Indigenous music extends well beyond pop and rock

Winnipeg's Juno-nominated Eagle & Hawk's competition for a Juno Award on Sunday ranges from hip hop to roots music.

First Nations Juno winners, nominees showcased

Digging Roots members Raven Kanatakta, centre, and ShoShonna Kish, right, accept the Juno Award for the Aboriginal Album of the Year at the 2010 Junos. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg's Juno-nominated Eagle & Hawk showed off their alternative rock sound Thursday night at a First Nations showcase of music in Toronto.

The band fronted by Jay Bodner says its foundation is "good old Canadian rock music," but its competition for a Juno Award on Sunday ranges from hip hop to roots music.

Bodner says the showcase was a chance to show the wide range of indigenous music being created in Canada.

"My CD collection is almost nothing that's on mainstream radio," he told CBC News. "We get fooled — not to say mainstream acts aren't great — but there's a whole big world out there and people often forget there's more than just mainstream."

Juno tickets still available

After selling out quickly in other cities, including St. John's, N.L., where the show was held last year, Juno tickets are proving a hard sell in Toronto.

Ed Robinson, chair of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and MusiCounts, says 2000 tickets are still available for Sunday's gala out of the 8,000 up for grabs since early February.

Toronto patrons have many other entertainment options, he says.

— Canadian Press

Eagle & Hawk are previous Juno winners (2002) and multiple winners of Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards.

They shared the stage Thursday with last year's Juno winners Digging Roots, Dene singer-songwriter Leela Gilday, folk singer-songwriter Christa Couture  and classically trained cello player Cris Derksen, who is half-Cree.

"I'm trying to take the cello out of the concert hall, demystify the cello, make it more of a dance kind of instrument," Derksen said.

"We had a workshop today and talked a lot about how it's easy to get pigeon-holed into one genre. Having this tonight where there's five artists in completely different genres is pretty enlightening for everyone who comes to see it."

Vancouver-based Derksen melds hip hop, rock, folk and country into her instrumental pieces. Her first album is called Cusp because it pulls so many traditions together.

"I definitely have my arts scene of older people who understand how the cello works," Derksen said. "They're drawn to the instrument. Then the indie rock kids who get the beats and the drummer. Then I have my aboriginal fanbase who understands my heritage."

Couture has taken the last two years off from performing after having a family, and the showcase is her official back-to-work gig.

She says she writes songs with her heart on her sleeve, "somewhere between the tough vulnerability of Amy Rigby and sophisticated folk like Joni Mitchell."

Raised in northern Alberta of Métis Cree heritage, she now lives in Vancouver.

"I write from experience, culture, upbringing, stories I was told," she said. "They all find their way in my music. … It's all about me."

Digging Roots reflected on the experience of winning a Juno in 2010 for best Aboriginal album.

"If you do win a Juno it's up to you to make it what it is," said Raven Kanatakta of the roots-rock group.

"Someone can give you a gift, but what will you do [with it]? Same with the Juno. …There's so many opportunities that come with it. Where there's opportunities, it's best to take them!"  

One of those chances is the ability to engage new audiences, said bandmate ShoShonna Kish.

"For a lot of people, their idea of First Nations music isn't what's going on in our community," Kish said. "There's a lot of really exciting music happening."

Eagle & Hawk are competing for the Juno for best Aboriginal album this year with CerAmony, Little Hawk, Derek Miller and Joey Stylez. The awards are scheduled for Sunday evening in Toronto.