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A Tribe Called Red: What’s next after a year of highs

By François Levesque on February 7, 2014

There’s an argument to be made that A Tribe Called Red has become Ottawa’s best musical export over the last couple of years, so it’s a treat for us every time they come back to play a show at home. In 2013, the three gents were short-listed for the Polaris Prize and travelled the world sharing Nation II Nation with fans across the US, Mexico and Europe. The Turtle Island tour is about to get started and February 8th is their homecoming at Babylon. Bear Witness took some time to share what made last year great for ATCR, some surprises from the new album, and the responsibilities that come with being famous and First Nation.

‘This past year has been nuts. It’s been one thing after another” says Bear when asked how he would describe 2013 to his grandkids. “There’s lots of big highlights this year. Getting shortlisted at the Polaris Prize, attending and performing at the gala was big for us. Some of the shows we’ve played have been unreal. The Cervantino Festival in Mexico where we played in a tunnel. We played on top of two shipping containers in the States at a big Day of the Dead event.” They got to tour with Gogol Bordello and worked on tracks with Detroit rapper Angel Haze and Das Racist (RIP).

ATCR has just started working on its new album. DJ NDN, DJ Shub and Bear Witness spent the last two weeks in Toronto at Skratch Bastid’s studio laying down some tracks. The process of making this album is going to be very different from the group’s past two albums. On Nation II Nation, Tribal Spirit – a record label for native musicians – opened up their music catalogue and allowed ATCR to pick and choose what ever pow wow beats they wanted. While the association with Tribal Spirit will continue for the forthcoming album, the new album is going to see ATCR collaborate more broadly, says Bear. “We will be working a bunch of different artists – Aboriginal and beyond.”

ATCR owes a lot of their success to folks in this city. “Everyone at Babylon, Adam and the staff have been awesome. The party really grew out of that space. Robbie [Lariviere from Fall Down Gallery] is another guy we owe a lot to. We’ve been doing collabs with him since the beginning of Electric Pow Wow. That was around the same time he was just setting up Fall Down. It’s been nice to see both our projects grow.”

With Idle No More last year, ATCR was thrust in the spotlight as aboriginal artists. Right away, they recognized that there was a responsibility to talk about indigenous issues and indigenous rights. “We’re using our culture and our music so it would be irresponsible for us to ignore the political side of things. That’s something we were doing even before all the media attention with Idle No More. To me, in the end, what Idle No More really represents is a point – a groundswell point – for a movement that’s been going on for a long time now and will continue going regardless of the media attention.”

ATCR released a track called The Road in support of the movement.

When ATCR first started, Ottawa’s dance scene was in a transition phase. There were a number of parties out there but Jokers of the Scene had just left town for Toronto. There was a bit of a void, and the Tribe filled it. While the scene’s had its ups and downs, Bear thinks Ottawa’s dance scene has been pretty strong over the past decades.

After spending so little time in Ottawa over the past year, he’s happy to be back behind the decks at Babylon on February 8th. Says Bear: “It will be our regular Electric Pow Wow but we have been in the studio – so without making any promises you might hear a thing or two you haven’t heard yet at this coming one.”

Electric Pow Wow takes place Saturday, February 8th at Babylon Nightclub. $10 and doors open at 10pm.