Three aboriginal performers including Iskwé, A Tribe Called Red, and Buffy Sainte-Marie brought a diverse crowd of some 3,000 to New York City’s Rumsey Playfield in Central Park on July 9 for a free concert.
“You got a whole lot of Canadians here, eh?” Buffy Sainte-Marie jokingly asked the crowd when she took the stage after Iskwé and A Tribe Called Red.
She had the crowd on their feet and swaying to songs like “Up Where We Belong,” Starwalker,” and “War Racket” off her latest album.
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Buffy Sainte-Marie talked about activism and instead of war having a school to teach alternative conflict resolution before singing her song “Universal Soldier.”
She got the crowd going speaking the lyrics to “Carry It On.” She asked the crowd “Are you here to improve?” And reminded everyone that “We’re only here by the skin of our teeth as it is.”
Before Buffy Sainte-Marie took the stage, A Tribe Called Red got everyone pumped up and dancing with their original “pow wow step.” The group includes DJ NDN, Bear Witness and 2oolman, and the music mixes electronic rhythms, hip-hop, moombahton, reggae, and dubstep. It’s impossible to stand still while listening.
The screen behind them showed various scenes depicting Native Americans in movies, television shows and even music videos, like Michael Jackson’s “Black or White,” William Shatner playing Indian in the original “Star Trek,” and Michael J. Fox being chased by Indians on horseback in “Back to the Future Part III.”
As ICMN has noted previously, it is Bear Witness who serves as ATCR’s visual artist and video director and incorporates the pop culture references into shows to reclaim the aboriginal image.
The SummerStage evening opened with Iskwé, her full name in Cree, translates to “Blue Sky Women,” but Iskwé alone means “women,” and this is the name she chose to “represent both her culture and passion for shedding light on female causes and struggles,” notes the City Parks Foundation, the organization behind the event.
Her sound is reminiscent of Bjork with a touch of trip hop and R&B, and she even did a cover of Bjork’s “Army of Me” during her set.
She ended her set with a haunting homage to missing indigenous women called “Nobody Knows.”
Even though having all three of these performers on the same stage may seem like a stretch because they all sound so different, the crowd loved it. As people were leaving, many noted how amazing the show was.
“Buffy Sainte-Marie is an artist I first saw perform live in a church in Montreal several years ago, and I have wanted to bring her to SummerStage ever since, not specifically because she is a pioneering indigenous voice, but simply because she is an amazing musician and performer,” City Parks Foundation Executive Artistic Director Erika Elliott told ICMN.
“The rest of the line-up then evolved organically to include other indigenous voices, because all were acts we wanted to have in the SummerStage season. A Tribe Called Red has been a favorite of mine for years now as well, and I had struggled to find the right show to have them on. Once I confirmed Buffy Sainte-Marie, it honestly seemed like a stretch sonically to book them on the same bill, but after talking with all and knowing Buffy and A Tribe Called Red both liked the idea, we moved ahead,” Elliott said. “I gauge response by crowd response, and the night was really well-received by everyone in attendance, especially since the audience was so diverse.”
It certainly was a diverse evening to remember. Even Buffy Sainte-Marie commented that the only Canadian aboriginal musician missing was Tanya Tagaq.