The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #232: Electric Pow Wow Drum by Halluci-Nation (formerly, A Tribe Called Red) (KTOM)

This list of songs is inspired by lists published by radio station KEXP-FM from Seattle in 2010, as well as the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part I will faithfully countdown from their lists, starting at Song #500 and going until I reach Song #1. When you see the song title listed as something like: Song #XXX (KEXP)….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. Song XXX (RS) means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: Song #xxx (KTOM), it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In any case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, just so everyone is aware, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Here is the story behind today’s song. Enjoy.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #232: Electric Pow Wow Drum by The Halluci Nation (formerly, A Tribe Called Red).

***NOTE: This post was originally written on September 30, 2021. In Canada, Sept. 30th was declared as being the first ever day of “National Truth and Recognition. This is a day of reflection enacted by the Federal Government in order to help citizens of Canada come to terms with our colonial past and how it affected Indigenous Peoples who were already here when Canada first came to be “settled”, as it were, by Europeans.

On this first day of National Truth and Reconciliation, I felt it was important and appropriate to pause the regular music countdown and give some space to some of the wonderful Indigenous musicians who speak their truth to the world through their music and their lyrics and through the political act of representing their culture. So today, please allow me to introduce you to one of the most important and successful Indigenous music acts around…The Halluci Nation (formerly known as A Tribe Called Red).

Fifteen years ago in Ottawa, there was a nightclub called, “Babylon”, that hosted cultural theme nights dedicated to playing electronic dance music from various countries such as Korea or India. At these events, International students studying at university, as well as, diplomats and embassy officials and their families would all show up at the club and dance the night away as they celebrated their culture in a setting far from their actual homeland. Working the door as a bouncer was a man named Ian Campeau or “DJ NDN” (which was his stage name). Campeau watched the positive energy that came from these cultural nights and how it fuelled a sense of pride within these cultural communities in Ottawa and he wondered if the same would hold true for Indigenous youth and their families. So Campeau, along with Tim “2oolman” Hill (a Mohawk from Six Nations in Grand River) and Ethan “Bear Witness” Thomas (Cayuga First Nation) formed an electronic dance group called, A Tribe Called Red.

A Tribe Called Red was named after the US Hip Hop group, A Tribe Called Quest as a sign of respect for the social activism that group employed through their lyrics dedicated to the promotion of Black culture in America. In Ottawa, the mere act of holding a cultural celebration of Indigenous culture in the heart of Canada’s capital city was seen as very political. In a society constructed on a foundation of colonialism, to stand up and proclaim that Indigenous culture is worthy of celebration, was a source of empowerment to Indigenous peoples (especially, to Indigenous youth), unlike anything that had been seen before. That such a celebration was taking place in a night club, to the pulsating beat of some of the coolest, most culturally-specific and appropriate music just made the cache of A Tribe Called Red so much the better.

A Tribe Called Red have released three albums to date. Each album has ended up being nominated for numerous awards and honours such as being shortlisted for the “Polaris Prize”, as well as, garnering multiple Juno Music Awards, too. Even an international organization such as “The Washington Post” proclaimed A Tribe Called Red’s self-titled debut album to have been one of the top ten albums in the world the year it was released. From that debut album comes today’s song entitled, “Electric Pow Wow Drum”. The title of this song is filled with cultural significance for Indigenous Peoples. For example, as you may know, a Pow Wow is a coming together of all members of particular First Nation in order to honour their past, to celebrate and honour their present and to move forward into the future in a unified fashion. Pow Wows are happy occasions and speak to the communal societal structure that forms the backbone of all Indigenous Nations. So, for A Tribe Called Red to title their debut release, “Electric Pow Wow Drum” spoke respectfully about a very significant part of Indigenous culture…..the Pow Wow.

Secondly, in Indigenous cultures, a drum is more than just a musical instrument. A drum, when played, signifies a heart beat and, often, it is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. So, again, in their song title, A Tribe Called Red honoured an important part of their culture.

Finally, the word “Electric” is important because that was how A Tribe Called Red was going to deliver their music. They sought to marry centuries-old traditions of Indigenous Peoples with the modern beats of electronic dance music. This marriage has been very well-received. Indigenous youth (who make up the bulk of those who attend dance shows in the clubs where A Tribe Called Red play) felt seen for the first time in their lives. To do that for an entire generation of children is a gift given that can help change the future. To feel seen is to have one’s existence acknowledged. It is difficult to stand up proudly when everywhere you look, you fail to see yourself or your culture. To be invisible is to not matter. A Tribe Called Red shone the brightest of spotlights on their own culture and empowered a generation of Indigenous youth to believe themselves beautiful and powerful and worthy of love and dignity and respect.

Recently, A Tribe Called Red officially changed the name of their group to The Halluci Nation. This term comes from an Indigenous activist from the US called John Trudell. At one time in the 1970s, Trudell was one of the leaders of an activist movement called, A.I.M. or the “American Indian Movement”. Trudell, along with singer Buffy St. Marie, helped to organize many rallies, sit-ins and so on in an effort to force US Government officials to acknowledge the terms of many of the Treaties that they were signatories to. After Trudell’s family was murdered while he was away at a demonstration, he gave up his leadership of “A.I.M.” and sought to affect change through music and poetry. One of his quotes helped inspire Hill and Thomas as they moved forward with their plans for A Tribe Called Red.

“We’re not Indians and we’re not Native Americans. We’re older than both concepts. We’re the people. We’re human beings”

– John Trudell

Mr. Trudell died in 2020. In his honour, A Tribe Called Red changed their name to The Halluci Nation based on a poem in which Trudell used this term. More than anything, Hill and Thomas saw a way, via music, to bring Indigenous culture into the light, as it were. In doing so, they have sought to validate the intrinsic worth of an entire Peoples. There is much to celebrate in Indigenous culture. Music and dance and drumming and singing has always been at the core of Indigenous life and, thanks to The Halluci Nation, it is becoming an open door for the rest of us, as “settlers” or “Non-Indigenous people”, to walk through so we, too, can learn and grow as the humans we all are. To 2oolman and Bear Witness…Miigwetch.

Here is “Electric Pow Wow Drum” from The Halluci Nation. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Electric PowWow Drum” by The Hallucinations Nation, can be found here.

The link to the official website of The Hallucinations Nation, can be found here.