ATCR: excellent beats and great politics

by Chris Morin

A Tribe Called Red
The Exchange
Tuesday 18

When A Tribe Called Red burst forth from Ottawa with an eclectic mix of powwow beats and stomping dance music, they had no idea they’d become part of Canada’s resurgent civil rights movement.

“The first time we really realized we were doing something was after “Electric Pow Wow” came out [in 2012] and someone had sent us a protest video, and our music was the background for it,” says Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau. “After that, it was pretty instantaneous how our music became politicized and went beyond the dance music that we wanted to make.

“What we want to do with A Tribe Called Red is to start those conversations between Native and non-Native people here in Canada,” he continues. “Our music means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. People come to our shows and watch what we’re showing them, and I think they get an understanding of what we’re trying to put across.”

Formed in 2008, A Tribe Called Red inadvertently sparked a new sub-genre of music called “powwow step” which fused traditional music with hip-hop, dancehall and electronica. The group’s albums have been given a collective thumbs-up from music critics and fans, including a nomination for the Polaris Prize — while their latest album, 2013’s Nation II Nation, won Best Album at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards.

Along the way, they’ve started a lot of conversations about both politics and music — and Campeau says they’re going to keep pushing the envelope.

“We’re working on a collaborative album right now, working with a lot of contemporary artists as opposed to a lot of more traditional powwow artists,” he says.

“We’re [also] moving towards more of an actual live show, rather than us just DJing live. I mean, there’s certainly an element of performance [currently] — we aren’t just pressing play and dancing around; we’re mixing the songs together. But with the new album I think we’re going to incorporate live drumming and building the beat that way, rather than just having the tracks made.

“It’s definitely going to change our live performances.”


A Tribe Called Red plays the Exchange on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Doors at 7:30, show at 8:00. For more information visit or