A TRIBE CALLED RED
In 2008, three DJs wanted to throw a party for the community in their hometown of Ottawa. From that modest project, A Tribe Called Red – and, arguably, a whole new sound in Canadian music – was born.
Embracing its members' aboriginal roots, the group's hard-to-characterize but innovative music blends hip-hop, dancehall and underground club music with First Nations vocal chanting and drumming. The unique mix has been described as "powwow-step" (from the title of one of the group's early singles).
Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau (of the Nipissing First Nation), Bear Witness (Six Nations of the Grand River), and Dan "DJ Shub" General (Six Nations) quickly built up a loyal following in Canada and abroad. General left for personal reasons in early 2014, and the group was joined by Tim "2oolman" Hill, also Mohawk of the Six Nations of the Grand River. They have toured extensively across Canada and the United States and taken their unique sound to festivals in Europe (UK, Germany, France, Greece, Norway and Eastern Europe).
In 2012, A Tribe Called Red repackaged the tracks and remixes they had done and released their self-titled, debut album online – for free VS an email. It was a bold move. Mainstream media seized on the release and the resulting media buzz led to more than 100 000 downloads since the release. The album was long-listed for the Polaris Prize later that year. (They made the short list for their second album, “Nation II Nation,” in 2013.)
Further accolades followed. A Tribe Called Red has received multiple Aboriginal People's Choice Music Awards and won best music video at the Native American Music Awards in the US. In 2014, they won a Juno for Breakthrough Group of the Year and was nominated for Electronic Album of the Year (they chose not to submit their work in the Aboriginal Album of the Year category). Immensely popular across the country, they have sold out major venues, including the Opera House and the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, the SAT in Montreal and two nights at the Commodore in Vancouver.
The industry and media have been very supportive, according to manager Guillaume Decouflet. So have organizations like OMDC. As artist-entrepreneurs, A Tribe Called Red is in a unique position to take advantage of programs available to companies in the music industry. The Ontario Music Fund team has provided hands-on guidance to help the group make the most of their opportunities without overstretching. OMDC funding helped the group promote itself across the border in the United States.
While their success has been gratifying on an artistic level, it has also given the group members a platform. They have not shied away from using their success to support causes they believe in. The group has strongly supported the Idle No More movement and asked non-aboriginal fans to avoid cultural appropriation by not wearing headdresses and war paint to their shows. The dialogue has encouraged respect and understanding.
“Right now we're creating a brand new, experience-based, and fan-oriented live show for 2015. The next album is expected to be released in the spring. Being based in Ottawa is sometimes a challenge, because there is a lack of rehearsal space in the city. But we see lots of room to develop in Ottawa and we are excited to help grow a music community there.”
—Guillaume Decouflet, Manager, A Tribe Called Red
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