A Tribe Called Red started out making dance music for urban aboriginals, but on new record We Are the Halluci Nation the three First Nations producers have gone global.
Not content with continuing their groundbreaking work with powwow groups Black Bear and the Chippewa Travellers, DJ NDN, 2oolman, and Bear Witness have gone north to enlist Inuit iconoclast Tanya Tagaq and Sami activist Maxida Märak, south to work with Colombian-born singer Lido Pimienta, and into the international world of rap to hook up with wordsmiths Yasiin Bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) and Saul Williams.
But for the first and last words on We Are the Halluci Nation—and for its overall mission statement, too—they’ve exhumed the wisdom of the late John Trudell, the Santee Dakota activist, poet, and songwriter who died in 2015.
“We are the tribe that they cannot see/We live on an industrial reservation/We are the Halluci Nation,” Trudell proclaims on the tone-setting title track; 50 minutes later, he offers a measured call for resistance against “ALie Nation”, a.k.a. the military-industrial colonizers of lands and minds.
It’s reported that Trudell’s last words were “Celebrate love, celebrate life” and that advice is also key to what A Tribe Called Red have accomplished with We Are the Halluci Nation. The anger that drove earlier releases remains, but the record also provides a larger dose of joy—along with a big-tent willingness to embrace anyone ready to stand up against injustice.
“Yeah, I’d say so,” Tim “2oolman” Hill agrees, on the line from his Winnipeg home studio. “The mantra for the album was pretty much Trudell’s words, for sure.
“I think we need to go back to creating a space for people to connect with each other to make change a reality—especially in light of what has been going on in the world, and what has been going on for quite some time.
“He was a superhero of mine,” Hill adds of Trudell. “Growing up, I knew that this man stood up for our rights, and it wasn’t even until later that I realized he was an artist. I just knew of his activism, and that he was a good, kind man....
“So for me to have a role model like him was very important in my upbringing—and it was just an ultimate pleasure to be able to work with a guy like that, who had an impact on me, but also on my family and people I haven’t met. His reach was very, very long. So, yeah, he’s somebody that I really admire right to this day.”
Trudell’s work—whether on the page, in his songs, or on the front line of resistance—was always imbued with an openhearted sense of purpose, and the members of A Tribe Called Red have carried that into their own music-making.
Despite its expansive stylistic reach and its dazzling panoply of guests, We Are the Halluci Nation is given cohesion by its underlying message of global unity—and by its makers’ ever-increasing studio prowess.
“When we made this record, when we first started in on it, we wanted to go another level up,” Hill says. “We were doing things that we’d never done before: different genres, different sounds, different moods.
“And then we had all these great artists that we collaborated with, so we were trying to match their greatness, and just trying to be the best that we possibly could.
“I think we accomplished that with this record,” he adds, and he’ll get no argument here: We Are the Halluci Nation is a living, breathing, moving masterpiece.
A Tribe Called Red plays the Commodore on Friday and Monday (November 18 and 21).