A Tribe Called Red Push Unity, Foster Dialogue Through Its Music

Photo by Falling Tree Photography
Photo by Falling Tree Photography

A Tribe Called Red member Tim “2oolman” Hill has a unique perspective on the genre-bending Indigenous trio. Since joining the group approximately two and a half years ago, Hill has, quite literally, already been around the world with the band.

Of course, A Tribe Called Red were already well on their way to making a name for themselves when Hill joined the group.

Since their formation in Ottawa in 2008, the trio has built their name on their hybrid mix of modern hip-hop, traditional Indigenous percussion and vocals and electronica.

After having released their self-titled debut for free in 2012, the group’s sophomore record, 2013’s Nation II Nation, went on to be short-listed for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize. Additionally, the record earned them an impressive four Indigenous Music Awards in categories including Best Group/Duo, Best Album Cover Design, Best Pop CD and Best Producer/Engineer.

In 2014, the group won a Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year, while also having secured a nomination for Electronic Album of the Year.

As the group prepares for next month’s release of their new studio album We Are The Halluci Nation, Hill reflects on watching the group’s rise as both an outsider and an insider.

“Watching them get bigger and bigger was a huge source of pride, not just for me, but for Indigenous people everywhere,” Hill tells us. “I always respected the way the group was able to speak on various issues when they knew the time was right. The way that the music has served to unite both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people around the world has been mind blowing to be a part of.”

Perhaps ironically, Hill says that he initially wasn’t sure he wanted to join the band when the spot was made available. Having built up his production resume in the years prior to A Tribe Called Red, he was reticent to see that time and energy invested go to waste.

“At the time, I was trying to establish myself as a producer and was spending a lot of time in Los Angeles and other places that I felt I needed to be. I knew the band worked hard and maintained a pretty rigorous tour schedule. That wasn’t something that I was sure that I wanted to be a part of.”

So what eventually changed Hill’s mind on the matter?

“Seeing them play and the effect it had upon all those people watching. I saw for myself just how important this band was to so many people,” he says.

Music aside, however, A Tribe Called Red has never been a group to shy away from politics. In 2014, Ian Campeau, better known as Deejay NDN within the band, played an instrumental role in getting the Nepean Redskins football club to change its name to the Nepean Eagles.

That June, Campeau called out an anonymous letter writer who voiced their opposition to the group’s inclusion in Ottawa’s Westfest. The letter writer alleged the group is “divisive” and “asking for trouble,” insinuating they could somehow be responsible for the aggressive behaviour of concert goers at the festival.

Just a few months later, the group was in the news again, this time confirming they would not be performing during the opening ceremonies of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as they did not feel that Indigenous issues were being properly represented at the facility.

Hill admits that at a time when pseudo celebrities can incite social media wars over the most trite, inconsequential matters, it can be a little discouraging to see Indigenous issues get pushed to the back burner. At the same token, however, he acknowledges the platform that the group’s fame has earned them has also helped drive conversations on what matters.

“From the minute an Indigenous person is born, you’re drawn into the political side of things whether you want to be or not. For thousands of years now, we have used art as a means of communicating, and it is within that art that we find our voice. On one hand, we are trying to create club music for people to enjoy, but when issues arise, the Indigenous community looks to us to say something and speak on matters when we need to step up. Having that voice and that outlet to be heard is awesome. It’s something we’ve welcomed with open arms because you don’t appoint yourself a leader; you’re chosen to be a leader. That’s a great honour for us,” Hill says.

“What I think we love the most is how we are starting conversation with our music. We might have started making music for Indigenous people, but having everyone join in on it at the end of the day is just amazing.”

What: A Tribe Called Red with Les Hay Babies, Les Hotesses d’Hilaire, Karim Ouellet and more
When: Monday Aug. 15, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Riverfront Park, Downtown Moncton
Admission is free and open to all ages