National Aboriginal Day 2017: JB the First Lady brings indigenous world-view to hip-hop

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      It’s proving to be a landmark year for indigenous hip-hop artist Jerilyn “JB the First Lady” Webster. Not only is the Vancouver-based musician of the Nuxalk and Onondaga First Nations completing her fourth studio album, Meant To Be, she’s also scheduled to hit the stage at this year’s Aboriginal Day Live festival in Yellowknife, where she’ll perform for audiences across the country.

      The streamed performance is just one of many gigs she’s scheduled to play this month.

      “Ever since the first Aboriginal Day Live came on the air, it was my dream to be on that stage and share my music,” she tells the Straight over the phone.

      “I feel like this show, like the title of my album, was meant to be for me as a young indigenous artist—just like I’m meant to express myself, and to bring different views to hip-hop.”

      Webster says she’ll do just that on her forthcoming release, covering topics like love, relationships, and sexual expression through the lens of an indigenous woman, while resisting common themes in hip-hop that often oversexualize women.

      “There are a lot of stereotypes and barriers that dictate what indigenous women are supposed to act like, and by talking about these things, I wanted to show that you can be happy, you can express yourself sexually, and it’s okay,” she says.

      She’s excited to see other indigenous musicians rising up, garnering support, and gaining recognition in the Canadian music scene—especially because she’s seen firsthand how music and the arts can help break down stereotypes.

      “A lot of these artists are bringing stories that haven’t been told yet to the national music scene, and we’re getting recognized by those bigger venues, like the Junos, or the Polaris Music Prize,” she says, referencing artists like A Tribe Called Red and Buffy Sainte-Marie.

      “I feel like the confidence of our artists has gone up, because certain parts of Canada are saying, ‘We need to honour and uplift these stories.’ It will be the artists that awaken the spirits of our people—not just indigenous people, but all people,” she says, paraphrasing Louis Riel.

      Outside of her music, Webster runs workshops for children in local public schools, teaching them about indigenous culture and music. It’s an important role for her, particularly because as a child, she often experienced racism in the classroom.

      “It defeats a lot of racism, because when they do face it, they can think back and say, ‘We got to learn with JB and other artists who are proud of their culture.’ Bringing that native pride to these people is so powerful,” she says.

      “My mind is blown. Both of my grandfathers went to residential school and weren’t allowed to share their culture. Now I can.”

      Next Wednesday (June 21) is National Aboriginal Day. This will be celebrated in Vancouver with a free festival at Trout Lake in John Hendry Park running from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Watch JB the First Lady’s performance at Trout Lake, or stream from home on June 21 between 8 and 10 p.m.