If there is something that binds everyone together, it is music. Whether it be smooth jazz, classical, rap, pop, or any genre in-between, music shares stories to us all, and can also convey cultural norms.
Indigenous people have made indelible marks on the American popular music scene. A fantastic documentary that shares contributions of Indigenous musicians to popular music in a variety of genres is Rumble: The Indians who Rock the World. Produced by Stevie Salas (Apache) and Tim Johnson (Mohawk), this documentary features Indigenous musical powerhouses such as Link Wray (Shawnee), Jesse Ed Davis (Kiowa), Robbie Robertson (Mohawk), Buffy Saint Marie (Cree), Taboo (Shoshone and Hopi) and more. This documentary discusses the undeniable impact of Indigenous peoples on popular music in a variety of genres as we know it.
Want to listen to music by Indigenous musicians? The Tkaronto Music Festival did a live stream on December 21 for Winter Solstice, which features musicians from across Turtle Island. You can watch this year’s live stream, as well as last year's on their YouTube Channel.
Want to listen to Indigenous music from a variety of genres? You can check out some titles in our collection, both physical and through streaming on hoopla. Many of these titles are also available to stream on other platforms, such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. You can also check out books and films about Indigenous music in our collections. You can also read and watch more about Indigenous music with the books and documentaries listed below.
Please note, that when a contributor is Indigenous, their nation will be noted next to their name in brackets.
Wolastoqiyik Lintowakonawa by Jeremy Dutcher (Maliseet/Wolastoqiyik), William Hubbs Mechling, and the Canadian Museum of History
"Jeremy first did music studies in Halifax before taking a chance to work in the archives at the Canadian Museum of History, painstakingly transcribing Wolastoq songs from 1907 wax cylinders. “Many of the songs I’d never heard before, because our musical tradition on the East Coast was suppressed by the Canadian Government’s Indian Act.” Jeremy heard ancestral voices singing forgotten songs and stories that had been taken from the Wolastoqiyik generations ago.
As he listened to each recording, he felt his musical impulses stirring from deep within. Long days at the archives turned into long nights at the piano, feeling out melodies and phrases, deep in dialogue with the voices of his ancestors. These "collaborative" compositions, collected together on his debut LP Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, are like nothing you've ever heard. Delicate, sublime vocal melodies ring out atop piano lines that cascade through a vibrant range of emotions. The anguish and joy of the past erupt fervently into the present through Jeremy's bold approach to composition and raw, affective performances enhanced by his outstanding tenor techniques." (from Jeremy Dutcher's website).
Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa won the Polaris Music Prize in 2018 and the Juno Award for Indigenous Music Album of the Year in 2019.
We Are the Halluci Nation by A Tribe Called Red (Mohawk, Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe)
"Their third album We Are the Halluci Nation ramps up the activism and accompanies it with some of the heaviest and most infectious sounds around. The patch on the cover of the album underlines the heart and beat of the album: “500 years and still drumming; Our DNA is the earth and sky.” Canada’s CBC radio promoted this album as “critical listening for all Canadians.” Given Canada’s history of cultural genocide, this is a given, but the statement should be expanded. This album is critical listening for everyone" (from album review on Pitchfork).
A Tribe Called Red received the Jack Richardson Producer of the Year award at the Junos in 2017. They also made it onto the Polaris Prize longlist in 2017.
In 2021, A Tribe Called Red changed their name to the Halluci Nation.
Music for the Native Americans by Robbie Robertson and the Red Road Ensemble (Mohawk)
This album includes songs that were in the feature documentary, The Native Americans.
Children of the World : A Compilation of some of Native Canada's Best Music featuring various artists
This compilation album features some of the best songs by Indigenous musicians. Featured musicians include Gerry Saddleback (Cree), Shingoose (Ojibwe), Kashtin (Innu), Willie Dunn (Mi'kmaq), Susan Aglukark (Inuk) and more.
Trapline by Snotty Nose Rez Kids (Haisla)
Trapline is Snotty Nose Rez Kids third studio album. According to CBC, Trapline's key message is emphasizing "the importance of preserving one's home right now, but also for future generations."
Trapline was a shortlist nominee for the Polaris Music Prize in 2019.
Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966 - 1985 featuring various artists
"Largely unheard, criminally undocumented, but at their core, utterly revolutionary, the recordings of the diverse North American Aboriginal community will finally take their rightful place in our collective history in the form of Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985. An anthology of music that was once near-extinct and off-the-grid is now available for all to hear, in what is, without a doubt, Light In The Attic's most ambitious and historically significant project in the label's 12-year journey."
