Presentation on theme: "MUSI 3104 W12 Aboriginal Artists, Later Folk. Aboriginal artists have been active in many popular genres in Canada, but I'm going to focus here in particular."— Presentation transcript:
Aboriginal artists have been active in many popular genres in Canada, but I'm going to focus here in particular on some examples of Aboriginal work in folk-related and new age-related styles. One reason: this was one of the first areas where they found widespread commercial exposure (think back to Buffy Sainte-Marie for example). Another reason: the ways in which certain clichés and ideological expectations of folk and new age genres overlap with certain stereotypes and also self-identified values associated with Aboriginal cultures.
John Landry is Dene from the Northwest Territories (note the convention here and problem with it in terms of giving geographical regions). This is a different person from the more recent country singer. The language of many of his songs is Slavey, and they are often based on the teachings of elders, reinterpreted for a contemporary context. This particular song became extremely well-known in the North, and has even been called an unofficial Northern anthem. The lyrics (title) are a Dene springtime chant, giving thanks for getting through a long winter. The song has been covered by many artists, perhaps the best-known being Susan Aglukark. John Landry "Hinana Hoho Hine" (1986) Notice: the drum, the folk elements, also the synth. What are the various stylistic sources here? Why might they have been seen as an appropriate match for Aboriginal culture?
Consider the relationship between aboriginal musical elements in general (drum and vocal style especially) and popular styles… The otherness often ascribed to Aboriginal cultures, which is a constant barrier but can it also be an opportunity? The place of aboriginal styles in Canadiana clichés. The way in which Aboriginal cultures were often included as other in the traditional Canadian imaginary. Specific style crossovers, say why they work: folk/country, new age, "harder" styles.
Kashtin for a time in the late 1980s were among the most successful Canadian folk-pop groups Their debut album sold over 200,000 internationally, and they were especially popular in France. They are from a Montagnais Innu community (Northern Québec and Labrador). Kashtin occupied an important symbolic role in the industry in that they showed that it was possible to have commercial appeal while singing in a Aboriginal language (a dialect of Innu, only about 10,000 people in the world understand it). Along with Susan Aglukark they were leaders in raising the overall profile of Aboriginal artists in Canada in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Kashtin "Nikanish" (1991) Mostly straight folk-pop. The sing-along vocal sound is important though, and will reoccur in the next song. Why might this be seen as an appropriately "Aboriginal" gesture?
Willie Dunn has been active on many fronts since the 1960s (music, film, photography, live theatre, etc.), and is one of the founders of the whole idea of contemporary popular aboriginal culture. Born in Montreal, background is Mi'kmaq-Scottish/Irish. Willie Dunn "Children Of The World" (1992 version) Notice the flutes, a new element but fits with the new age element discussed above, and also with Aboriginal music more traditionally. This is the first song we've heard in this section with English lyrics. What do they have in common with what I glossed about earlier ones?
When looking at later work based on folk traditions, it's best to divide it into streams... Traditional, which is important but which we won't be looking at. Another could be called quasi-traditional, i.e., repeating styles that are later transformations of folk but are also old at this point. For example, being a 60s-style singer-songwriter. That's also important, but not here. What I want to cover in this lecture are several examples of further transformation. The questions in each case are... What is being repeated or evoked (not just literal styles, but also more subtle things like thematic focus, political stance, institutional or personal continuities, etc.) What transformations or novel combinations are being presented? For each artist, we can discuss along these lines.
YouTube: Bruce Cockburn "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" video (1984) This was also one video which helped to establish MuchMusic as cutting edge and "important" with regard to Canadian identity issues. Cockburn had done some political material before, but this was the song that drew the most notice and helped to give him a firm identity in that respect. Similarly for the world music, electric, and 80s rock elements. Consider, among other things, use of the Chapman Stick as emblematic (see YouTube "Tropic Moon" live 1985 video, around 0:37). One other question: what started happening to folk festival programming in the 1980s, and how does it resonate with what's going on with Cockburn's style in this period?
