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Centretown News Online
Sunday, April 20, 2014
 
Traditional powwows up the ante, drop the bass
Friday, 07 December 2012
By Natalie Berchem
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Think powwow. Think music and dancing and drumming but leave the stereotypes behind. Think electronic beats and flashing lights and a throbbing bass underscoring it all.

This is the scene once a month at Babylon nightclub’s Electric Pow Wow, featuring local group A Tribe Called Red and its musical creation, Pow Wow Step.

“Aboriginal artists are continually surprising you and creating something else that you don’t expect,” says Allan Ryan, chair of the New Sun Conference for Aboriginal Arts.

The Electric Pow Wow showcases both aboriginal talent and Native urban culture, according to ATCR’s blog. Cle-Alls, a Skidegate Haida and member of the Task Force on Aboriginal Affairs at Carleton University, says aboriginal art is poorly represented in a place that’s sitting on Algonquin First Nation land.

He says both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities lose out when the art is absent.

“It’s very affirming for the Aboriginal people, it makes them feel welcome,” he says of displaying aboriginal art. “It’s also very educational for those who are not aboriginal, in a very positive way.”

Art can break down barriers between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, says Ryan. And if the biggest realization is that Aboriginal people are more like you than not, well, it’s a starting point.

Music and dance play a huge role in aboriginal cultures, says Matilda Pierro, of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre.

As a Wasa-Nabin program worker, Pierro teaches Aboriginal teenagers about the different aspects of their cultures. While she does not teach the monthly drumming program, she highlights its importance across different aboriginal cultures. It is a heartbeat that connects people, she says.

First Nations, Metis and Inuit share this belief. Its origins are a mystery that most don’t care to solve. Every culture had a drum, Cle-Alls says; the ones that didn’t would use hollow logs or boxes. But every culture had a beat.

That cultural beat is something some aboriginal youth are still struggling to find.

“I have many youth who have never known about their culture,” Pierro says. “They know they’re Aboriginal, but they don’t know their background.”

They grow up in the city, she says, with no ties to the reserves or aboriginal communities. And the mainstream media doesn’t give them many people to look up to, says Ryan.

“They don’t see themselves reflected back in mainstream culture,” he says. “So where are the role models?”

But traditional methods are only one way of learning a culture. Old ways can be combined with new trends.

“Modern life changes and a lot of things have happened,” Pierro says.

Now aboriginal people can hear their music on the radio as well as at powwows, and the youth can connect to the new beats.

The deep bass of electronic styles like dubstep – and ATCR’s Pow Wow Step – can play a similar role to the drum, says Cle-Alls. It can be a beat for the next generation.

Some don’t like the idea of blending modern and traditional styles, says Ryan. But they are not the majority.

“There’s a way of taking from the mainstream and making it meaningful,” says Ryan. “It is not diluting traditional culture.”

The Haida people once navigated oceans using nothing but currents and paddles, says Cle-Alls. Then a boat showed up with sails. Suddenly, a lot of Haida boats also had sails on them.

“Our culture has grown with the environment around us, and that’s not a bad thing if we hold true to the basic beliefs of our culture,” he says. “We can add a sail here and there and cross the divide. A Tribe Called Red can use this new way to make a heartbeat.”

Last Updated ( Friday, 25 January 2013 )
 
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