Wolf Saga draws on surprising musical influences to create his electro-pop sound

Wolf Saga is the brainchild of Indigenous musician Johnny Saga, who is more influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Duran Duran, than traditional Indigenous music.
Johnny Saga is an electronic artists from London, Ont. (Michael Alexander/Facebook)

Originally published January 14, 2018

Wolf Saga is the brainchild of Indigenous musician Johnny Saga, who is more influenced by the likes of David Bowie and Duran Duran, than traditional Indigenous music.

Saga got into music at a fairly young age, and was most influenced by the music his dad listened to.

His first memory of a song that he loved was Boston's More Than a Feeling.  

"[My dad] used to put it on and I would be playing air guitar and we had this big huge sofa chair, and I'd always get on top of that and jump off right … in the middle of the song, when the [singer] holds the really long note," said Saga.
Wolf Saga's tattoo was inspired by the music video for David Bowie's song, Ashes to Ashes. The track is Saga's favorite Bowie song. (Provided by Wolf Saga)

But the musician that Saga said continues to influence him the most is David Bowie.

"What got me into creating songs, and wanting to be an artist, and wanting to experiment with different things, was definitely my man David Bowie," he said.

"I just love the sound of a synthesizer, and then I got really into '80s music, like new wave bands like Duran Duran, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, U2, that's where I started to think, I want to do something with these types of sounds."

Saga loves Bowie so much, that he decided to get a tattoo to commemorate the artist.

"My favorite David Bowie song is called Ashes to Ashes and … the tattoo is actually the makeup he has in the music video."

Not always connected to culture

Even though he now proudly identifies as an Indigenous musician, Saga said he wasn't always connected to that side of his heritage.

Saga described his mom leaving home as the "missing link" to his Indigenous heritage.

But at the age of 18, he reconnected with his culture when he started working at N'Amerind, a friendship centre in London, Ont.  

"I remember that was the first real experience dealing with proud Indigenous people … I learned quite a lot in the four months I worked there, about finding my own identity, and where I kind of belong in Indigenous community," said Saga.

"That [time] really started to mold me too as an artist … hearing about Indigenous issues, and subconsciously deep down knowing that it would be something that I'd like to push in my artistry."

Breaking from traditional music 

Wolf Saga's electro-pop sound, at first listen, does not sound like Indigenous music, but he said that's because there are deep misconceptions about what Indigenous music is.

"I think when most people think of Indigenous music … they think it has to have chanting or a traditional element," said Saga.

"I remember watching APTN at my grandmother's house, and Genevieve Fisher was on there, and they asked her the same question. She said, "I identify as an Indigenous person but I don't classify my music as Indigenous,' and I thought that was a really interesting way of putting it."

For Saga, being an Indigenous musician in Canada means he is part of a really supportive community.

"The Indigenous music community … it's very tight, everybody knows everybody, and it's really awesome that it's that way," said Saga.

But, he added, being an Indigenous musician comes with a responsibility to inspire the younger generation.

"I think it is our job as Indigenous artists to be that role model, or be that person that Indigenous youth can look up to," said Saga.

"I don't think we had that when we were kids — role models who were killing it in the music scene, who are Indigenous."

For his song Walls, Saga said he was inspired by his grandma who helped raise him. 

Future of Indigenous music

He hopes the next generation of Indigenous musicians will continue to push the boundaries of Indigenous music.

"Hopefully people just listen to the music and they don't worry about who's behind it, or what that has to sound like."