The Canadian Indigenous music scene is home to sounds and styles that encompass all genres. In celebration of National Indigenous History Month we are highlighting a few of the talented musicians whose work celebrates Indigenous cultures. Their music and vocals entertain but also educate and challenge us by focusing attention on crucial issues.
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Her first album – It’s My Way – took Sainte-Marie to the top of the hit lists in 1964. By the late 1970s she was blending Indigenous and pop music Sainte-Marie called “powwow rock”. Her music celebrates Indigenous culture and amplifies her work in education and social activism. Music recordings of Buffy Sainte-Marie in our collections. Running for the drum was the Juno award winning album in 2008 (her 14th album!). Have a look at this video featuring Buffy Sainte-Marie & Tanya Tagaq – both Polaris Prize winners. “You Got To Run (Spirit Of The Wind)”
Willie Dunn – Performing at folk festivals in the 1960s and 70s his compositions gave an eloquent voice to Indigenous cultures and concerns. His most popular song I Pity the Country, is a devastating portrait of colonialism and the price paid by Indigenous peoples. In 1968 with the release of the film The Ballad of Crowfoot Dunn became the first Indigenous director at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). He went on to direct two more NFB films: These Are My People and The Other Side of the Ledger: An Indian View of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Robbie Robertson – Robertson was first exposed to live music at Six Nations Reservation, his mother’s childhood home. One of the premier songwriters of the rock era he was on the Rolling Stone’s list of the greatest guitarists of all time! These are a few of his albums: Robbie Robertson 1987, Storyville 1991 and film soundtrack: Music for the Native Americans 1994.
Tom Jackson – In the 1960s and 1970s, Jackson’s rich baritone entertained audiences at coffee houses and festivals across Canada. He used his music for social activism; bringing attention to hunger, poverty and mental health. A well-known philanthropist, Jackson’s annual Huron Carole concerts toured from coast to coast to coast raising money for various causes.
Susan Aglukark – Her blend of Inuit folk music, country and pop songwriting has made her a major recording star. This Child (1995) was an international hit – a first for an Inuk performer. She believes deeply in the effectiveness of the arts in promoting and protecting Indigenous cultures. Music recordings by Susan Alukark in our collections.
Leela Gilday – Gilday grew up in Yellowknife and earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Alberta. Her compositions speak of her love of the North and the resilience of those who call it home. Her numerous albums blend Dene traditions and language with contemporary western pop and blues. Music recordings by Leela Gilday in our collections.
Tanya Tagaq – Tagaq’s innovative vocal style is a blend of Inuit throat singing (traditionally done as a duet) with electronic, classical, punk and rock music genres. Her collaborations and work with diverse musicians and genres have given her unique musical style international recognition. Tagaq is also an artist, and author (Fiction: Split Tooth). Music recordings by Tanya Tagaq in our collections.
Indigenous musicians to watch for in 2022:
- Jeremy Dutcher – Dutcher trained as an opera tenor, and later began using traditional songs and singing styles from his Wolastoq culture. His work transcribing Wolastoq songs from 1907 wax cylinders inspired him to use the voices of his ancestors for his debut album. Dutcher’s style of music is a fusion of classical and Indigenous influenced music and language creating a very moving and original sound. Music recordings featuring Jeremy Dutcher.
- Iskwē – Her clear and mournful vocals express grief and injustice, over rich instrumentals. She is a talented musician, songwriter, and artist. We love the stop-motion music video for “Little Star”
- Don Amero – His country music abounds with sincerity and warmth. Amero dedicates a portion of his boundless performance energy to youth mentorship and advocacy work. YouTube video of his new single: You Can’t Always Be 21
- Snotty Nose Rez Kids – A Hip-hop group from the Haisla Nation in BC. Their musical style can be described as Indigenous rap, with high-energy sound and lyrics that address themes relating to the Indigenous experience. YouTube video of their new single: ’Where They At’
This list of artists to watch for (or to listen to again) is a small sample of Indigenous musicians making their mark on the Canadian music scene.
How to find more of this music?
- The library subscribes to many streaming databases and has an extensive collection of CDs and LP vinyl
- Alexander Street database Smithsonian Global Sound has a collection of streaming music anthologies from powwow music to ceremonial and traditional songs.
- Doing research for this article, I came across a terrific streaming platform: Nikamowin. You can listen to curated playlists, or search for indigenous musicians by region, genre or band! It even features a bilingual Fr/En interface!
- Spotify Playlist to add to your music rotation! The Sound of Canadian Indigenous