King Khan pays tribute to Buffy Sainte-Marie and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with new song
'She is the Keeper of My Soul' is a response to Sainte-Marie's 1969 song, 'He's a Keeper of the Fire'
In 1969, Buffy Sainte-Marie released the revolutionary album Illuminations. On it was a track called "He's a Keeper of the Fire," a blazing psychedelic number where Sainte-Marie belts passionately about a man who's "got a funny kinda voodoo, baby."
This Canada Day, Indo-Canadian musician King Khan (best known for his band King Khan and the Shrines) is releasing a song titled "She is the Keeper of My Soul," a song Khan describes as a "response to the epic anthem of Buffy Sainte-Marie."
The track, which was written by Khan and performed by his daughter Saba Lou, accompanies his short film titled Rat-Tribution Now, a project for the 2020 Pop Kultur Festival based in Berlin. The film, Khan says, "is an attempt at achieving retribution," referencing North America's historical mistreatment of Indigenous peoples. As such, the release of this song is also in dedication to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and proceeds from the song will go to the NDN COVID-19 Response Project.
"I have decided to release this song for Canada Day to be a stark reminder that these women are still ignored by the majority of people in Canada," Khan tells CBC Music over email. "The song asks, 'Who will be the keeper of my soul?' I wanted to write it from the perspective of MMIWG."
Written in a similar structure to Sainte-Marie's "He's a Keeper of the Fire," Khan's song confronts listeners with powerful questions:
When you put me down
Without a sound
How will the world ever know?
When my judgment day
Seems like it's gone astray
Who'll be the keeper of my soul?
Saba Lou, who is the main vocalist on the track, says that having a woman sing Khan's words "gives the words another meaning." She adds: "These topics need attention and awareness, so again and again they must be mentioned from all perspectives, using different approaches. I was glad when [Khan] asked me to sing it."
"Buffy's activism always inspired me, she's probably the most important Canadian singer of all time," Khan says, of Sainte-Marie's legacy as a musician. Another artist that "She is the Keeper of My Soul" is dedicated to is Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq. Khan says Rat-Tribution Now is "an homage" to Tagaq's 2016 music video for "Retribution."
"I am so happy that such a power frau has emerged from the aurora borealis," he adds. (Khan has also commissioned tarot illustrations of both Sainte-Marie and Tagaq by Game of Thrones graphic artist Michael Eaton for a tarot deck he is creating.)
In addition to Rat-Tribution Now and "She is the Keeper of My Soul," Khan has spent his time in lockdown working with American social activist Malik Rahim on raising money for people in New Orleans who are in need of insulin supplies. Titled Just Insulin, the fundraising initiative aims to "uplift a community ravaged by diabetes, no access to medicine, with COVID-19 preying on healthy young people, killing them just like the cops do."
The hope is to "set up a source of Canadian insulin and send it to this community in New Orleans." Through tarot card readings, Khan has already raised close to $2,000 US.
For Khan, the time to be active is now, to confront problems in our reality and to channel change with creativity, especially as an artist. "This pandemic is not simply a wake-up call, it's utter devastation in your own backyard," he warns. "Creativity is our only way out."
"If you are not creating something to show your empathy, then you are useless," he adds. "Sorry to be such a Debbie Downer."