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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Tribe Called Red: When Music Meets Activism


Photo courtesy of Falling Tree Photography via Facebook.com

On March 18, the DJ trio “A Tribe Called Red” visited The Sinclair in Cambridge as part of their ongoing tour. They performed tracks from their new album “We Are The Halluci Nation.”

While these artists are still flying relatively under the radar for many music lovers in the Northeast, they have been an institution in the electro scene for several years now in their home country Canada and in western states of the US. Their unique sound can only be described as a  mix of indigenous pow wow, hip hop, electro, dubstep, and reggae. It has often been called “Electric Pow Wow” or “Pow Wow Step.”

The band’s members, DJ NDN, 2oolman, and Bear Witness, actively incorporate their Aboriginal roots in their music  by including recordings of traditional singing or drumming. However, while they are not the only popular indigenous artists out there, they have managed to appeal to a larger mainstream audience in North America and Europe.

Their performance right here in Cambridge has shown that it is possible for Indigenous or other non-white artists to be proud and inclusive of one’s heritage and at the same time see success. Massachusetts has never been a state where issues of indigenous people are largely discussed in the media or in the political scene. As a state whose population is mostly white and whose history is tied closely with the beginnings of the United States, Massachusetts simply don’t offer the platform to Native Americans here that they might have in other states or Canadian provinces and territories.

However, on this evening The Sinclair was packed with fans of the band, which in this case were mostly white Americans. The performance, in reflection of most of ATCR’s music, was high energy. Many people danced themselves into a half-awake, half-trance status.

It was not only the beats that spoke to the people and the lyrics that touched on indigenous issues, but also the visuals that ultimately showed what their art is all about: communicating socially conscious messages. In the clip of cultural appropriation, whitewashing in Hollywood, and authentic footage of actual Indigenous people shown during the performance, it became evident that through their music ATCR wants to dig deep into North America’s history and the unfair treatment that Indigenous people have experience over centuries.

Issues such as colonialism and racism are talked about by voices of actual Indigenous people. This also sends another clear message to the audience: Indigenous people want to define themselves instead of being labelled by white people or anyone else. That is why the group has also asked non-Aboriginal fans not to wear warpaint or Indigenous headdresses during their concerts.

Outside of clubs and concert venues, the Ottawa-based group is active in advocating for the rights of First Nation tribes. For some time now, they have been supporting the “Idle No More” protest movement and expressed their solidarity with the Standing Rock protests in the US against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

However, their activism also goes much further than just advocating for the rights of Aboriginal people. In interviews, they also offer their support for other groups of society, such as African Americans, women, and LGBTQ people. During their performance at The Sinclair, member DJ NDN sported a hat with the lettering “QPOC” (Queer Person of Color). Furthermore, the group also does not include music by artists who have been racist or misogynist in the past. Only last year, the group decided not to use Chris Brown’s music for their tracks because of his history of violence against women.

All of these words and actions have contributed to creating a feeling of safety during their performances. Everyone is welcome and everyone’s culture should be respected—And that is something that is desperately needed in these current times.