A Tribe Called Red Honors First Nations Culture With 'Powwow Step'

Amidst protests at Standing Rock, an indigenous DJ trio and poet Saul Williams call your attention to the "Halluci Nation."

Mix the beats you usually associate with dancehall or dubstep with a pulsing combination of spoken word and traditional tribal sounds and you have the essential formula for what could be considered a subgenre of EDM ― now being referred to as “powwow step.”

The primary purveyors of powwow step are the members of an indigenous DJ trio called A Tribe Called Red. Formed in 2008 in Ottawa, Canada, the group consists of Bear Witness, 2oolman and DJ NDN. Together, their complex musical identity rests on positivity ― “A Tribe Called Red promotes inclusivity, empathy and acceptance amongst all races and genders in the name of social justice,” the group writes online.

Speaking directly to indigenous communities “living in a country that was forcefully colonized,” ATCR believes that indigenous people must define their identity on their own terms. Their third album, “We Are the Halluci Nation,” echoes the sentiment in a time when protests in North Dakota are bringing the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to the forefront of national news. “This album is critical listening for everyone,” Pitchfork declared earlier this year, praising the trio’s “iconoclastic” politics.

This week, ATCR is premiering the video for a single off the record, titled “The Virus.” Described as “a defiant celebration of indigenous and oppressed cultures,” the song features activist/poet/rapper Saul Williams and the First Nations drum group Chippewa Travellers.

“We are the Halluci Nation,” a disembodied voice bellows over a rumbling drum swarm in the video above, reciting the words of Santee Dakota poet John Trudell. “We are the evolution. A continuation. We are the Halluci Nation. Our DNA is of earth and sky. Our DNA is of past and future.”

To accompany the premiere of “The Virus,” poet Williams sent The Huffington Post the following statement:

When the first question arose it took the form of a virus. The virus was a hallucinogen. Walking on water wasn’t built in a day. If plagiarism is a thing what do you call it on land? What does it mean to be true to your word? What does it mean to stand your ground? What does it mean to protect and serve? What does it mean when corporate interests encroach upon communal resources? What does it mean when we let the oligarchs of industry dig up the graves of First Nations to suck the blood beneath the bones and boil the profits in contaminated water?

We are the seventh generation. We are the protectors of this land, the protectors of water. We are not a conquered people. We will issue no warning. It will come thinly veiled or not veiled at all. The drum will beat. And you will hear it. There is no question.

Read about ATCR collaborator Tanya Tagaq on HuffPost Arts & Culture. Check out ATCR’s upcoming tour dates on their website. “The Virus” video was produced for the Halluci Nation by DAIS & Mad Ruk and directed by Tunkasila.

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