A Tribe Called Red, Image by Falling Tree Photography
Ian Campeau from A Tribe Called Red is telling me about the bread he bakes for his family and the eggplant, corn, and habanero peppers growing in his garden. Speaking to me over the phone from his home in Perth, ON, a small town about an hour from Ottawa, Campeau’s voice expresses genuine glee and wonderment about being able to grow his own food and eat it. He is extremely proud of what he has grown; he tells me the salsa he makes is his favourite. Campeau, also known as DJ NDN, is one-third of the Canadian electronic hip-hop outfit along with Tim “2oolman” Hill and Bear Witness. The trio, whose third record We Are the Halluci Nation drops Sept. 16, merges the group's signature electronic, dance music and hip-hop with traditional native components, such as pow wow, on their eclectic and charged records, which also include political components.The album’s title comes from native activist and poet John Trudell, initially famous for instigating a sit-in at Alcatraz in the late ‘60s. Trudell, who passed away in December of last year, appears on an otherwise stacked record with a number of national and international artists as collaborators.
“Sila", their latest track from the new album, features Polaris Prize winner and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Campeau says that Tagaq is a dear friend of the group and was an obvious fit for the record. “Her and I, we’ve helped each other through personal things. We relate: talking about touring and stuff like that, our problems with touring and whatnot. She’s an incredible friend,” says Campeau. Tagaq’s sounds are incredible paired up with ATCR’s production. With pulsating beats underneath, Tagaq is a sonically mesmerizing—hearing her growling in a way that makes your body want to constantly move. Tagaq says of the track, “‘Sila’ is what you breathe. A Tribe Called Red has been breaking down doors and building new boundaries for years. They are driving a monster truck of music and they let me on for a ride. Qujannamik!”
Listen to “Sila” below and read our interview with Campeau where he talks about the song, John Trudell's contribution to We Are the Halluci Nation, and how baking bread is lifesaving:
Noisey: What does “Sila” mean in reference to the context of this track?
Ian Campeau: It’s the Inuk word for “air,” “atmosphere,” like things around you. It’s a word that means a lot of stuff. It was in reference to air. On the tracklisting, there’s another song by Maxida Marack that’s called “ Eanan ” and that means earth or dirt. What we tried to do was earth and sky but in the languages Inuit and Sami. We asked what “sky” was and Tanya was like it’s “ sila ” but it kind of means atmosphere, what’s around you. That’s the best thing you could say for sky.
How did you get Tanya Tagaq to appear on the track?
We made a few beats and she recorded over all of them. She just put headphones on and did her thing over all of them. Then we ended up not using the track we sent her for it. So we had this acapella of her over this other beat. We ended up building the “Sila” track over what she had sent us. It was better, we felt, because we were able to riff off of her instead of her riffing off of us.
You built the beat for your song based on the sounds she was producing?
What we sent her and she recorded over is not the same beat at all. We built the beat around what she sent us.
The way that I understand throat singing is that it’s a bit more competitive, where two girls are facing each other, making these sounds off the other. What it feels like to me on this track is that she built something sonically from her and you built off of that?
That’s a really cool way to look at it. That’s not the way we intended it. I might use that for other interviews [laughs.] But it was totally like that; totally tagging off of each other like that. It was a lot of fun to produce.
Does having “air” or “sky” suggest something thematically that you’re trying to express on this record?
From the John Trudell track, and the Halluci Nation seal, it says our DNA is of earth and sky. It’s in reference to where the Hallucin Nation and the John Trudell track. Do you know about John Trudell? He famously occupied Alcatraz in 1968 as an indigenous person. There was an old law in the U.S that unused federal land was legally occupied by Indians. That led to the American Indian movement. He left it when it got weird. He became an extremely well-known recording artist; he toured with Melissa Etheridge in the ‘90s. He was in movies, he was in Thunderheart with Val Kilmer. He was a hero of mine. His poems and his understanding of life was next level.
We met [Trudell] in Santa Fe and he asked if it was okay if he sent us some stuff. We’re like yeah absolutely, send us anything. He was always on our list of who do you want to collaborate with. He is just this incredible human being. He had us over at his house just before we toured Australia and gave us a ton of knowledge and heavy, heavy teachings.
Do you think you function that way similarly for another generation of kids?
I’m trying to be a reference in pop culture or role model, if you will, that I didn’t have growing up. So, having that reference of indigenous pop culture by doing our culture I think is really important and to be proud of our culture. To show that culture isn’t necessarily this one stagnant thing. It’s hand grown and can be something. Just because we’re electronic music and using computers to make music doesn’t make the song any less culturally significant. We get a lot of comments when we write music that doesn’t have pow wow in it. “We like it better when you have that native music in it.” Like, well, if it doesn’t have pow wow in it, we made so it’s still native music.
That’s such a backhanded compliment.
I can’t wait until I’m just an artist and not a native artist. I don’t know when that’s going to be. It’s weird when we get pigeonholed like that. We have to make pow wow samples in all our music or it’s not the same music, which is hilarious to me.
You guys are ramping up for the release of your third album, We Are the Halluci Nation. Are you prepping for tour? Do you partake in any self-care elements beforehand?
Yeah, we had a lot of time off. It’s been really nice. So the self-care has been essential; being home with my wife, hanging out, gardening with her, taking care of the kids, the chickens. It makes sense. It really helps make sense of what humanity is about. Growing your own food. This is how people lived up until maybe 60 years ago. Everybody grew as much of their own food as possible and went and bought big bags of grain to make their own bread. It’s weird how much we rely on convenience.
Do you find baking your own bread soothing? There’s a cool rhythm in making the food that you’ll eat.
For me, it’s life-saving. Traveling so much and leaving home, I don’t know, I went through a lot of hard times. I lost a friend. A lot of weird stuff happened recently. I got really bad anxiety and depression and stuff around touring. It usually happens a few days before touring and a few days when I come home. It’s adjusting. But baking bread really helps me get back into the rhythm. And it’s been incredible.
Sarah MacDonald has never baked a loaf of bread. Follow her on Twitter.