Published in Windspeaker newpaper | October 26, 2012 | Circulation: 145,000
With no album, radio play or front-person to fall back on, Beat Nation Live is hard to quantify: A musical trickster of sorts.
The live hip-hop shows are electrifying. This all-Indigenous crew, from nations across Turtle Island, spit rhymes as other members create traditional-style art with both spray paint and iPads on digital screens. They’ve made themselves at home everywhere from Aboriginal arts festivals to the banks of Paris’ Seine River.
“To me, Beat Nation was always a representation of what is actually going on: Native youth embracing hip-hop as a way of having a voice in their communities and in the wider arena of mainstream culture,” explained Tania Willard, one of the Beat Nation band’s creators and co-curator of a rap-infused art gallery exhibit of the same name.
“There was some controversy around the idea of using hip-hop in that way.
“Is it not very traditional to Native culture? If you Google hip-hop dance competitions at powwows, the comments on Youtube are in the thousands. There is some controversy there. For us, it’s what makes the work interesting. It’s not new for Native people to have other kinds of influences. I think we’re just seeing that same tendency in young artists today – that tendency to pull on tradition and what they know, and honour their backgrounds, as well as use new materials and new media.”
Willard, of B.C.’s Neskonlith Nation, dreamed up Beat Nation with fellow artist Skeena Reese, starting with curating small gallery shows, performances and a beatnation.org Web site.
“It’s a good crew!” laughs Juno-winning musician and producer Alida Kinnie Starr, one of Beat Nation’s better-known members and a mixed-race Mohawk rapper living outside Toronto.
“I’m always looking for opportunities where I can work in group settings.
“Indigenous people have shaped the face of hip-hop in Canada. You can really see that it’s an important part of how we’re growing. To have a project like this, that’s put together as an international arts initiative with the incentive of being progressive, new, and going into new territories, that’s so different than how Native people often think of themselves.”