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Maku Music

Music is the only uni­ver­sal language,

the only one that is unders­tood and spoken

in each of the 195 coun­tries on this planet.”

Tom­son Highway


Few people on the other side of kee­chi­ga­maak, “the big water” as the Eeyou call the Atlan­tic Ocean, are aware of the Indi­ge­nous musi­cal effer­ves­cence in the Fran­co­phone envi­ron­ment in Kana­ta (Cana­da). Ten First Nations occu­py the Kébeq (Que­bec). They are the Innu, Eeyou, Ati­ka­mekw, Mi’­q­makw, Waban A’kis, Wolas­to­qiyik, Anishnaabes/Algonquins, Nas­ka­pi, Kanien’ke : Akas and Wen­dats. In addi­tion to the 700,000 First Nations, there are 13,000 Inuit from Nuna­vik in the North.


After contacts that led to ter­ri­to­rial dis­pos­ses­sion and a qua­si-cultu­ral geno­cide, this is an era of affir­ma­tion mar­ked by poli­ti­cal and ins­ti­tu­tio­nal changes. Throu­ghout gathe­rings in Indi­ge­nous ter­ri­to­ries and on urban stages, a dyna­mic artis­tic uni­verse vibrates. Its roots, spread by talen­ted Indi­ge­nous musi­cians, create pla­ne­ta­ry nomads, moving eve­ryw­here on the back of Yän­dia­wish, the great turtle, Mother Earth.



Our musi­cians are Maku­sham makers. Their sound vibra­tions have a wild ori­gin, asso­cia­ted with the one cal­led (in Algon­quin lan­guages) Maku, the bear. Hiber­na­ting in the bowels of Mother Earth, this mytho­lo­gi­cal ani­mal keeps in it the memo­ry of the land. It fol­lows bees and but­ter­flies to medi­ci­nal plants. Having trans­mit­ted to humans the dream of taking off to play, sing and dance, in other words, the impulse to noma­dism and hea­ling. Maku sym­bo­lizes the fusion of ani­mist breath with the contem­po­ra­ry fes­tive, uni­fying and bene­fi­cial musi­cal rhythms. Moreo­ver, the musi­cal essence of our spoken/sung lan­guages embo­dies an iden­ti­ty that links cultu­ral move­ments to musi­cal trends. For many Indi­ge­nous people, mul­ti­lin­gua­lism was an asset long before the arri­val of colo­nial lan­guages. This lin­guis­tic ver­sa­ti­li­ty rein­forces, with half of the indi­ge­nous popu­la­tion living in cities, the role of musi­cians as spo­kes­per­sons for the revi­ta­li­za­tion of indi­ge­nous lan­guages, reco­gni­zed by UNESCO. Let us add their ease for mul­ti-ins­tru­men­ta­list, mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­na­ry and inter­na­tio­nal col­la­bo­ra­tions, a phe­no­me­non lin­ked to musi­cal crea­ti­vi­ty in the vici­ni­ty of visual arts, theatre and documentaries.


Com­mu­ni­ty affirmation


Thir­ty years of com­mu­ni­ty self-deter­mi­na­tion are coming to an end. In Kébeq, the Innu First Nation is the musi­cal lea­der and shines throu­ghout all 54 reserves. Malio­té­nam, a com­mu­ni­ty on the North Shore, is at the epi­centre of this move­ment : it is the bir­th­place of the famous duo Kash­tin (1989), home to the Innu Nika­mu Fes­ti­val (hea­ding into its 36th annual edi­tion since 1984) and Florent Vol­lant’s music pro­duc­tion stu­dio. In addi­tion, the Ati­ka­mekw-Mon­ta­gnais Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Cor­po­ra­tion’s net­work of com­mu­ni­ty radio sta­tions conti­nuous­ly broad­cast Indi­ge­nous music on reserves. The “Pow Wow Trail” that extends to more than fif­teen com­mu­ni­ties is part of this musi­cal affir­ma­tion in Indi­ge­nous ter­ri­to­ries. In addi­tion, the the excur­sions to the reserves of the Wapi­ko­ni Mobile video pro­duc­tion pro­ject with its Nika­mo­win branch (Noma­dic Music) is sti­mu­la­ting the emer­gence of the next gene­ra­tion. Final­ly, far from for­get­ting such pio­neers as Ala­nis Obom­sa­win, Buf­fy Sainte-Marie, Phi­lippe Mac­ken­zie, Rob­bie Robert­son and Kash­tin (Florent Vol­lant and Claude Mac­ken­zie), they are being cele­bra­ted with docu­men­ta­ries and awards.



These ele­ments reflect a strong, net­wor­ked, rapid­ly deve­lo­ping music in First Nations com­mu­ni­ties, connec­ted to the urban Indi­ge­nous show­cases of the Tewei­kan Galas and the Mon­treal First People’s Fes­ti­val in Tiötià:ke/Montreal. This year, the Asso­cia­tion qué­bé­coise de l’in­dus­trie du disque, du spec­tacle et de la vidéo (ADISQ) is ope­ning one Indi­ge­nous cate­go­ry at its high-pro­file Gala. Invi­ta­tions to the sāki­hiwē fes­ti­val in Win­ni­peg and the Inter­na­tio­nal Indi­ge­nous Music Sum­mit in New Orleans echo this inter­na­tio­nal openness.


