Skip To Content
A Tribe Called Red. Photo courtesy of Falling Tree Photography. ATCR will be headlining the #NACPresents 5 year anniversary party this Saturday night.

Q&A with A Tribe Called Red’s Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau

By Josh Lemoine on January 7, 2016

The NAC Presents concert series is hosting its 5th anniversary party this Saturday, January 9 in the NAC foyer. Live music at the party will feature U.S. Girls, Mehdi Cayenne and The Lionyls, and will be headlined by hometown “powwow-step” superstars A Tribe Called Red.

Apt613 spoke with Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau this week to talk about the year that was for ATCR, and what 2016 will bring.

By Jordan Bennett (jordanbennett.ca)

By Jordan Bennett (jordanbennett.ca)

Apt613: It’s a brand new year, so I’ll start by asking, what did A Tribe Called Red get up to in 2015? What were some highlights for the band?

Campeau: Lots and lots! I’d say the Rez tour was the crown jewel of last year for A Tribe Called Red. Doing a tour of specific Ontario reservations and playing our home communities was such an incredible experience. And then touring Australia for three weeks was another life changing experience. We played Osheaga this year, Coachella, Nathan Phillips Square, we had a great year. A lot of fun.

What stood out about Australia?

Everything! It was a life-changing experience for me. Being Indigenous in a colonial state is really isolating, like everyone has roots to somewhere that they’re from, right? And where they’re from, there’s a country that’s governed by people who are like them. Whereas the Indigenous, they don’t really have that. It’s kind of lonely living in your country, where you’re from, but you don’t really run anything. So going to Australia I figured we’d connect a lot on our oppression, like we would understand each other’s oppression. But it was more than that. What we really discovered was how close our traditions are, our songs are, and our cultures are. There’s some things we do that are extremely similar. That was really eye-opening for me. And also just meeting people who were going through the same colonial struggle, and realizing that, globally, you’re not alone. It was a really awakening experience.

A Tribe Called Red in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Photo from the band's Facebook page.

A Tribe Called Red in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Photo from the band’s Facebook page.

What is the band looking forward to in 2016?

We’re going to be dropping the album this year! Not too sure when. I know we said that last year [laughs] but it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen.

How did A Tribe Called Red start? What was its genesis?

Its genesis was four Indigenous DJ’s wanting to throw a party for indigenous people in Ottawa (the Electric Powwow nights at Babylon). And that’s it. Then we started producing new music that the crowd could identify with, for the Indigenous youth in Ottawa, for the people who came out to our parties.

Who are some of the stronger influences on the music you make?

Buffy Sainte-Marie for sure, I think that goes for everyone. As far as I go, I bring more of the electronic influence, whereas Bear (Witness) brings more of the dancehall element, and Tim (‘2oolman’ Hill) brings the hip hop element. The influence that I brought came from Jokers of the Scene, one hundred percent. Growing up in Ottawa, the shows that they put on were really influential for me.

How would you describe an A Tribe Called Red show, to someone who has never seen you live?

It’s fun, it’s energizing. I play almost a hundred shows a year and I always get pumped up from it. And the visuals, on top of the music we have going on, it’s a comment. If people get what we’re saying, that’s great. But if people are there just to dance and enjoy the music that we’re making, that’s great too. Bear makes all our visuals and live VJ’s all our shows.

Photo from A Tribe Called Red's Facebook page.

Photo from A Tribe Called Red’s Facebook page.

You guys have enjoyed a lot of success the last few years. Have there been any challenges that you didn’t see coming?

The stress of the road really creeps up on you. You don’t really notice, and then you have some hard times on the road, and your foundation isn’t as solid as you thought it was.

Have there been any pleasant surprises?

Absolutely, the appreciation from the non-Indigenous, that was something that we never anticipated. It’s helped with our popularity and it’s helped with the conversations we’re trying to spark.

Why did that come as such a surprise?

What happened was we were making music for indigenous people that were out at our party, that was it. It was only for indigenous people, you know what I mean? Then Diplo blogged about it, and all of a sudden it blew up, and that’s where our popularity really stems from. That’s how we crossed over to the non-indigenous mainstream, if you will.

A Tribe Called Red with Buffy Sainte-Marie, photo from the band's Facebook page.

A Tribe Called Red with Buffy Sainte-Marie, photo from the band’s Facebook page.

Have you had the chance to meet or work with anyone who you consider a role model or inspiration, thanks to ATCR?

Everyone we work with, to be honest. But one that stands out is Buffy Sainte-Marie. Again, she’s been a hero to just about everybody. And she’s still doing it. She’s still being a hero to everybody. She’s such an amazing person. We got to hang out, and she’s everything you thought she’d be.

What brings you back to Ottawa, or makes you happy to come back?

Obviously my family, my wife and kids are here. But besides that, it’s my hometown, it’s where I grew up. All my friends live here, my sister lives here, it’s home. When you travel as much as we do, you realize how essential it is to have a homebase. I have a nice farm as well, which is nice and relaxing to come home to.

Lastly, is there any advice you’d like to give to a youth, Indigenous or non-Indigenous, who might want to pursue a career in music?

Just stick with it. It’s important to realize your goals. Hone your craft and put time into it. People will recognize it. As cheesy as that is, it’s the most poignant advice that I was given when I was growing up.

A Tribe Called Red plays the NAC Presents 5th Anniversary Party on Saturday, January 9th, 2016.  Advance tickets are sold out! A limited quantity of tickets will be available at the door (NAC Box Office) as of 8 p.m. for $20.