Powwow music is a key staple in Indigenous culture. With new technology, musician Joe Rainey is transforming traditional music into something new. Rainey, who is enrolled in Red Lake Band of Chippewa, describes it as “space” powwow music - critics have called it “avant garde”.
“I had a friend that would describe my music while listening to the early mixes as being ‘space tradish.’ But I don't consider what I do at all traditional but yeah, avant garde is definitely a European term. I just like to say that it's in its own lane - that's just the best way that I can describe it. But it's a creation of my own that I haven't really had a chance to really give it a name yet.”
Rainey says he got the idea for his sound - which features heavily distorted singing and drumming - from being asked to play traditional drums at contemporary music shows. He says he hopes his new album creates more interest in traditional Indigenous music.
“I really want people to understand the importance of, you know, the people that are already on the inside, like the singers themselves. So I think being able to have that control over how I sang over the white guys’ production - I had control over that, because that made sense in my head. Much props to the bros who are DJs, who added the singing samples in there, I feel that, but as a singer, I felt like my sh** was getting cut off. I want to hear the whole song, bro! Like, come on, man, let that play, you know.”
Rainey wants people who may not be familiar with traditional Indigenous music to acknowledge, recognize, and learn from the stories the songs are telling.
“With internet culture, and just being able to really create things on your own, that's given people more confidence to put more music out. And I hope it does have a lot of context to it. I hope it has something to say, I hope people really put thought into what they're putting out,” Rainey said. “You know, it just fills your body with emotions, and going through the creative process of making music you definitely are aware of, especially if you're really trying to say something, you're going to have that awareness of making people go through emotions.
Rainey performs from his new album - Niineta - on January 26th at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.