With it being Indigenous Peoples’ day on Oct. 10 we wanted to highlight some of the phenomenal artists that exist within Native-American and Indigenous communities. And although many of these musicians and bands are contemporary — by no means are their contributions to music relegated to just recent years. From Ronnie Spector who fronted the Ronettes and who was Cherokee on her mother’s side to California swamp rockers Redbone, a group whose members were both Mexican and Indigenous, best known for their hit single “Come and Get Your Love.” But there are just as many Indigenous and Native-American artists making music today, more so thanks to the ones who blazed a hardwon trail in the past.
Produced by Sandra Burciaga Olinger
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Inuk throat-singer and songwriter Tanya Tagaq will blow your minds. Pushing the very edges of what a vocalist is capable of she’s released five albums to date starting with her seminal debut Sinaa. Apart from containing the most ethereal collaboration of all time within the track “Ancestors” (feat. Björk), the album is a sonic soundtrack that warps the mind and expands the soul.
But Tagaq’s music also places into stark clarity the attempts at healing she’s made with every album — from sexual abuse to the destruction of Indigenous homelands suffered at the whims of colonizers. On her most recent album Tongues, Tagaq combines her enigmatic throat-singing with her equally powerful poetry, reading from her 2018 novel Split Tooth to flesh out its heady violin and percussion soundscapes. With every track, she eviscerates the sources of trauma inflicted upon Indigenous voices and bodies (“Tongues,” “Colonizer”), lays the groundwork for future generations like her daughter (“Earth Monster”), and even relishes in the rapt joy of concerts (“Nuclear”).
The Halluci Nation
The duo of Tim “2oolman” Hill (Mohawk, Six Nations of the Grand River) and Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas (Cayuga, First Nation) create a potent mix of ethnotronica. Mingling in First Nations music with bombastic electronica designed to get you dancing, they first exploded onto the scene with their debut album A Tribe Called Red which opens with a track that perfectly articulates the very spirit of The Halluci Nation on “Electric Pow Wow Drum.” And once you enter the buoyant soundscapes that these two create it becomes increasingly harder to leave them.
But on their latest album One More Saturday Night, the duo seeks to build human solidarity within the tradition of celebration. Relishing in the shared ecstatic of thrumming bass and the jubilant vocalizations of First Nations voices, its opening track “Remember 01” kicks off the party before diving into 48-minutes worth of The Halluci Nation’s most enraptured and momentous music to date. It’s also packed with incredible collaborations including with Indigenous artists like Tanya Tagaq on “Collaboration ≠ Appropriation.”
Catch Halluci Nation live at The Ford in Los Angeles on Saturday, Oct. 22.
Trixie Mattel (who is Ojibwe) is still riding the waves of praise that have come out of the release of her latest release The Blonde & Pink Albums. Wielding a Barbie-inspired drag aesthetic she uses to poke fun and accentuate her own individuality, Mattel is a stunning tour de force. Combining elements of pop with vintage rock and woozy doo-wop melodics the 14-track collection is the necessary starting point for anyone diving into Mattel’s explosively vibrant but non-saccharine pop creations. “Boyfriend” and “C’mon Loretta” burn with a kind of surf rock energy while “Hello Hello” hammers away with an addictive pop-punk rush. Not to mention an absolutely goose-bump-inducing cover of “I Want You To Want Me.” Mattel is the Indigenous pop phenom you didn’t know you needed until now.
See her at the Youtube Theater in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Oct. 12
As a member of the Inuit, Elisapie creates indie folk-stylized music that serves to coalesce her identity as an expatriate Inuk. This is the goal of her most recent album The Ballad of the Runaway Girl, a quieting exploration of the northern world and the roots there she feels separated from and yearns for. It also addresses her own complicated arrival in reconnecting with Inuit culture, her adoption as a child on a tarmac of an airport, and the trials of being an Indigenous woman.
It was after she was adopted that she grew up in Salluit and thought only of heading south to Montreal, where she eventually arrived to start a family. But The Ballad of the Runaway Girl finds her pining for a reconnection. Album standouts include the hypnotic “Arnaq” and sonorous “Don’t Make Me Blue,” while its title track emerges as this bittersweet introspection on Elisapie’s own journey. And with songs appearing in Inuktitut, English, and French, the album truly feels like this comprehensive portrait of the artist’s multi-faceted spirit and her earnest intent to celebrate every part of herself.
Los Angeles-based Tia Wood grew up in Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Alberta and as such she makes music that highlights those roots. Originally she started out just creating music via TikTok for fun and as part of using her social media connections to educate people about her Cree (Néhiyaw) and Salish culture. After all, much of her childhood was spent packed into a van with the rest of her family heading to whatever powwow or gig they were performing at that day.
Now she’s working on her debut album, inspired as she was by other Indigenous artists but also by the dismay that music written by people that she identified deeply with just didn’t exist in the mainstream. No one was writing songs about living on the reservation or in the beautiful places outdoors that she called home — or the jarring effect of transitioning from such a life to one steeped in the rat race of urban Los Angeles. But given her recent success at Zebulon earlier this year where she dazzled alongside other Indigenous artists and gave a cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” The next time she plays in Los Angeles you don’t want to risk missing the show!
Visit Tia Wood on their Instagram to stay updated on new releases and tour announcements.
At the center of Sihasin is the brother-sister duo of Jeneda and Clayson Benally, two musicians of the Diné (Navajo) Nation in Northern Arizona. Together they craft a powerful amalgamation of punk, pop, and folk to rally against the effects of continued colonization upon the land and bring together the people who’ve called it home for centuries. The opening track of their 2018 album Fight Like A Woman is a rip-roaring anthem titled “Child of Fire,” which tracks the ways in which those abuses have been made manifest and the refusal of Indigenous peoples to abandon those lands to further degradation.
While their most recent single and video for “We the People” gets at the very heart of a need to find community and to celebrate the ways we are similar as opposed to the ways in which we are not. Directed by Hopi/Diné filmmaker Jake Hoyungowa the video is emblematic of the need for solidarity between Indigenous groups and other black and brown peoples — one that radiates brilliantly from the band’s colossal drum-bass sonics and charged vocals.
With three full-length albums under her guitar strap, including her just released album Mortified, 18-yeah-old Ailani Swentzell will pull at your heartstrings with her delicious blend of indie-pop. A self-taught singer-songwriter and guitarist who produces all her own music in the comfort of her Santa Clara Pueblo home studio, built by Ailani and her grandmother — Ailani connects with her listeners through her stories of love and loss, finding one’s self and reconnecting once again. These are tones anyone can relate to which makes Ailani’s music all the more approachable and impressionable. And those dulcet lo-fi melodies make the vibes all the more enchanting.
With her latest 11-track release, Ailani takes a bold turn in sharing an album that is unapologetically her. Stepping away from love and heartbreak (although not completely), Ailani basically calls herself out on this new offering. From themes of self-deprecating to realizing all the different versions of herself — Ailani comes full circle with an album that forces her to come out of her shell and face the music.
Native American and Indigenous Bands Playlist
Oh, but there’s a lot more dynamic sounds to heard and enjoyed from Native American and Indigenous bands and music artists. Stream below our playlist featuring over 25 acts. Follow the playlist as we will continue to update it as more Indigenous music comes our way.