Music

6 Indigenous artists you need to know in 2022

Including 2 very different 2022 Juno Award nominees and a former reality TV show winner-turned-activist.

Including 2 very different 2022 Juno Award nominees and a former reality TV show winner-turned-activist

Singer, songwriter and activist Logan Staats went back to his roots in order to preserve the medicine in his music. (Trung Hoang)

Written by Andrea Warner, with thanks to Reclaimed host Jarrett Martineau and producer Travis Pereira.

From a Juno-nominated drummer, singer and songwriter presenting Plains Cree music to new generations to an emerging artist bringing Indigiqueer perspectives to electro-pop, CBC Music celebrates National Indigenous Peoples Day with six musicians you need to know in 2022.


Logan Staats

Logan Staats is one of those artists and activists who has a fire in his heart that never goes out, even in his darkest moments. It shines through and burns bright in so many ways: the creative spark in his storytelling and songs, the smoke of his voice, and the blazing conviction of his activism. 

Staats, who is Mohawk from Six Nations, has been active on the ground with fellow land defenders in Wet'suwet'en territory protesting the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. He was arrested on Nov. 18, 2021, during an RCMP raid, which Staats described in a statement:

"During that raid I was punched in the ear. My head was slammed into the frozen pavement by my braids. And I was kneed in my spine and held down while I was handcuffed and bleeding ... all after I was only peacefully singing our water song and hugging/protecting a 70-year-old matriarch. I was hauled off to jail along with my sister, Layla Black, several other land defenders, elders, along with members of the press. With the support of my community and people rallying across nations, I was freed and remain steadfast and committed to defending the land from sea to sea all across Turtle Island."

It's a long journey from where Staats was in 2018 when he won The Launch, a televised music competition. After stints in Nashville and Los Angeles, Staats made the decision to return to Six Nations and reconnect with himself. "I wanted to bring my songwriting back to the medicine inside of music, to the medicine inside of reclamation," Staats explained in his bio

That medicine is the foundation of Staats' newest single, "Deadman." 

"I wrote 'Deadman' while in rehab," Staats said in a press release. "It's not about a girl; the culture is the love that I'm asking for. The love for myself. That was stolen from me ⁠— by the government, the crown, the church. When I sing 'Give me back my love,' I'm speaking about my culture, my pride and my love for myself."


Ansley Simpson

Five years ago, musician and artist Ansley Simpson released their debut album, Breakwall, to enthusiastic reviews and critical acclaim. A little over a year later, they were reportedly already putting the finishing touches on their followup album, She Fell From the Sky

But instead of releasing that record in 2018, Simpson found themselves pulled in multiple directions artistically. In 2020, Simpson, who is Michi Saagiig Nishnaabe and a member of Alderville First Nation, launched Gizhiiwe, an Indigenous-owned record label. They composed the score for the 2021 documentary Spirit to Soar from co-directors Tanya Talaga and Michelle Derosier. Ansley also collaborated with their sister Leanne Betasamosake Simpson on her 2021 Polaris Prize-nominated record, Theory of Ice

"When I started, it didn't come easily," Simpson told the Rumpus in 2018. "I had this idea that when you sit down to write a song it would just come to you, and that is what songwriters were: people who could just sit down and write a song. I realized that isn't the case. It was really encouraging to hear other songwriters talking about how hard they've had to struggle — how it can take a year or two to finish a song."

But now Simpson's followup is finally here, and according to CBC Reclaimed's Jarrett Martineau, She Fell From the Sky is ​​"a high-concept, lush and gorgeous album that's full of layered levels of storytelling." 


Ruby Waters

Ruby Waters made her stage debut at just four years old. It was a summer fair and the singer-songwriter, who is Métis and Slovakian, stepped right up onstage, joining her mother for a rendition of "Ave Maria."

Twenty years later, Waters's mother is still a source of inspiration for her, even though she's more of a country artist while Waters's music falls more across a spectrum of alternative, pop, soul and electro-lo-fi. 

"My mom just has a really soulful voice, and I like to put soul into everything," Waters told Billboard. "It kind of opens up an opportunity to do every genre."

Waters's eagerness to experiment sonically is part of what has made her such a success (millions of plays and fans) on TikTok, Reddit and countless other social and streaming platforms. She was even nominated for a 2022 Juno Award for alternative album of the year for her second EP, If it Comes Down to It. But it's not just the cross-genre waves that Waters leaves in her wake; it's also the raw, wry and painfully real moments that she shares in the stories of her songs. 