Native North America was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016.
Come and Get Your Redbone : The Best of Redbone by Redbone (members are Yaqui, Shosone, Southern Cheyenne, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Siletz)
This compilation album features top songs issued by Redbone, one of the first all-Indigenous rock bands in North America. For Marvel fans, be sure to check out "Come and Get Your Love" - it may sound very familiar to you!
Powwow Step by DJ Shub (Mohawk)
Powwow Step is DJ Shub's first album after leaving A Tribe Called Red.
AKA Grafitti Man by John Trudell (Santee Dakota)
"AKA Grafitti Man was originally released in 1986, and then again in 1992, with executive producer Jackson Browne, as a compilation of the earlier collection of recordings. Upon release, the album was hailed by Bob Dylan as "the best album of the year . . ."." (from PR Newswire).
John Trudell's vocals are accompanied by a very talented Kiowa guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis.
Going Home Star : Truth and Reconciliation by Tadeusz Biernacki and Christos Hatzis, featuring Tanya Tagaq (Inuit), Steve Wood (Cree) Northern Cree Singers (Cree), and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra
"Christos Hatzis' ballet score transcends and shatters the idea of genre and cultural boundaries by joining the searing and internationally renowned Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and the haunting Cree songs of Steve Wood."
Hip Hop Beats, Indigenous Rhymes : Modernity and Hip Hop in Indigenous North America by Kyle Mays (Saginaw Anishinaabe)
Argues that Indigenous hip hop is the latest and newest assertion of Indigenous sovereignty throughout Indigenous North America.
Buffy Saint-Marie : Musician, Indigenous Icon, and Social Activist by Linda Barghoorn
Inspiring people for decades, Buffy Saint-Marie is a singer-songwriter, visual artist, activist, educator, public speaker, and philanthropist. Beginning life as an orphan on a reserve in Saskatchewan, Sainte-Marie grew to become an international icon. This award-winning songwriter has experienced censorship at times because of her vocal activism against war and on behalf of native peoples. She continues to create music and art, speak out, and support life-long learning through educational and scholarship programs.
Great Musicians by our First Nations by Vincent Schilling (Mohawk)
Follow the journeys of ten talented musicians from the Native community as they make their way to the top. All of them bring their own cultural traditions to their music.
Indigenous Pop: Native American Music from Jazz to Hop Hop edited by Jeff Berglund, Jan Johnson and Kimberli A. Lee
"This book is an interdisciplinary discussion of popular music performed and created by American Indian musicians, providing an important window into history, politics, and tribal communities as it simultaneously complements literary, historiographic, anthropological, and sociological discussions of Native culture"
Electric Pow Wow : A Tribe Called Red by Mary Dartis and Kevin Newman
"If you're an indigenous person living in a country that was forcefully colonized, it's all too common to find yourself underrepresented and misrepresented if not blatantly and systematically devalued and attacked. Positive role models and a positive self-identity are hard to come by, yet the Canadian DJ collective A Tribe Called Red, is a modern gateway into urban and contemporary indigenous culture and experience, celebrating all its layers and complexity... They are part of a vital new generation of artists making a cultural and social impact in Canada promoting inclusivity, empathy and acceptance amongst all races and genders in the name of social justice."
You can also check out Electric Pow Wow : A Tribe Called Red on CTV News W5.
RUMBLE : The Indians Who Rocked the World by Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana
"This revelatory documentary brings to light the profound and overlooked influence of Indigenous people on popular music in North America. Focusing on music icons like Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Taboo (The Black Eyed Peas), Charley Patton, Mildred Bailey, Jesse Ed Davis, Robbie Robertson, and Randy Castillo, RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World shows how these pioneering Native American musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives. The idea for RUMBLE came about when guitarist Stevie Salas, an Apache Indian and one of the film's Executive Producers, realized that no one outside of the music business knew about the profound contribution of these Native musicians. Renewed attention to this missing chapter in the history of American music led to the publishing of Brian Wright-McLeod's The Encyclopedia of Native Music, an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, and eventually this documentary."
RUMBLE has won several awards, including Best Documentary at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (2017) and the DaVinci Film Festival (2018), and took home three awards at the Canadian Screen Awards, among many other winnings and nominations.
RUMBLE can also be watched on CBC Gem.