Different tribe, different beat

A Tribe Called Red’s “powwow-step” breaks ground in creating a new image for native peoples.

Blake Apgar

There is nothing more important for A Tribe Called Red than giving their heritage a shout-out.

With a sometimes overwhelming amount of EDM and dub step out there today, this DJ crew is anything but typical.

The Ottawa-based group is comprised of Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau of the Nipissing Ojibway Nation; Dan “DJ Shub” General;  and DJ Bear Witness of the Cayuga of the Six Nations.

Club scene veterans Campeau and Witness broke out in 2007, when they started hosting what they called “electric powwows.” The parties were an instant success and continued to sell out for two years before General joined the group.

The electric powwow was based on the idea of combining traditional tribal music with EDM. The trailblazing genre of music that came out of it is known as powwow-step.

“What’s really exciting about what we’ve created with this group is a soundtrack,” Witness said.

A Tribe Called Red released their debut self-titled album in 2012, and it was nominated for the Canadian Polaris Music Prize.

The opening seconds of the first track, “Electric Pow Wow Drum,” leads listeners to believe they’re in for an everyday club mash-up until the bottom gives way to pulsating beats of traditional drums and chants. The beats radiate with intensity as each bass drop hits the listener like a tidal wave, overwhelming them with the screams of tribal performers. The experience is both startling and beautiful.

Tracks like “Munchi-Shottas” offer hints of reggae and electronic beats more typical of the club experience. Each track bleeds into the next, leading listeners to experience the album as a whole instead of as individual songs.

The group’s sophomore release, 2013’s “Nation II Nation,” went further. Tracks like “Electric Intertribal” slow down the hard-hitting nature of their previous release. Where the self-titled album had discernible lines between EDM and powwow, “Nation II Nation” intertwines the two more seamlessly.

Again, the album was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize.

A Tribe Called Red aims to approach some of the challenges facing the urban indigenous population.  

 “We’re coming to a time now where our community has become very strong over a short period of time, and we’re starting to represent ourselves and be able to take control of our image. … It’s an exciting time,” Witness said.

A Tribe Called Red says they feel no obligation to educate the public. Instead, they’re taking control of their own image.

In pictures, they smile and goof around to break down the stereotype of indigenous stoicism and nobleness.

Last year, they took to Twitter and told fans that sporting headdresses and war paint at their concerts can be offensive.

“If you don’t know the first thing about what we’re trying to represent, you probably should open a book,” Witness said.


What:  A Tribe Called Red
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Triple Rock Social Club, 629 S. Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Cost: $12-14 Door
Age: 18+