Between drum circles and drum machines: Indigenous hip hop artist is 'all about the feeling'

Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie's ‘Round Dance & Beats, (Pow Wow)’ is a form of hip hop and pow wow, blending modern and traditional styles of music.

Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie releases Juno-nominated ‘Round Dance & Beats,’ mixed entirely on phone

Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie's Round Dance & Beats (Pow Wow) has been nominated for best Indigenous Music album of the year. (Juno Awards)

An Indigenous musician who mixed his entire album using his phone has been nominated for a Juno award.

Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie, who lives in Sudbury, Ont. said he was surprised to hear his album Round Dance & Beats (Pow Wow) was nominated for Indigenous Music Album of the Year.

Kiwenzie, who has ties to Wikwemikong First Nation and Indian Brook, N.S., has been performing in drum circles since he was two years old, being influenced by his father, aunts and uncles.

"I've had a lot of teachers who've taught me about the drum and drum etiquette," he said. "I've spent my whole life at the drums in powwows ... and I've been making beats since I was a teenager."

"[But when] I started messing around on a keyboard I thought, 'hey, I'm on to something here." 

Kiwenzie's album blends traditional Indigenous music with modern production methods.

While bands like A Tribe Called Red have mixed hip hop and Indigenous beats, Kiwenzie has something special to offer: he provides the vocals to every song.

Kiwenzie mixed the entire album using only his phone, combining his own drum circle chants with hip hop and R&B beats.

Expression without the words

Drum circle chants don't always have to contain words or tell a story, Kiwenzie said.

"Sometimes it's about expression without the words," he said. "It's all about the feeling."

That feeling can be heard in his track Tara's Song, which Kiwenzie said was written for his partner, who is also a traditional round circle dancer.

"My mom and sister said I should make Tara a song," he said. "We go to powwows a lot, and our drum group gets called to do a lot of singing. So I made her a powwow song to dance to."

The song follows the form of a Cree round dance song, he said.

"Traditionally, the songs are about love, heartbreak, or even [simple things like] going to Wal-Mart."

Kiwenzie said he hopes the attention will help him teach others about the music's history and reach a broader audience.

"I want to share songs with anyone, not just our people," he said. "Our songs aren't just for us. It's for everybody—for humanity."

With files from Jason Turnbull