Indian Man: From Film Soundtrack to Successful Single
Since its release in 2017, Marie Clements’ musical documentary The Road Forward has screened at major film festivals, received rock solid reviews and won multiple awards. It’s also spawned a successful single.
Written by Clements and performed by Métis singer-songwriter Wayne Lavallee, Indian Man is one of several story-songs throughout the documentary and appears in the film’s opening sequence. Due to its popularity during the National Film Board’s Aabiziingwashi (#WideAwake) screening tour, the NFB decided to release it as a single.
“After The Road Forward premiered and the film was screened from coast to coast, there was a huge demand for the music and the song Indian Man, and it got to a point where we could not ignore people’s request for the song,” says Lavallee, a Canadian Folk Music Award winner and two-time Juno nominee. “Given the fact that the film is a musical documentary, it made sense to release the single.”
Since its release in September, Indian Man has received airplay on more than 200 radio stations across the country and charted on NCI’s Indigenous Music Countdown multiple times. It’s also available on most popular music streaming platforms, including iTunes, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, and Amazon Music.
Musically, Indian Man is a bluesy rock song perfectly suited to Lavallee’s trademark sound — one that he describes as “a little bit rock, a little bit country and a whole lot of Indigenous sounds.” Lyrically, the track touches on The Road Forward‘s overall theme of honouring First Nations activists.
“It’s so important to honour our ancestors and those who have fought and died on the front lines so that we could have a voice, so that we could have a culture, so that we could rise up and be resilient, and fight against injustice and for the things that we believe in,” says Lavallee, who also composed and arranged the track. “I think what I want people to take away after hearing Indian Man is that it’s important to speak your truth and to use music as a tool to tell your stories, and that it’s cool to create rock n’ roll that is rooted in your culture and speaks to the people. And just to know that our artists are creating music with a world-class sound and production.”
A lot of that world-class music Lavallee speaks of is on display throughout The Road Forward. In addition to Lavallee himself, the film’s story-song cast includes Indigenous talents like Jeremy James Lavallee, Murray Porter, Russell Wallace, Latash-Maurice Nahanee, Ronnie Dean Harris a.k.a. Ostwelve, the late Leonard George and many more. The master version of Indian Man, recorded at Bryan Adams’ historic Warehouse Studio in Vancouver, also featured an exclusively Indigenous lineup: Lavallee on guitar and vocals, Marie-Josée Dandaneau on bass and Richard E. Brown a.k.a. RB on drums.
“There is a critical mass of Indigenous musical talent out there, so really I was looking to build an incredibly strong ensemble that could hold the story of those that came before us, but could also be open to looking at their place in the whole of it, how each of their histories from all parts of Canada and the U.S. shaped their own realities, their motivations, and who they are as artists,” Clements says. “We were working to lift up history but also recognize and lift up our families and each other.”
“The Indigenous arts community is pretty tight, so we’ve all known each other for many, many years,” adds Lavallee, who met Clements in a theatre company almost 30 years ago. “When it came to recording the songs and the production, it was very clear what each individual artist could contribute artistically.”
While music serves as an effective storytelling device in The Road Forward, it also serves as part of the story itself. In a society that continues to suppress Indigenous history, Lavallee and Clements agree that art remains one of the best – and only – ways to rise up, stay resilient and reclaim their culture.
“We all don’t get the opportunity to speak freely, without being censored, but I think as artists, the work we put out there is our most powerful act of resistance. We have the opportunity to influence the masses and to speak the truth, especially minorities dealing with racism or cultural oppression,” Lavallee says. “The people we honoured in the film — the Native Brotherhood and the Native Sisterhood — are young Indigenous men and women who are moving things forward. They are stamping out injustice and calling out anybody who will conspire against us. But with struggle, there always has to be celebration, so we celebrate being able to create art, music and dance, which has been a part of us for thousands and thousands of years.”
“We owe so much to the Indigenous activists before us, and this history exists to remind us that coming together to create change is really something we know how to do,” adds Clements. “The time is always now.”
Indian Man is now available on iTunes, Spotify and wherever else you get your music. The full-length version of The Road Forward is also available for download at NFB.ca.