"I channel a lot of inner pain into my music," Waters told DiandraReviewsItAll.com. But then she laughed. "Not to sound dramatic! Once I channel some type of pain into a song I become free of that pain. Definitely liberating." 

Fans can anticipate more vicarious catharsis and excellent music soon. Waters's third EP is expected later this year. 


Wolf Castle

Last fall, rapper Wolf Castle finally dropped Da Vinci's Inquest, the final EP in his four-part project, the Da Vinci Chronicles. The artist, who is Mi'kmaq from Pabineau First Nation in New Brunswick and whose real name is Tristan Grant, also won his first Music New Brunswick Award after years of nominations. Now Grant's partnered with Music New Brunswick to create the NB Indigenous Artist Development grant in order to open doors for his peers. In other words, it's been a huge year for the young rapper. 

"I just had a big dream, and I never forget that," Grant told CBC Music.

Grant comes from a long line of hip-hop artists. 

"My uncle was a rapper, Red Suga, and my mother was a rapper, Mo3," Grant told Nex Mag. "She put out an album in 2008 and she was my uncle's hype man." 

Grant's mom encouraged him to make his own beats, his uncle helped him figure out songwriting, and his cousin Talon the Rez Kid Wonder helped him better understand production, mastering and mixing. 

From the first EP in 2019 to the Da Vinci's Inquest EP last fall, Grant has spent the better part of the last four years working toward this moment. 

"I just have this thing inside of me that wants to fight against all of that oppression and show the world like they're not going to keep us down," Grant told CBC Music. "We're going to keep going. And maybe I could have become an environmentalist or an activist in some other way. But this is what I'm good at. So this is the way I'm doing it."


Nimkish

Nimkish has processed a lot of grief throughout her first two EPs. She did title them Heartbreak on the Coast (2019) and Damage Control (2021), after all. But the best artists know that grief isn't one thing. It's a sky full of constellations, and every day brings a slightly different view. Heartbreak on the Coast gave Nimkish the space to unpack the rise and fall of her first queer relationship, while Damage Control became a space to make sense of her dad's death in 2019. 

"I think something I've learned in the last few years is to trust the process and to believe in your divine path," Nimkish told Do604.com. "If it's meant for you, it will happen, so try to be present and enjoy the ride. It's easy as an artist to get caught in the future and feel some anxiety around that. For me, the process of creation is the best part, so I'm trying to appreciate that while it happens."

So far, Nimkish's bedroom-pop-meets-electro-soul songs are mostly rooted in love; after all, that is largely where grief locates itself. Her narrators are real and wry, sometimes vulnerable and other times bumpin' with bravado, and she proudly brings her whole self — queer, Indigenous, Chinese — to her music. It's not always easy in Vancouver. Nimkish would like to see the city "give space to the incredible BIPOC, queer, community leaders that have been here fighting for representation in this city."

"This is our time now," she continued, " and these artists have shown up to do the work. I can see the next wave of artists developing and it makes me so excited for us."


Joel Wood

Joel Wood says he was basically "born into Northern Cree," one of the most famous powwow and round dance drum groups in the world. Joel's father, Steve Wood, co-founded the group with his brothers in 1982. So it wasn't a huge surprise when Joel joined the Grammy-nominated, Juno Award-winning group.

But what was a surprise, even to himself, was the 2022 Juno nomination Joel received for his debut solo album, Singing is Healing

"It was live on YouTube, and I tuned in sitting there with my family having coffee and, you know, not really getting my hopes up too much," Joel told CFWE Radio. "Then the category came around, and I believe I was the second person that they announced. When I'd seen my picture pop up with my name and my album, I can't even describe how I felt. I was just so excited and very proud."

The nomination in and of itself was history-making: Singing is Healing is one of five albums honoured in the inaugural Juno category for traditional Indigenous album or artist of the year. 

Since he was young, Joel's commitment to his art and culture have been shaped by his father's words: "If you believe in who you are, where you come from, your identity, your culture, your language, it will take you to places that you've never even dreamed of."

These beliefs have helped inform Joel's newest record, too, which just dropped on June 17, 2022. In an email, Joel explained how his second release took its shape:

"Mikwanak Kamôsakinat is based around language revitalization. I had the idea of creating an album that would focus mainly on language. I am Plains Cree and have been singing with Northern Cree for the majority of my life. My father Steve Wood is one of the co-founders of the group and leads/manages the group present day. Singing has always been an outlet for me in many ways, grasping the language being one."

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