Cellist Cris Derksen creates new genre with Orchestral Powwow

Weaving together traditional powwow beats and classical music, Cree Cellist Cris Derksen has invented a brand new musical genre.
(Submitted by Red Works Photography)

Weaving together traditional powwow beats and classical music, Orchestral Powwow is a new album, and a brand new musical genre.

It's the creation of Cree cellist Cris Derksenwho takes traditional powwow songs (performed by contemporary groups) and builds "little chamber symphonies around them."

I wanted to take all of my heritage and all of my traditional learnings - that includes Western classical learning - and put them together.- Cris Derksen
Photo Courtesy Red Works Photography
While the two genres might seem incompatible, Derksen told Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild that they combine incredibly well.

"Powwow music is so strong, so strong in the beat and so strong in the singing," said Derksen. "It lends itself well because it comes with that power." 

"That power comes from our ancestors. I think that power comes from blood memory." - Cris Derksen

According to Derksen, the biggest challenge was a technical one. Powwow songs are led by the drum, meaning that the many moving parts of an orchestra have to match one particular tone — which she said "took a bit of finessing."

Derksen's latest album, Orchestral Powwow, was released earlier this year. Travelling the festival and powwow circuit over the summer, she had the chance to collaborate live with powwow groups from across the country. 

To hear the full interview and get a taste of what orchestral powwow sounds like, click the 'listen' button above.