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Indigenous talent in the music industry is creating a ‘beautiful resistance’

Unreserved51:485 rising musicians share their songs and success

The music industry is bursting with Indigenous talent spanning across genres and telling their own stories in their own way.

“The coolest music … with the best lyrics and messages is coming from our communities because we actually have something to say,” Raven Kanatakta told Unreserved hosted by Rosanna Deerchild.

Digging Roots is a blues/folk/soul duo with Kanatakta and his wife Shoshona Kish. They won Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year at this year’s Juno Awards for their fourth studio album, Zhawenim.

Jayli Wolf standing facing forward to the camera
Jayli Wolf is a member of Saulteau First Nations, BC Her upcoming album, God is an Endless Mirror, will explore spirituality while blending sounds of nature and putting poetry to music. (Hayden Wolf)

Indigenous artists are making so much great new music today that it can almost be too much to keep up with, said singer-songwriter Jayli Wolf.

“We went from hardly having any of our experiences reflected in music to having so many beautiful stories being told and being shared,” she said.

Kanatakta said that as Indigenous people, when our drumming, languages ​​and even traditional foods were banned by colonizers, we started creating new traditions of our own.

Traditions like Bannock emerged, but new types of music flourished, blending Indigenous sounds with other genres such as reggae and blues.

“There’s a beautiful resistance, and not resistance like I want to fight. It’s resistance that I want to make love,” said Kanatakta.

He continued there’s a lot of lyrics in Indigenous music about unity, the future and the difficult histories that Indigenous people have experienced, but when that’s combined it makes for music that is alive.

Sharing stories and working through trauma

Rising Oji-Cree star Aysanabee also got to shine on Canada’s Juno stage this year.

His debut album Watin is named after his grandfather, who he had many long conversations with learning about his life, including his time spent in residential school.

“A huge worry on my mind when putting the album out was whether or not the album would retrigger residential school survivors,” said Aysanabee, who is from Sandy Lake First Nation.

WATCH: Aysanabee performing at the 2023 Juno Awards

Aysanabee performs ‘We Were Here’ with Northern Cree | 2023 Juno Awards

Aysanabee performs ‘We Were Here’ with Northern Cree at the 2023 Juno Awards

He was reassured by people who had reached out and told him it was empowering to hear their stories told by their people, and not by outsiders.

Aysanabee said that some of the best feedback he received on the album actually came from residential school survivors.

He called it “probably some of the greatest feedback I’ve ever received.”

Aysanabee’s grandfather even told him that after listening to the album, he was able to move on, and move forward, with his own life as well.

“For my grandfather to take something as profound out of the project as well, I was really happy that this album was also having an impact on his life,” he said.

A headshot of Aysanabee in a white t-shirt with colorful pain strokes on his shirt and face.
Aysanabee’s debut album, Watin, is named after his grandfather, and features both their voices. (Jen Squires)

For Haida/Cree rocker Kristi Lane Sinclair, writing and creating music has been like therapy.

Her newest album Super Blood Wolf Moon shares her personal journey as a survivor of domestic violence and PTSD. But more than that, it is a journey of reclamation, healing and ultimately, the power of women who rise above it all.

“There’s no tax bracket, there’s no age bracket, a lot of women go through this and it ain’t what you see on Law and Order,” she said.

Head shot of Kristi Lane Sinclair wearing a straw hat and face paint with colorful braided hair.
Kristi Lane Sinclair’s latest album Super Blood Wolf Moon is available now. (Francesca Ludikar)

Sinclair said that her psychiatrist said he wished he could prescribe an album for all of his patients — because in her creation of Super Blood Wolf Moon, she was able to face her trauma.

“I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do,” she said. “But, I know when I was going through it I was looking for music, [but] I couldn’t find it.”

Slow down

Zoon’s new album is titled Bekka Ma’iinganwhich in Ojibway translates to “slow down wolf.”

Zoon is a musical project fronted by Daniel Monkman, an Anishnaabe artist and member of Broken Head Ojibway Nation who uses their/them pronouns.

Monkman, like many others, was forced to slow down in 2020, thanks to COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns across the country.

Close up head shot of Daniel Monkman subtly lit in black and white
Daniel Monkman, also known as Zoon, has recently released their sophomore album, Bekka Ma’iingan. (Vanessa Heins)

Monkman said it didn’t happen to them how important slowing down was for them as they lost their father before the pandemic began and had also lost a close friend to an overdose right before .

“Before the pandemic I was grinding just like everyone else, just making enough to pay rent and feed myself,” they said.

“I never really got to grieve my dad’s death and even my friend,” they said.

Monkman said slowing down was an important part of his creative process, as it gave him time to reflect on where they had come from in his own life and the struggles they faced.

The new album explores the grief of losing loved ones, but it’s also a celebration of their lives.

WATCH: Jayli Wolf’s music video for Holding On

Jayli Wolf, who is a member of Saulteau First Nations, BC, has also been taking time to slow down and enjoy life a little more. Her music has been a way to reconnect with her Anishnaabe identity and work through the trauma she experienced being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness — a religion she later left.

Now Wolf’s upcoming album, God is an Endless Mirroris an exploration of a spirituality where she is experimenting with different sound elements and putting her poetry to music.

“It’s been such a change and introducing a lot of organic sounds into the music and things that have been inspiring me day-to-day for the last couple months,” he said.

“I’m here to love and to put more love into this world.”