Three New Films Expose Native Music History

By Brian Wright-McLeod, 2018
- News From Indian Country -

Rumble: Indians Who Rocked the World [Smithsonian/Rezolution Pictures]

Perhaps the first in depth overview of Native presence in and influence on popular music in America that influenced the world, is finely detailed through story, song and image. Full of archival photos and footage, interviews with family members, associates, and writers on Native music, Rumble manages to reveal this little known history.

Featured artists include Mildred Bailey, Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Jimi Hendrix, Pura Fe, Stevie Salas (the film’s executive producer), Redbone, Charley Patton, Monk Beaudreax (the Wild Tchoupitoulas), Taboo (Black Eyed Peas), John Trudell, Randy Castillo (Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue), author John Troutman and others.

One glaring omission was the exclusion of the author of The Encyclopedia of Native Music – the book that was the basis for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian exhibit “Up Where We Belong,” from where the film was derived.

The focus is purely American and belabors Black roots in popular music to the point of exhaustion thus deviating from other cultures that were just as important. For example, the Metis people of Western Canada, who extend predominantly from Cree and French/Scottish roots, and developed their own distinct language with a specific cultural, geographical, and musical heritage.

An award-winner at the Sundance Film Festival Story Tellers Award in 2017, Rumble went on to win the TIFF/Rogers Award for Best Canadian Documentary and Hot Docs Audience Award (Toronto, Canada).

Rumble provides an important overview of a music history that is only just beginning to be understood and told. The doc has since been released to Netflix and other platforms with a forthcoming DVD version to be released later this year.

There is no official soundtrack available, and due to clearance issues, it is doubtful that there will be one. Yet, the three-CD project The Soundtrack of a People (produced by Brian Wright-McLeod with EMI Music Canada) includes the majority of artists featured in the film.

When They Awake [independent]

Produced and directed by Pedro Marcellino and Hermon Farahi, When They Awake celebrates a cross-country overview of current Native music in Canada.

Following a year of filming a variety of artists from traditional drummers of Iqaluit to the club scenes of Vancouver, British Columbia and Toronto, Ontario, the filmmakers have amassed a sweeping documentation of an incredible movement.

Featuring Tanya Tagak (Inuit), A Tribe Called Red, Susan Aglukark (Inuit), Iskwe (Cree), Leela Gilday (Dene), Derek Miller (Mohawk), and Logan Staats (Mohawk), the documentary also profiles more than 20 other artists.

Although Eastern Canada is absent, the omission was not intentional. “The original idea was to focus on the Inuit and other northern people,” Marcellino said. “We had no idea the film would grow to this magnitude. There is much more to come, and we hope to include the East too.”

Utilizing DAPL/Standing Rock, Idle No More and the effects 100 years of residential school system in Canada (1896 to 1996), this backdrop adds a texture to the music and its message. The film’s title is taken from a quote by historic Metis figure Louis Riel.

“As non-indigenous filmmakers, we hope to build bridges between communities, and to provoke thought, discussion, dialogue, and above all, long overdue recognition to the music and culture of Native people,” Marcellino said.

The film premiered at various 2017 film festivals including Las Vegas, Nevada; Montreal, Quebec; and Calgary, Alberta.

“It’s one of the best music docs I’ve ever seen and I’m extremely proud we presented it as our opening film,” said Calgary’s film festival executive director Steve Schroeder.

On The Net:    

The Road Forward
[National Film Board of Canada]

Filmmaker Marie Clements’ The Road Forward is a musical that features piano bluesman Murray Porter (Mohawk), songwriter Russell Wallace (Stl’atl’imx), vocalists Cheri Maracle (Mohawk), Jennifer Kreisberg (Tuscarora), and others. Through song and performance, the film spins a tale of indigenous perspectives on history and current events.

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