RPM.fm is a fantastic new website devoted to covering indigenous music, operated out of a small office in Vancouver’s Chinatown, in the heart of Coast Salish Territories.
For the past couple of months it’s been my honour and privilege to work with the team over at RPM.fm creating and producing the RPM Podcast, Season 1. So far, there are nine episodes covering various genres and topics, like the music of the North Coast, or New Traditional music, or Native Hip-Hop. Check ’em all out – you’ll discover fabulous new music by artists with whom you may not be familiar, and hear some pretty interesting stories as well.
Episode 10 will go live Wednesday, November 2nd.
On a personal note – ever since I heard (and fell in love with) Robbie Robertson‘s Music for the Native Americans as a teenager, I’ve listened avidly to the wide array of musics created by the indigenous peoples of North America. They straddle a unique position, culturally: they are creators of music in a variety of genres, but they also carry a common cultural background and history to the music they create that is particular to this part of the world. My friends at RPM call the whole thing Indigenous Music Culture. It defies categorization: it’s not “native music”, yet it is; it’s rock, or it’s hip hop, or country, or traditional music – yet it all belongs under the same umbrella. And yet it belongs also to the broader musical subculture of each genre as well, that may have nothing to do with being indigenous.
In this way the music of the indigenous cultures of North America, for me, offers us a useful and interesting metaphor: that non-Natives and Natives share some elements of the same music (not to mention the same land), while being simultaneously different and yet having many things in common.
I’ll never forget hearing a story told by the eloquent and inimitable author and storyteller Richard Van Camp (who is one of the voices in Episode 003 of the RPM Podcast) – a story about his grandfather. In the story, he lamented the fact that he couldn’t understand his grandfather’s Dogrib language, so they had to communicate as best they could with words and gestures across a linguistic barrier. The story was about the last time they spoke before his grandfather passed away.
I got very emotional listening to the story because it reminded me so much of my relationship with my own late grandfather, a contadino (farmer) whose southern Italian dialect I can partially understand, but cannot speak.
And it struck me that as grandsons, Richard and I have a lot in common: we are the grandchildren of dying languages, and the grandchildren of people with very close relationships to the land.
These little commonalities between Native and non-Native can be found peppered throughout Indigenous Music Culture, something I have come to appreciate even more working on RPM. As usual, music finds a way of both building bridges and keeping things unique and special: building houses (or longhouses), I suppose, on either side of the bridge.