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All posts in Why This Rules

Why Ziibiwan is Awesome by Melody Megwe-aanakwad McKiver


Aaniin dash Ziibiwan gi-maamakaadendaagozi na?

It seems most appropriate to ask “Why Ziibiwan is awesome” in Anishinaabemowin. Translations between English and Anishinaabemowin, the traditional language of the Anishinaabeg peoples, are always a messy business. Words and concepts don’t always smoothly transition between languages and cultures. These transitions get further impeded after centuries of colonial trauma. I’m questioning my own grammatical translation as I write this, and I know that Ziibiwan and I share similar familial histories of language loss and reclamation amidst Canada’s ongoing colonial violence against Indigenous peoples – even children. That undercurrent of resistance percolates amidst our music, both of us (predominantly) instrumental composers.

One of our first bonding moments was a rather passionate debate of the respective merits of the Ojibwe syllabic writing system (Ziibiwan’s preference, if you wonder about some of his album art design) versus the Fiero system in Roman orthography (my preference and perhaps a safety blanket, refer to my first sentence as an example). The language we communicate in holds power and weight, even for instrumental musicians and producers. But I digress.

To return to maamaakaadendaagozi, the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary defines the word as s/he is amazing, is astonishing, is a wonder. Not quite a direct translation of awesome, but I won’t argue with any of the synonyms when discussing why Ziibiwan is awesome.

I first met Ziibiwan in-person at the Banff Centre in 2015. We were both invited to participate in a collaborative residency called (Re)Claim in the Indigenous Arts Program. Within minutes, he humbled me and captured my heart. On our first meeting he told me that, via Twitter, I was the first Two-Spirit Anishinaabe person he had ever heard of, and had been following my work since he was a teenager. I was floored. I only share our first exchange because I’m so grateful to have the privilege to see how Ziibiwan’s career and artistic output has blossomed in such a phenomenally short time. Fast-forward two weeks at the Banff Centre. Ziibiwan’s on-stage at the Banff Centre, seated at a grand piano, delivering heart-breaking spoken word poetry about residential schools and their multi-generational impacts. I was wiping away tears on stage. That piece didn’t make the final performance amidst a complicated group process, but I knew then that Ziibiwan is an artist to watch and cherish.

Music is a challenging industry to be at the best of times, and Two-Spirit Indigenous artists face further obstacles, barriers, and assumptions. Indigenous artists have started to gain more prominent profiles within the Canadian industry at large within the past few years, but it can still be a lonely place for a young Anishinaabeg.

A Tribe Called Red has been propelled to international stardom, becoming almost synonymous with Indigenous electronic music. Ziibiwan is such a different artist that I have no desire to compare the two beyond the broadest ‘electronic music’ definition possible, but I will ask – what do you listen to when the party’s over? His is the late-night introspective headphone music that betrays influences such as the sombreness of Burial, the harmonies and timbre of later Radiohead, and some of the aesthetics of Björk. Writing this article, I revisited Ziibiwan’s 2015 release Niizh and I’m still unraveling the layers. Ziibiwan’s potential is limitless and I can’t wait to see what he releases next. Gitchi-miigwech Ziibiwan, gi-zhawenimin. Mi’iw.

Melody Megwe-aanakwad McKiver is an Anishinaabe violist, composer, and media artist. They are a member of Obishikokaang Lac Seul First Nation in Treaty #3 territory, and currently live in Sioux Lookout in Northwestern Ontario. Reach them at melodymckiver.com or @m_melody on Twitter.

Catch Ziibiwan at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Sunday April 9th with Saltland and Snake Church @ The Boarding House as part of the Pancake Breakfast.


Why Gregory Pepper Rules

Gregory Pepper

Gregory Pepper writes really, really, really good songs. Track after minute-long track, he keeps hitting the sweet spot and I am stupidly jealous. I don’t think I could swap a word or cut a line. They’re tiny, magnificent things, like something you’d wear around your neck. Is there a word for that kind of sophisticated simplicity? “Elegance” is what comes to mind, but that seems like the wrong word for the guy who wrote a song called “I Wonder Whose Dick You Had to Suck.”

But heck! That’s just what he is, an elegant musician, writing perfect little masterpieces for pop-culture junkies, like if Burt Bacharach grew up on Ghostbusters. The first time I saw Pep with his band the Problems, I’m pretty sure I turned to someone and said, “Why can’t it all be like this?” They were all dressed in matching suits and they pulled off every goofy rockstar move short of windmilling like Angus Young. They kicked ass and they chewed bubblegum, a rock-solid pop-punk act with tongues in their cheeks and grins ear to ear and everyone was giddy with the sheer joy of it.

More recently, I got the chance to see Pep play a solo piano set at Silence (the same place he’s playing for the festival). I remember reading that the thing about all those MTV Unplugged shows in the 90s was that they proved bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains were composing truly compelling songs under all the fuzz and misanthropy, and hearing Pep’s songs like that, without all the cheese-ball guitars, does the same thing. Pep digs into some seriously weird and sticky emotional places and airs them out with frank, indelible poetry—see the mind-blowing “I Felt Pity” or “Come By It Honestly” or “There in the Meadow.” Even gag tracks like “I’m Bill Murray” have a swirl of something deeper in them—sorrow or bile or yearning. In his own sometimes sophomoric way, Pep is writing beautiful statements on the human condition, songs that will endure long after the references are out of date. I don’t know if they’d let a guy who tells so many dick jokes into the Great Canadian Songbook, but I’ll be scrawling his words in the margins.

