Ian Campeau will never forget the first Electric Pow Wow night. It was 2008 and he and fellow aboriginal DJ Bear Witness had the idea to host a club event in Ottawa similar to ones held for the Korean and East Indian communities.
“We wanted to throw a party that was culturally specific to the First Nations people,” recalls Campeau, aka DJ NDN. “We started adding pow wow vocal and drumming samples to electronic dance music and people went crazy. It was obvious this was a big thing was missing in the community.”
Campeau and Bear Witness then teamed up with Dan General, aka DJ Shub, to form A Tribe Called Red and their Electric Pow Wow nights became even bigger events. Initially, their music was all mashups, mixes of styles ranging from hip-hop and house to dance hall and dubstep. But with “Electric Pow Wow Drum,” the trio created an original anthem.
“Right off the bat, it seemed like we’d hit a pretty big home run,” recalls Campeau. “(U.S. DJ and tastemaker) Diplo heard the track, loved it and started blogging about it on his Mad Decent blog. Within days of that, we were getting tweets from MTV.”
The momentum kept building. A Tribe Called Red’s self-titled debut album became a candidate for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize and was included in The Washington Post’s Top 10 albums of the year. The trio toured across North America and Europe, thrilling audiences in Edinburgh and at the World Music Expo in Greece.
With its also Polaris-nominated followup album, Nation II Nation, A Tribe Called Red has only seen its popularity grow, performing at major events like Detroit’s electronic music festival and the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Next up, the group is making an album for Pirates Blend, the label owned by Bedouin Soundclash’s Jay Malinowski, Eon Sinclair, Sekou Lumumba and their manager Dave Guenette.
Campeau says he and his bandmates are happy to be the face of the aboriginal urban youth experience. “As First Nations people, we’ve always be seen as something from the past. With this modern twist, it’s showing that we’re still here. That’s the message of our music.”
- Campeau joined a First Nations drum group at the age of 10 and the drummer of Montreal punk band the Ripchordz in his 20s.
- General is a two-time Canadian winner of the DMC Championship, the annual DJ competition hosted by Disco Mix Club.
- Bear Witness doubles as the crew’s visual artist and creates videos that take racist portrayals of indigenous North Americans and reworks them into social commentary.
Words & Music Fall 2013