Pla­ne­ta­ry nomads


In 2019 the stars are ali­gned. An essen­tial crea­tive cri­ti­cal mass for Indi­ge­nous music is taking shape in Ame­ri­ca. And it is undoub­ted­ly the stea­dy beat and increa­sed inter­est in the rhythms of the drums and tra­di­tio­nal songs that are the first vibra­tions. They can be heard through the upda­ting of tra­di­tio­nal songs, folk, coun­try and rock, blues, jazz and ope­ra, rap, reg­gae, slam, world music, elec­tro-pop to clas­si­cal music.


The pre­pon­de­rance of drums reminds us of the inalie­nable place given to the Ancients by per­pe­tua­ting tra­di­tio­nal rhythms and songs as the Innu Charles-Api Bel­le­fleur does with ardour. On urban stages, the social drums of musi­cians like Odaya and Moe Clark reso­nate. On the Pow Wow trail, groups like the Black Bears Sin­gers (Ati­ka­mekw) meta­mor­phose the large inter-tri­bal drums into “sacred thunder”.



Spo­ken word poe­try ensures the tran­si­tion bet­ween tra­di­tion and hyper­mo­der­ni­ty. This is the case with Kata­j­jait throat sin­ging contests by Inuit women inclu­ding Tanya Tagaq and Eli­sa­pie Isaac. The bear’s steps and drum vibra­tions are elec­tri­fied in folk, coun­try and rock styles through the Innu (Florent Vol­lant – men­tor of the youn­ger gene­ra­tions and 2019 Tewei­kan Gala Award : Scott-Pien Picard, Matiu, Maten, Innu­tin) and Ati­ka­mekw (Sakay Otta­wa, Lau­ra Niquay, Yvan Boi­vin-Fle­mand), and Anach­nid (Cree). There are seve­ral inter­tri­bal col­la­bo­ra­tions such as Nika­mu Mamui­tun – Chan­sons ras­sem­bleuses.


They became rap with the Algon­quin Samian, Nas­ka­pi group Violent Ground, and the Miq’­makw Q052, reg­gae with the sin­ger Innu Shauit, slam with the Innu poet Nata­sha Kana­pé Fon­taine, blues and jazz with Wen­dat Andrée Kwe’­do­kye’s Levesque Sioui, Ani­shi­nabe Dig­ging Roots, Inuit Quan­tum Tangle, Métis Kawan­dak and Miq’­makw Ray­mond Sewell and Back­to­wer Township/Corey Tho­mas. Through their use of turn­tables and syn­the­si­zers, DJs like Gero­ni­mo Inutik, Zii­bi­wan, and of course A Tribe Cal­led Red are rea­dy for the elec­tro­nic world’s festivalgoers.


Fur­ther­more, we can say that clas­si­cal music is beco­ming more Indi­ge­nous ! Just fol­low the fur­rows of Cree musi­cian Tom­son High­way signing the musi­cal libret­to Tsha­ka­pesh played in four com­mu­ni­ties by the Mon­treal Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra and its conduc­tor Kent Naga­no. Or lis­ten to the tenor voice of artist Jere­my Dut­cher mixing pia­no, drum and recor­ding tra­di­tio­nal songs on the old bees­wax rolls to sing the Wolas­tok (the Wolas­to­qiyik river) in his lan­guage. Sin­ger Andrée Kwe’­do­ky’es Levesque Sioui also drew ins­pi­ra­tion from such recor­dings to create the piece Kwaya­weh in Wen­dake with the Orchestre phi­lar­mo­nique de Québec.


In the end, against the envi­ron­men­tal damage done to Mother Earth, Indi­ge­nous women artists are the war­riors of this 21st cen­tu­ry, and among them, the Inuit sin­ger Éli­sa­pie Isaac, win­ner of the Best Show Award at the 2019 Tewei­kan Gala. Her latest com­po­si­tion Nous avons mar­ché was sung by thou­sands of chil­dren at school on the very day of the world’s major cli­mate marches. She also men­tio­ned all these marches for jus­tice for Indi­ge­nous women. This piece car­ries the vibra­tions of hope of a fro­zen revo­lu­tion in nor­theas­tern Ame­ri­ca. It is the one of wil­der­ness through music to renew our rela­tion­ships. In other words, Indi­ge­nous musi­cians are rea­dy to cross the oceans back­wards to deco­lo­nize the scenes overseas.






Guy Sioui Durand


Guy Sioui Durand


Wendat (Huron), Guy Sioui Durand is a sociologist (PH.D.) and art critic, independent curator and speaker-performer. He looks at Aboriginal art and contemporary art. On the one hand, it emphasizes the decolonization of minds through the re-wilding of our imaginations and the renewal of relationships. On the other hand, he thinks that we must change the world through action art, and action art through living Aboriginal art as long as the spectacular is opposed to the show. Guy Sioui is the author of Riopelle's book L'Art comme alternative (1997), which teaches initiation to indigenous art at Kiuna and Uqam institutions. Indianity (2002), the Spirit of Objects (2013) and many articles including Decolonization of Art through Indigenous Art (Freedom, 2018). In 2018-2019, he was curator of the Toronto Creative Residency. Trialogue at the Labo in Toronto, the Indigenous Performance Art Internations Gathering (IPAA) in Wendake, the Tobacco and Sweetgrass exhibition. Where our dreams are at the Musée d'art de Joliette and the in situ event La Tente parlante as part of Art Manifesto 9 in Quebec City. www.siouidurand.org.

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