By Laura Beaulne-Steubing
A Tribe Called Red has always been political. The simple act of creating music as First Nations people and releasing it to the world, to the airwaves, to streaming services, and onto YouTube, to be played on dancefloors on unceded territories across the country, is political.
So is bringing Indigenous music and electronic music together to create “pow wow step”—taking two genres where one is arguably music of the colonizer, blending them and making space where Indigenous musicians had never been before.
We Are the Halluci Nation is the group’s biggest work yet, and their most political. Its anti-racist, anti-colonialist messages are immediate and clear and are intended for a much wider audience than the group’s last album Nation II Nation. That album, released in 2013, was in reaction to the Idle No More movement and leaned heavily on beats and samplings, and was a catalyst to ATCR’s rise to recognition beyond their monthly Electric Pow Wow dance parties in Ottawa and beyond our country’s borders.
Colonization, though, has played out around the world and We Are the Halluci Nation reflects that people everywhere are reclaiming cultures, waking up, and resisting. Now DJ NDN, Bear Witness, and 2oolman are creating songs for the dancefloor with incisive, powerful lyrics and slick hip hop beats on a grand and international scale.
The album opens with the voice of the John Trudell, a Native American poet, activist and musician who passed away from cancer in 2015. In the first track, from which the album takes its name, Trudell speaks steadily about a “tribe they cannot see,” the Halluci Nation. Loosely, the Halluci Nation includes anyone who sees how the world is set up, who sees systematic injustices and inequalities, and who works to break down these injustices. This concept grounds and inspires the rest of the album.
Track one to track 15 are buoyed by collaborations with artists who, presumably, are members of the Halluci Nation. ATCR enlisted a number of friends for the album including author Joseph Boyden, throat singer Tanya Tagaq, hip hop artist Shad, Sami singer Maxida Märak, Toronto-based Colombian musician Lido Pimienta, hip hop’s Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) and Northern Voice, a pow wow drum group from Quebec whose members sing in their traditional Atikamekw language.
Making music that’s so catchy and interesting and so easy to dance to is an incredibly important thing for ATCR to do. If we haven’t taken the time to think about the impact colonization has had on Indigenous cultures in Canada and around the world, bringing up those issues can feel uncomfortable. And that’s understandable, because challenging the ongoing effects of colonization means challenging yourself.
A number of the songs on We Are the Halluci Nation—with lyrics referencing the smallpox epidemic that wiped out cultures, about residential schools, the sixties scoop and cultural genocide—could be played in clubs and on the radio anywhere, and these are challenging messages that everyone needs to hear.
We Are the Halluci Nation is necessary listening for anyone, no matter what nation you call home. •