Will Wellington has written for The Ontarion, Sequential Pulp and The Cannon. He also co-founded People House Theatre.

Catch Gregory Pepper at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Friday April 7th with John Southworth @ Silence.


Why Modo Koagon Rules by Kyle Coveny

Modo Koagon

Modo Koagon

Close your eyes…
Think of a time you may have went for a late night stroll in an unfamiliar city. Seeing the odd eccentricities of a foreign place give you a surreal feeling and, in the cover of nightfall, your mind starts to play games with you. The air is cool and damp the streets are writhing from night life. Billboards and skyscrapers seem to close off the sky and the fluorescent glow of the streetlamps become blinding and suffocating all at once.

You dart down a street to escape the sensation but you find it’s become eerily silent…  A man shouts and cackles in the distance, the unoiled blades of an air conditioner sync with the beat of your heart. You turn around to make sure you’re not being followed as the headlights of rusted out pickup truck are timed perfectly with your knee jerk reaction. You walk, head down trying to avoid the slow moving vehicle approaching behind you. Luckily, it speeds past as you inhale exhaust fumes and you’re reminded of the pack of cigarettes in your pocket. Upon your first drag you start to calm down suddenly you’re in a more familiar part of town.

The trees are reminiscent of whispers, lulling you back into a state of ease. The next street sign reads Fairmont Avenue. You’re only a few easy blocks away from your temporary residence. The air smells sweet and the distant sounds of chaos buzz from a safe distance. You’re “home” and nothing can wrong you now.

Open your eyes…
You’ve been standing still, immersed in a crowd of folks at a venue witnessing Modo Koagon bring you to the brink of insanity and back again. Your mind may never be the same, but you’re better for having experienced what it’s like to go off the deep end, just a little, then be pulled back to safe calming waters.

Kyle Coveny is a Guelph-based musician that will be performing at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Friday April 7th at the eBar with his band, Badminton Racquet. He is also the Hospitality Coordinator for Kazoo! Fest.

Catch Modo Koagon at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Saturday April 8th with Xylouris White @ Silence.


Why Luyos MC Rules by Richard Laviolette

Luyos MC

Mary Carl‘s music is rhythmic and experimental and often collaborative. It is always both political and from the heart. It honours and celebrates her roots as a Filipino-Canadian as well as her many years doing migrant justice support. Mary Carl is one-of-a-kind. She makes no attempts to follow or adopt trends. Her music, like everything else in her life, is an honest expression of her heart and her attempts to achieve meaningful justice in the world.

Richard Laviolette is a Guelph-based musician that is performing at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Wednesday April 5th at the eBar.

Catch Luyos MC at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Wednesday April 5th with Leanne Betasamosake Simpson @ Silence.


Why Leanne Betasamosake Simpson Rules by Damian Rogers

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

As a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer, artist, activist, thinker, and mother, Leanne Simpson models a life in which all of one’s energies is applied to work that matters.

I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of working with Leanne Simpson over the last few years, both as the editor of her forthcoming book of stories and songs, This Accident of Being Lost (House of Anansi Press, April 2017), and through the performance series The Basement Revue. She is an artist who has introduced me to an entirely new dimension of commitment. She is a living example of what self-determination and integrity within the cultural and literary world looks like.

The first time I saw Leanne Simpson perform her work was at the book launch for Islands of Decolonial Love where she read poems and stories from the book backed by musicians such as Nick Ferrio and Tara Williamson. As a poet who often works with musicians, I was amazed at how seamless and natural she made this blend of genres appear; I had never seen anything like it before. She is her own genre. Onstage she radiates all of the qualities you find in her writing: she is magnetic, incisive, brilliant, fierce, and hilarious.

But this is only one piece of why Leanne Simpson rules. When I’m speaking to US American poets and the conversation turns to the crisis of the environment, or pipelines, or #NODAPL, I tell them to read Leanne Simpson. I send them to this extraordinary interview she granted to Naomi Klein about the Idle No More movement. It’s a few years old now and yet it speaks directly to the immediate moment. And then I direct them to her books. They are always blown away.

Confronting colonialism isn’t comfortable, especially for those of us who benefit from its structures in ways that some would rather not dwell on. I’m a white settler — that language alienates some of my fellow white people, but it’s a pretty straightforward description of how I got here. I moved to Toronto from the US in 2002. Reading Leanne Simpson’s Dancing on Our Turtles Back and Islands of Decolonial Love provided a window into how much I don’t — and in some cases, can’t — know about the territory where I now live. She protects Indigenous knowledge while at the same time providing important context for non-Indigenous audiences who choose to do the labour to challenge their own teachings and to evolve in their own thinking. She has already amassed a remarkable body of work across multiple genres and forms, and she is just hitting her stride.

In the blurb for her new story and song collection, Naomi Klein hits it on the head when she says that Leanne Simpson “writes irresistible love stories in the jaws of genocide.” She makes me want to be a better human in all that she does. She shows me how to be a better mother by her refusal of dominant expectations that women with children will hide their role as a mother if they want to be taken seriously. Her work inspires me to take more risks in more own writing and to push my own perceptions. And when it comes to setting one’s own rules as an artists, she sets the bar.

Damian Rogers is the author of two poetry collections, Paper Radio and Dear Leader. She is currently working on a memoir about mothers and daughters, dementia, and art, among other things, called An Alphabet for Joanna. She lives in Toronto, where she works as the co-artistic director and co-host of the performance series, The Basement Revue.

Catch Leanne Betasamosake Simpson at Kazoo! Fest 2017 on Wednesday April 5th with Luyos MC @ Silence.