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A Tribe Called Red on soundtracks, Polaris and their genre

The Ottawa trio's "electric pow wow" is featured in the upcoming Into the Mind



Sure, those shots of mountaintops caked in snow and skiers digging their crampons into ice then soaring down untouched terrain gets your little heart racing.

But it's the blast of beats and powerful pow wow music that really brings the teaser for Sherpas Cinema's forthcoming Into the Mind together.

The track, "Electric Pow Wow Drum," comes courtesy of Ottawa DJ/producer trio A Tribe Called Red who have pioneered a new genre of electronic music, blending traditional pow wow chants with dubstep. Their music is also prominently featured in the ski film, says Sherpas producer Malcolm Sangster. "They're great," he says. "There's a couple of bands we work with, one of them being A Tribe Called Red. They share their song stems with us, send us the individual tracks for drum, bass and chants and we worked on that with our musical composer. I think people are really going to enjoy it."

Pique caught up with Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau just as the group was rehearsing a track from their Polaris Prize shortlisted album Nation II Nation at the award gala in Toronto on Monday to talk about the film, politics and combatting racism.

Pique: One of your songs has been licensed for Into the Mind. Do you think there's anything about your music that lends itself to those kinds of images? What did you think when you saw the trailer?

Ian Campeau: Oh the trailer was so dope. It's incredible. The production is what really struck me. It was so visually gorgeous. It was pretty powerful... The day after we saw the trailer for the first time it had like (thousands) of views.

Pique: Where did the idea to pair electronic music and traditional pow wow music come from in the first place?

IC: It all came out of a party. Bear (Witness) and I wanted to throw a party called The Electric Pow Wow in Ottawa. We noticed there were culturally specific parties happening all over the city — like Jamaican parties, Korean parties, South Asian parties and that sort of thing. We just wanted to have one for the First Nations population in Ottawa... It ended up being a huge success. Growing up in the community I thought I'd know a whole bunch of people there, but I didn't know anybody. It turned out they were all students from very rural, Northern Ontario and Northern Quebec reserves who were coming to Ottawa for school. They never felt comfortable going out — it was a big culture shock going from a small community that's all your family to a city where you don't really know anybody. This created a safe space where they felt comfortable coming out and having a good time. We got told right away we needed to keep doing these. From that we just started playing music sampling pow wow... and toying with the idea of mashing it up with dubstep. That's when we started producing it.

Pique: The music offers something any electronic music fan can enjoy, but you also seem very politically aware. How do you balance that political element with becoming popular outside of one community?

IC: Being First Nations in Canada you can't not be political. The fact that we just wanted to throw a party ended up being a real political statement. We just want to throw a party like anyone else, but that's a political statement all of a sudden. We don't want our culture being cheapened. So when people show up in red face we ask them to stop. It's not about choosing to be political. We have somewhat of a soapbox now with Twitter followers that we're able to have a voice. We're able to say, 'Listen, it's not cool to wear headdresses at concerts. Please don't do it for us specifically because that's racist.' We're able to talk like that, so it's good. It's opening a lot of dialogue.