In the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a large upswell of mainstream interest in Leonard Cohen. Prominent covers, film-soundtrack use (especially Natural Born Killers in 1994) and successful new contemporary Cohen records. Leonard Cohen "The Future" (1992) The peak of renewed Cohen interest internationally centered on "Hallelujah." The song first came out on a 1984 Cohen album and didn't draw much attention (this was on the whole a relatively low period commercially for LC). In 1991 it was covered by John Cale, then a few more high-profile covers and movie placements, and eventually was covered by literally hundreds of artists. By 2009 Cohen was actually commenting that the song needed a rest. One thing to notice is how LC always framed himself as something of an outcast ("The Stranger" as a constant figure in his songs and poems). How might that have helped him image-wise in the long run? What other factors in his style might help to explain this longevity?
Spirit Of The West formed in 1983 in Vancouver. Started as a straight folk act, but gradually became more political and also more pop-rock stylistically. Spirit Of The West "Peacetime" (1988) In the late 80s and early 90s this kind of updated folk-rock sound became quite popular in a number of different versions. One of the other leading bands of the type was Great Big Sea. Great Big Sea is from Petty Harbor, a Newfoundland fishing village. Their first indie album came out in 1992, and they were quickly signed by Warner Canada. By the mid-90s they were routinely going platinum in Canada. Great Big Sea "Ordinary Day" (1997) Comparing this sort of folk rock to what folk rock was in the 1960s, what are the similarities and differences? And how did both (or neither) draw on what folk music has meant more generally in Canadian culture(s)?
k.d. lang is from Alberta, close to Edmonton. Around 1984 she caught a lot of attention with her high-energy, punk-inspired approach to Country music. Became an international sensation almost immediately, although also clearly a misfit image within the confines of both a country audience and an alternative rock audience, which were the two groups that could relate to her. By the later 1980s she had toned it down and become more accepted in Nashville as a torch singer. But even though the music was more conservative she still stood out due to her stand on vegetarianism, her coming out, etc. YouTube: k.d. lang "Turn Me Round" Video (1987) YouTube: k.d. lang and Roy Orbison "Crying" Video (1987) YouTube: k.d. lang "Constant Craving" Video (1992)
In the case of k.d. lang, her early work fits into the pattern we've book looking at of modifying traditional/folk styles. But her later work is more a matter of migrating from traditional forms to something else. Although notice how a lot of the trajectory moves through country subgenres (from a contemporary cow-punk sort of thing, through country torch songs, through to a more contemporary pop). She's also a good example of something we haven't discussed yet. Although we've considered many examples of stylistic syncretism, we haven't yet considered how and why some syncretisms are more stable than others.
Loreena McKennitt is from Manitoba, near Winnipeg. Studied classical voice and piano, and also gravitated early towards folk. Moved base to Stratford, ON, in 1981, and has done a lot of composition for live theatre and for film. What she became famous for was her work as a singer/harpist, reinterpreting Celtic songs in a pop/new age direction. Between 1989 and 1998 she became increasingly successful. This single was her commercial peak, and the album it came from sold over 4 million copies. YouTube: Loreena McKennitt "The Mummers' Dance" Video (1997) What's a mummer, and mummering? A specialized continuing/changing question here: what is the nature of "Celtic" identity as it came to be commonly portrayed in the media in the 1980s and 1990s? How does it (or does it not) fit in with the Oud and other middle-eastern instruments in this song?
Daniel Lanois was born in Hull. Moved to Hamilton while quite young. Started his first studio in 1968, and by 1974 had the Grant Avenue studio in Hamilton. He did a lot of new wave production there in the early 1980s, which attracted the notice of Brian Eno. By the late 1980s he was living and working internationally, producing very major artists (U2, Peter Gabriel, Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan, etc.) He is one of those producers who have an entirely recognizable signature sound, and was a major player in the full emergence of the celebrity producer phenomenon in the 1990s. His first solo album came out in 1989, and showed a major investment in his own French/Acadian heritage. Daniel Lanois "Where The Hawkwind Kills" (1989) Discuss the Lanois sound, since it is so central to the late-80s and 90s musical landscape.
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