Unreserved

Ray "Coco" Stevenson blends powwow with rock and pop music

Fusing powwow with contemporary music is a growing trend amongst indigenous music makers. Traditional singer and drummer Ray "Coco" Stevenson says it's not as simple as adding some drum beats to a song.

'You can go all over the world and you can hear that drum now,' says traditional singer and drummer

Traditional singer and drummer Ray "Coco" Stevenson says that 'powwow is a lot bigger than the music scene itself in North America.' (Manuel Sousa)

If you have ever been to a powwow then you know what powwow songs sounds like; the steady drum beat and vocal chanting that accompany the various dances: jingle, fancy, shawl, traditional, and grass dance.

But while it may seem like they all sound the same, there are actually many different types and songs for all occasions, from those sung to honour someone — like veterans' songs — or those sung only in ceremony, like the Sundance.

Ray "Coco" Stevenson is a well-known traditional singer and drummer who lives in Winnipeg. He says the drum is a way of life for him and keeps him on the right path.

But Stevenson and his drum don't just travel the pow wow trail. He has also worked with groups like Indian City and Eagle and Hawk, both award-winning pop and rock groups. Both fuse powwow with contemporary music.

It is a growing trend among indigenous music makers, like the electronic powwow vibe of A Tribe Called Red and the orchestral powwow of classical cellist Cris Derksen.

"You can go all over the world and you can hear that drum now and it is stronger than it ever has been and it's only going to get stronger because the younger generation is picking it up," says Stevenson.

Stevenson says it's not as simple as adding some drum beats to a song. One of the most difficult things is to find the right chant and beat for a song. But when he does find the right combination, it gives him a sense of accomplishment.

This collaboration between art and culture is something Stevenson says is welcomed in the pow wow community.

"They believe and I feel that it's ok to be able to incorporate both types of music, to collaborate as one sound."

Stevenson says this ancient art has been part of indigenous cultures, and will continue for many more generations.

"Powwow music to me will always be around as long as we are around," said Stevenson.

"I think powwow is a lot bigger than the music scene itself in North America. I've heard elders say in the past that the drum is a heartbeat of mother earth. Once that drum stops sounding then we will no longer exist."

now