on “I’m an Indian Too,” originally sung by Ethel Merman in “Annie Get Your Gun.” Being of South Asian background, I thought, “SAME HERE!” Childhood TV shots of Hollywood-constructed Native people in cinema suddenly appear. And with ATCR’s version, accompanied by a photo of J-Lo in a headdress, I knew these guys were extremely fun cultural critics at the same time as being artists. Just look at Bear Witness’ visuals. Crazy thing is that it’s 2012, and what’s been hottest in fashion over the last year? “Native-inspired” patterns and designs in clothing, jewelry, footwear, sleeping bags, sofa upholstery, and suitcases, lunchboxes and more. Um, yeee-ah, whatever. Anyhow, check out the contrast between the original above, and the ATCR version. It’s all there.
Well unlike TAKING, A Tribe Called Red gave away their debut album for free and you can still grab it at www.electricpowow.com. But good music, not just good karma is making 2012 a success-filled year for ATCR. The album is not only intriguing, it’s also ‘tight and good,’ to talk like KRS-One. Noticing this powerful turn in electronic, urban and indigenous music are UCLA’s Ethnomusicology Review, the unbeatable Northern Cree, Indigenous Resistance, tropical bass heavies like Diplo, blogger and producer, Caballo and one of my faves DJ Javier Estrada (Escuchas a DJ Javier Estradaaaaa).) Also, urban Cree hip hop legend Ernie Paniccioli (see last blog post), loves them, and had a mutually epic opportunity to welcome them to the stage at their recent gig at Toronto’s Hard Rock Café. He started talking about a dream to have his people representing their music. Here's the tail end of his intro: http://soundcloud.com/sumitasweetmart/memo
|DJ Shub at the Red Bull Thr3e Style Comp in Toronto|
Musically, he has brought his supremacy on the 1s and 2s to ATCR, BUT behind that B-boy stance and those DMC titles, is a humble yet skilled craftsman who collects vibrant sounds and transforms them into colourful, woven masterpieces. I had a chance to meet with DJ Shub, the afternoon before the Toronto battle and would like to now feature our conversation.
Jungleespacegirl: What got you interested in working with music?
DJ Shub: My brother was a mobile dj, who used to dj clubs in Buffalo. He used to go record shopping and I’d go with him. I’d see everything he’d buy, I’d watch him dj. He snuck me into a couple of his nights. That was the big turning point. He was the one who bought me my first set of turntables. He knew. He saw something and I always pay homage to that….And we turntablists pay homage to the 1200s!
Jungleespacegirl: So, have you had any formal music training? Because your music is so tightly-arranged and intricately layered…
Dj Shub: I took guitar lessons for a year. I went to school for recording and audio, but I taught myself everything. I started off as a hip hop producer. That’s why a lot of the samples I use are chopped up like the way people chop up music in hip hop.
Jungleespacegirl: Your song ‘Powowzers,’ to me is the perfect example of your turntablist skillz shaping the sound of ATCR with the vocal chopping. And it reminds me of my brother, DJ M-Rock’s work as a turntablist, as I watched him develop from a fan to battle dj to a producer. Many of the effects that I’d hear him producing as a turntablist, now are an essential part of today’s electronic dance music. Like the beat juggles that are in the slowed tempo of dubstep.
Have a little listen to the DJ: http://soundcloud.com/sumitasweetmart/dj-shub-atcr-at-the-guverment
DJ Shub: It’s true. And M-Rock was a huge influence on me and my turntablism. The whole Funky Teknicianz crew….Them and the Turntable Monkz were the predominant Canadian turntablist crews when I started. And I love M-Rocks’s mixtapes, they’re awesome.
Jungleespacegirl: Very cool. What was the first album you ever got?
Dj Shub: The ‘You Be Illin’ Run DMC single. Krushin’ by the Fat Boys
Jungleespacegirl: What’s the first concert you attended?
DJ Shub: The Dooby Brothers with my Dad. I had been to a lot of Dooby Brothers concerts.
Jungleespacegirl: That would be envy to a lot of people. From the Dooby Brothers, to hip hop… And now you are in the middle of the tropical bass movement. How does it feel?
DJ Shub: Being a part of this whole, world music, global bass movement that’s happening is a great feeling. It’s good to see all these other indigenous artists putting their indigenous music into the music that they are making. Just to be a part of that movement is awesome.
A lot of people try to pigeon-hole us as a hip hop act, but we’re not hip hop. Our roots may be based in hip hop but, we’re not a hip hop group. We were once at a party and someone asked us,” so who emcees?, ” just assuming that we are a hip hop group because so many Native groups are doing hip hop.
Jungleespacegirl thinking to herself: In a way tropical bass represents the 99%. To me, the Electric Pow Wow is one of the few places in North America, where the 99% can party together, and leave the notion of “occupying a space” at the door. As DJ Shub says, “it’s music FIRST.”
And, I think Native folks are getting down with tropical bass more than tropical folk. Ironically, Native folks, attending A Tribe Called Red shows are getting down to a wider variety of WORLD music than most second generation Canadians do when partying in the mainstream club district. At my first EPW, I saw people go nuts to Chambacu by Chong X. I go to an ATCR party in Ottawa, and they throw down bhangra, and everyone’s losing it, and no one is shouting out loud, “it’s as easy as installing a light bulb.” And by the way, at the same party, Bear Witness instantly filled up the dance floor with a reggae set.
