2015: Year in Review

If 2014 was the year Tanya Tagaq’s Polaris Music Prize helped put indigenous musicians back on the map, 2015 was a full-fledged coming out party.

For starters, 74-year-old Buffy Sainte-Marie followed up on Tagaq’s success with a Polaris of her own, and the re-released Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985 earned a Grammy nomination for Best Historical Album. But that was just the beginning.

In an industry that has traditionally kept Indigenous musicians on the margins of the mainstream, artists from around the world – and across all genres – took 2015 as an opportunity to break down barriers and make their voices heard.

Ottawa DJ trio A Tribe Called Red, who exploded on to the electronic music scene in 2012, stole the spotlight at the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival and the Pan Am Games. They also embarked on a tour of First Nations reserves across Ontario, traveled to Australia and began work on their third album.

Brantford’s Logan Staats, formerly of award-winning rock group Ghost Town Orchestra, showed promise as a solo artist, while fellow Ontarian Wolf Saga made some noise with his Auburn Nights EP.

Multi-award winner Drezus poses with a young fan at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards in Winnipeg.

Multi-award winner Drezus makes time for a young fan at the 2015 Indigenous Music Awards in Winnipeg.

Saskatoon’s Drezus also had a breakout year, nabbing four trophies at the 10th annual Indigenous Music Awards (formerly known as the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards). Fellow winners included Armond Duck Chief (Best Country CD, Best Indigenous Songwriter), City Natives (Best Duo/Group, Single of the Year), Kelly Derrickson (Best New Artist), Classic Roots (Best Pop CD), Ryan Little Eagle (Best Flute CD), Enter-Tribal (Best Album Cover Design), Sean Beaver (Best Instrumental CD), The Bass Invaders (Best International Indigenous Release), Yvonne St. Germaine (Best Gospel CD), Young Spirit (Best Hand Drum CD), Jaaji (Best Indigenous Language/Francophone CD), Silas & Pierce BigLeftHand (Best Peyote CD), Northern Cree (Best Powwow CD – Contemporary), Will Belcourt and the Hollywood Indians (Best Rock CD), Chippewa Travellers (Best Powwow CD – Traditional), and Nadine L’Hirondelle and Jason Burnstick (Best Folk/Acoustic CD).

South of the border, indigenous hip hop got a big boost from artists including Frank Waln, Tall Paul, Supaman and Mic Jordan, all of whom appeared on the Last Stand Mixtape Vol. 1. Oklahoma songstress Samantha Crain also had a big year, thanks in large part to her critically acclaimed and commercially successful album, Under Branch & Thorn & Tree.

Here at Digital Drum, we continued to seek out some of the lesser known talents, shining the spotlight on artists like Nelson Little, Niiko Soul, Kelly Fraser, IsKwé, and Sierra Noble. We also covered community initiatives like Mike Stevens’ ArtsCan Circle, the Red Ride Tour and Our Songs, and events such as Aboriginal Day Live, Aboriginal Music Week, Planet IndigenUS, the East Coast Music Awards and BreakoutWest.

Looking ahead to 2016, the next generation of indigenous talent has some pretty big shoes to fill. But if the past year is any indication, we have a lot to look forward to.

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