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Halluci Nation (formerly A Tribe Called Red) release new album, ‘One More Saturday Night’

Halluci Nation (formerly A Tribe Called Red) release new album, ‘One More Saturday Night’
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“Our music comes out when it needs to.” On Zoom from his Ottawa home in early July, Bear Witness was reflecting on the unpredictable 14-year journey of his dance music group, the Halluci Nation, formerly known as A Tribe Called Red.

“The last album (2016’s ‘We Are the Halluci Nation’) came out during Standing Rock, ‘Nation II Nation’ (their second album) during Idle No More.”

Their new album, “One More Saturday Night,” was intended for last year, but COVID-19 intervened.

It’s set to be released on July 30, as the country faces a great reckoning. “You can’t plan for these things,” said Bear. “It’s part of the synchronicity that happens with us.”

A Tribe Called Red was born in 2007, when Bear and fellow founders Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau and Dee Jay Frame began throwing Electric Pow Wow club nights in Ottawa. For Bear, who is Cayuga, the feeling from the start was magic.

“Word spread that we had this superfun night that was inclusive of Indigenous people, but everybody who needed a home showed up.” Tribe became known both for their “pow wow step” sound — melding elements of house music, dubstep and trap with samples of drum groups — and for drawing attention to political and cultural issues involving Indigenous people.

“One More Saturday Night” looks back to the Electric Pow Wow, which ran until 2017, when the group became a duo: Bear Witness and fellow producer Tim “2oolman” Hill, who had joined in 2014. On the Zoom call from Six Nations, 2oolman, who is Mohawk, described the first Electric Pow Wow he attended: “I got it right away. It was like, ‘Oh, this is important.’ To them, they’re just rocking the show. Being an outsider looking in, you get the gravity of it; how this needs to happen.”

In May, in response to the finding of hundreds of unmarked graves in Kamloops on the grounds of a former residential school, the group tweeted, “We need to sing our songs and dance together for those children. We need to live for them. Love for them. To share the love they were denied.”

“That statement was borne from a new responsibility or a place where we’ve found ourselves in more recent years,” Bear said. He recalls a 2017 concert in Portland, Oregon, as anti-Trump protests rocked the city, where “the energy was so intense — people were laughing and screaming and crying and stomping the ground and pounding the floor. I started to see that more and more at our shows. That’s part of the service that we’re trying to bring to people: we’re here to facilitate the healing.”

In contrast to the darker “We Are the Halluci Nation,” “One More Saturday Night” is buoyant, from its jubilant remix of Ojibway singer/guitarist Keith Secola’s 1992 anthemic rocker “NDN Kars” to the accordion-fuelled north-south throwdown “Tanokumbia” (a collab with Tejano DJ/producer El Dusty) to the effervescent “Ba Na Na,” on which Grand Analog frontman Odario and Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty rap over reggaeton beats, with vocal riffs provided by Anishinaabeg family drum group Chippewa Travellers. The album was recorded pre-pandemic, in Ottawa, Toronto, Los Angeles, Texas and New Zealand, where the Halluci Nation set up a studio in the marae (or meeting place) on the traditional territory of Maori singer Rob Ruha.

Schoolchildren hung out in the studio and the resulting song, “Takarita,” which blends deep, summery house with funky guitar and what 2oolman calls “old-school rap hakka,” summons up the kind of communal celebratory vibe that has been in short supply throughout the pandemic.

The album also bears the imprint of two late mentors. The group worked with Malcolm Cecil (who died in March) in Calgary, on the behemoth of a synthesizer he co-invented: TONTO (The Original New Timbral Orchestra), with which Stevie Wonder made 1970s classics such as “Innervisions.” 2oolman cites Cecil’s “spiritual and technical” teachings about synthesis that “changed the way that we consume, create and dream about music.” It was Santee-Dakota activist and poet John Trudell who came up with the concept of the Halluci Nation, as an oppositional, revolutionary, inclusive “tribe they cannot see.”

During the time they spent together, said Bear, Trudell “was saying things that speak to us now, even more than back then.” After his death in 2015, “this feeling arose that he had left us with a blueprint and a direction” — as reflected in the duo’s new name.

The album’s party spirit doesn’t displace its politics. The incisive “Land Back” was released as a single in 2020, in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders. On the swirling techno track “Collaboration ≠ Appropriation,” Polaris winner Tanya Tagaq sings, “We’re taking it back,” with sly defiance. And “The OG” samples a 2018 remark in the House of Commons by then-MP Romeo Saganash, who asked, “Why doesn’t the prime minister just say the truth and tell Indigenous peoples that he doesn’t give a f--- about their rights?”

According to Bear, the disregard that Saganash references has “been true ever since there’s been prime ministers in Canada. We didn’t feel that moment was memorialized enough. It was a really big thing for Indigenous people and it needed more time in the spotlight.”

The Halluci Nation had planned to promote “One More Saturday Night” with small club gigs harking back to their roots. Instead they debuted their new material live at the Calgary Folk Fest on July 25 and they will tour their expansive music on big stages and — if reopening allows — to bigger crowds.

“There’s always been a feeling in the group that we don’t fully own this thing that we’re doing; we ride the wave,” Bear said. “When you’re following those kinds of vibes and energies, you do find yourselves where you need to be when you’re needed.”
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