Jungleespacegirl: There’s a powerful vibe at your shows when that pow wow drum starts up and that jingle comes in. And what I notice is that the three of you look like you’re having the best time up there. There’s a friendly exchange of humour and I’m always at the front, so I hear you guys say to each other, “ok, ready?” Time for the drop. What’s it like to work together live?
DJ Shub: Fun. I don’t really consider it work. We get as hyped up as the crowd gets. We feed off the crowd.
Jungleespacegirl: I’ve noticed. You are very interactive with the crowd. At the first Electric Pow Wow you did in Toronto at the Drake, you dropped “Look At This.” It was magic. The crowd was literally screaming. The one holding the camera, clearly did not care about staying still. Bless her junglee heart.
DJ Shub: That’s the pay off. Seeing people react like that.
Jungleespacegirl: What else I like about ATCR parties is that you are playing your music and you are bringing out communities who might not regularly attend other parties.
DJ Shub: We’ve created that comfortable space, so it’s a place where urban Aboriginals can come and enjoy their music. They don’t see it as A Tribe Called Red’s music, but as OUR music.
Jungleespacegirl: I have been going to clubs for so many years, since I was 14 when I saw Deee-Lite at the Concert Hall. But I’ve never shared a dance floor with so many visibly Native folks at one time.
DJ Shub: The first A Tribe Called Red show, I ever came to, was the biggest shock to me. I didn’t even know you could get this many Natives together in one place. It was a totally different vibe than what I’ve ever felt before and that was before we even had our own music, like before Electric Pow Wow Drum was made. This was when I had just come in to do a showcase battle set for people. Just to see so many brown faces, was crazy. I had never seen that, coming from a small town. The only time you see that is at pow wows, or socials. And then when we started playing our music… it was something I could never forget.
Jungleespacegirl: I bet. What blew me away from at the first Electric Pow Wow I attended was hearing people singing along.
DJ Shub: A lot of these people who were singing know the original songs that we sampled because a lot of the songs that we sampled are pretty well known to most of the Native community. I pointed that out to Ian, "look, she knows the words, they’re singing our song.” Ian added yes, it’s Red Skin Girl and they know that song.” Still, they’re singing OUR song! And it’s great because they feel even more connection with our music, which is exactly what we wanted.
Jungleespacegirl: In school, we always learned that pow wows were gatherings. And I was at Ernie Paniccioli’s talk in the spring and I met a handful of Native folks from Alberta, and each of them had been to the Electric Pow Wow at some point or other here in Toronto. So, it’s people from everywhere coming together.
DJ Shub: For music to do that is powerful.
|A Tribe Called Red with Ernie Paniccioli, Iskwe, Jungleespacegirl, Lily, Wab Kinew, QRock Ready to Rock and Griz on the Grind at the Hard Rock Cafe in Toronto|
Jungleespacegirl: He loves how you guys mix the traditional with the present, and are moving it forward. And he loves “Look At This, ” and plays it in his car.
DJ Shub: That was a song that Ian’s sister pointed out to us. And shot us an email suggesting we do a remix of a crow hop song, because up until then we had been doing straight pow wow songs. And when we heard it for the first time, for sure, this can work. A couple of hours later, we had it done.
Jungleespacegirl: So, crow hop is an actual genre within Native music?
DJ Shub: Yeah, there’s different styles of music and dancing and when you go to a pow wow, there’s crow hop, veteran songs, traditional, jingle dress songs. And they all have different tempos.
Jungleespacegirl: So is that tempo similar to a crow hop song? How would your song compare with a traditional crow hop song?
DJ Shub: Not too different. The one thing we didn’t want to do was overshadow the actual song. So our song is really a big bass behind their bass drum, and a bit of snare and a high hat. But we didn’t want to mask what was already there, because what was already there was amazing. We didn’t want to change too much of that track. And it worked….that’s my favourite song.
Jungleespacegirl: Not surprising, it’s funky as hell. Any upcoming collaborations?
DJ Shub: Das Racist. We played it last night. It was the NDNs from All Directions. (see the top)
Jungleespacegirl: In this tropical bass, world electronic scene, globetronica, and of course tribal or 3ball movement, I’ve seen some racist or stereotypical promo. Have you seen any like that? I know among European producers and club scenes, there are many of references to shamans, trances, headdresses, war paint. Edward Curtis took beautiful pictures, but I think some people don’t realize that Native people have moved a couple of inches since posing for his pics.
DJ Shub: Yeah, for sure I’ve seen that. I think the artists haven’t been educated on it, but for us, that’s sort of like a way in. And it gives us a chance to discuss why it’s wrong through our music and other forms too. We all have our own way of dealing with it. I try not to let it bug me too much, so it doesn’t get in the way of our creativity.
I thanked DJ Shub for generously sharing his precious time.
Thanks for joining me in Jungleespace…with much PEACE AND DUB.
|I'm just trippin'. Here is the self-proclaimed Superfan, with her fave group, who are fans of Ernie Paniccioli, who is standing in front of them, taking the picture, and is also their fan. Trippin.|