by Abaki Beck
This week’s Feminist Hero is Ian Campeau - also known as Deejay NDN, who is an Ojibwe activist and one-third of the group A Tribe Called Red. A Tribe Called Red is a Canadian band whose music is dubbed by some as “powwow step,” for it’s mixture of electronic club beats with First Nations music - often integrating singing or drumming into their songs. A Tribe Called Red are a prime example of integrating art and activism.
A Tribe Called Red are vocal supporters of Idle No More, an indigenous political movement that started in Canada in 2014. The movement was founded by three indigenous women in opposition to then-Prime Minister Harper, calling out treaty violations and the impact of environmental exploitation on First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples in Canada. Campeau has also been vocal against cultural misappropriation; the band issued a public statement in 2013 asking fans to not wear Red Face to their shows (further proof that “having a POC friend” or “listening to POC music” does not, in fact, make you an anti-racist ally), and Campeau filed a human rights complaint against the Ottawa soccer team whose mascot was the Red*****. He also gained attention after wearing a shirt reading “Caucasians,” imitating the Cleveland Indians mascot style, but instead of a caricature of a Native American, the shirt had a white man with a dollar sign on his head.
Campeau goes even further in weaving his activism and social consciousness with his music. Campeau does not include music with racist or misogynistic messages on his DJ playlist, and would no longer personally consume such music. Sounds easy enough - who hasn’t felt uncomfortable when listening to violent lyrics every once and awhile? The obvious first step was to remove music from individuals who were abusive towards women, such as Chris Brown and James Brown.
Campeau, however, is being more intentional: he is also removing music even from those dubbed radical or socially progressive, such as Kendrick Lamar, if they have misogynistic lyrics. In an interview with CBC he said: "When you oppress women as you're trying to elevate your community, you're oppressing half of the people you're trying to elevate." Indeed, though artists such as Kendrick Lamar are lauded for being radical, how radical can you be if you’re only radical for cisgender men?
Campeau says that this change in his musical vocabulary is in part due to his own young daughters. He doesn’t want them to grow up with less opportunities than men, and he doesn’t want men to think they can easily harm women without reprimand.
Campeau serves as a reminder that the music we listen to and the artists we support is political. Whose pockets are we choosing to line? What messages are we in support of - or at least complicit with? Of course, this doesn’t mean that in order to be a “good activist” or “woke” we need to immediately limit our playlists - but we need to be aware of what we are consuming. We need to support artists who aren’t racist and misogynistic, who struggle financially because their art doesn’t fit in a capitalist framework, and who are strong supporters of their communities. This Friday, we honor Ian Campeau for reminding us that we should hold ourselves accountable for the art we support.