Don’t call it a comeback.
While Canada’s Indigenous music scene has experienced something of a resurgence in recent years, the level of talent is nothing new. From traditional instrumentalists to contemporary genre artists, Indian Country has produced a long line of world-class musicians as revolutionary it is diverse.
And even as some of these artists begin to get some of the mainstream recognition they so richly deserve, there’s an entire wave of under-the-radar talent just waiting to break out.
From the trailblazers to the rising stars, here are 10 Indigenous artists you need to know.
A Tribe Called Red
Blending traditional culture with bangin’ club beats, the Ottawa DJ trio has gained international recognition for creating dance music with a message – and throwing one hell of a party. Along the way, they’ve popularized the pow-wow step, scored a bunch of Juno nominations and played festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and Osheaga. Their latest release, We Are The Halluci Nation, is currently on the short list for this year’s Polaris Music Prize.
With a catalog containing hundreds of songs and a career spanning more than four decades (!), Buffy Sainte-Marie has already cemented her status as a Canadian icon. And at 76, she’s still going strong. On top of a busy touring schedule and winning the 2015 Polaris Music Prize (Power in the Blood), she continues to shed light on important issues and inspire an entire generation. Watch for her new album, Medicine Songs, this fall.
A little bit country, a little bit blues and a whole lotta soul, Crystal Shawanda has come a long way from the Wikwemikong reserve on Manitoulin Island. Since dreams of a music career took her to Nashville as a teenager, she’s released four albums, toured with the likes of Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley, and won a slew of awards (including a 2013 Juno). One listen to her voice and you’ll understand why.
Fronted by the husband-wife duo of Raven Kanatakta and Shoshona Kish, Digging Roots have been going strong since 2004 – and show no signs of slowing down. Known for their soulful blend of roots, rock, folk and blues, they’re in the midst of an extensive international tour and finishing up their fourth album (watch for it this fall!). Their musical chemistry and sensual stage presence also make for a can’t-miss concert experience.
Formerly of the above-mentioned A Tribe Called Red, Dan General aka DJ Shub is an award-winning producer from Six Nations of the Grand River. Fusing Native American drumming and powwow singing with bone-rattling dance beats, he reminds us that tradition and technology are not mutually exclusive. Featuring vocals from Northern Cree Singers, Black Lodge Singers and Frazer Sundown, his first solo EP (2016’s PowWow Step) has created a ton of buzz and left us wanting more.
A pioneer on the Indigenous hip-hop scene, Saskatchewan MC Jeremiah Manitopyes aka Drezus turned heads with breakout hits like Warpath and Red Winter. Today, he’s using his music to spread a message of positivity and empowerment. Most recently, he teamed up with Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas (among others) on Stand Up / Stand N Rock (#NoDAPL), which won the MTV Video Music Award for ‘Best Fight Against the System.’
The Jerry Cans
The Jerry Cans may just be the hottest thing out of Nunavut these days. Known regionally for their trademark mix of Inuktitut and English, the band has recently burst onto the international music scene while challenging mainstream stereotypes, mashing traditional genres and launching their own record label. Combining everything from folk and country to reggae and throat-singing, their sound – and their message – is true to their roots and refreshingly unique.
Individually, Tiffany Ayalik and Greyson Gritt are inspirational artists and masterful storytellers. Together, they make up Quantum Tangle. Hot off a Juno award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year (2015’s Tiny Hands), the duo blends traditional throat singing and blues-infused folk rock with looping pedals and a dash of electronica for a sound as representative of their Indigenous cultures as it is unique.
She may best be known as a throat singer, but Nunavut’s Tanya Tagaq is so much more. Fueled by issues like politics, climate change and Indigenous rights, she’s an artist, an activist, a protestor and the voice of an entire generation. And since winning the 2014 Polaris Music Prize (she’s also on this year’s short list), she’s only grown fiercer, bolder and more experimental. Seeing Tagaq in concert belongs on every music fan’s bucket list, period.
Since dropping his debut album in 2015 (Earthly Days), this Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter has perked a lot of ears and turned a lot of heads. He’s opened for Buffy Sainte-Marie, won a Western Canadian Music Award and a Juno, played some of the country’s biggest music festivals and scored too many nominations to mention. Given his silky baritone voice, captivating lyrics and masterful stage presence, it’s no wonder. Lucky for us, he’s just getting started.
A few up-and-coming honourable mentions include: Iskwé, Mob Bounce, Nick Sherman, Shawnee.