WHEN discovering out who Iskwé is and what makes her tick…
it is like discovering a new way of life! The stunning musician addresses the hardships of the North American Indigenous community – those who flippantly fail to legislate against the draining of the waterways and desecration of the land – and the politicians who put people second. Her new single, Soldier, is deep-cut, bottom-heavy in its intensity. It has beauty and depth but is one of those songs that seem to represent generations yet to come – a cautious warning and statement of intent.
I ask Iskwé about her album, The Fight Within, and what provokes music inside her. She discusses pairing genres like Hip-Hop and Soul; how certain sectors of Canadian life (where she is from) are overlooked and endangered; the inspirations inside her music and where she will be performing in the coming months.
Hi, Iskwé. How are you? How has your week been?
I’m wonderful and had a great weekend - thanks for asking!
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
Tansi, waseskwan iskwew nitisin~ihka'son (Hello, my name is Iskwé).
I am a recording artist from Treaty One Territory, Canada and work, mostly, in Electronic-ish music! I released my first album back in October 2013 and am excited to release my second album this coming October!
I have always gravitated towards darker, deep-cut; bottom-heavy sounds that’s (just) what resonates with my creativity I am hugely influenced by that fundamental darkness that came alive in bands like Massive Attack and Portishead - as part of the Bristol sound - but I also love strong, bold women like Björk and Erykah Badu.
I speak up on issues impacting my culture and community (I am a mix of Cree (Indigenous of Canada) and Irish) and am passionate about the necessity of such conversations being had - in order to move forward collectively from the past.
Soldier is your latest single. What can you tell everyone about its themes and inspiration?
It's impossible to know what shape our planet will be in several generations down the road. What I do know is that we need to do better...Soldier is for all the protectors of our land, our water - and our future generations.
I created and edited a lyric video for this song: compiling footage of the natural world; including forests, fields; water and sky. There are, also, clips of humanity's interaction with the land - including traditionally dressed First Nations people; a fisherman and Queen Elizabeth's face on a crisp, $20 bill.
Many subtleties and some in-your-face imagery - all meant to raise awareness to how we are treating this planet and, in turn, treating our future generations.
It is taken from the upcoming album, The Fight Within. Can you reveal any of the songs/ideas that will be expressed on the record?
A major theme I’ve been addressing over the past few years is that of Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. We are at an all-time high - with thousands of unsolved cases of death and disappearances in this country impacting our women more than any other demographic. We make up one of the smallest populations yet have the largest number of unsolved deaths and disappearances - it’s an epidemic that is taking place, presently.
My goal is to raise awareness on an issue that’s taking place here at home – far too often we think the rest of the world holds the problems facing humanity...but this isn’t true.
We need to look in the mirror first and ask what it is we do every day to make this a better place to be for EVERYONE - not just ourselves.
It seems our natural resources – human and otherwise – are paramount in your consciousness. Do you think our planet is in a lot of danger right now? Should we all be more aware of what is happening around us?
Yes, I think we’re in trouble...
I think our egos are where that trouble begins and, until we can collectively learn to put our future generations as a top priority, we will continue to take and deteriorate from one another (including the land and water).
What provokes a song, in your view? Do you sit down and plan a song or does it come together in unexpected moments?
It really depends on the song!
Some have seemed to fall out of the sky and end up a full-production within moments - whereas others can take months to build on from either a simple lyric or melodic idea. I’ve found the only consistent factor is that I have no set way of writing!
Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) is your home. What is the music scene like there?
I’m still pretty new to Hamilton.
I’ve been living here for a year but have been touring quite heavily this past year- so haven’t been home much. From what I hear, this place has a massive scene…I’m still peaking around for the way in.
Listening to your music; I notice elements of Hip-Hop with R&B/Soul. It matches light and dark. Can you tell me what kind of music you listen to - when not creating your own?
I actually listen to a lot of Classical music...
I LOVE string instruments like the cello and violin and, actually, write a lot of my songs based around these two instruments.
I also love those bass-y, bottom-heavy sounds in down-tempo, Trip-Hop; Electronic-like music - those ones are perfect for moody vibes!
Can you remember when music first arrived in your life? Were you exposed to music at a young age?
Music and art were always encouraged in my home growing up. When I was a kid, I sang for the city choir - in school musicals, etc. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I veered away from music and found other creative outlets – I focused on dance and visual art during this period; finding my way back to music in my early-20s.
There are a lot of Canadian tour dates approaching. Any particular dates you’re excited about? Can we see you in the U.K. anytime soon, perhaps?
I’ve actually toured the U.K. a few times now and would love to come back!
I believe we are looking to return in the summer/fall of 2018 - so I’m going to cross all my fingers and toes; it’s one of my favourite places to tour!
As for the Canadian dates; I’m super-excited (to be holding) my official album release party in my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba!
This means a lot to me, to be around my family and friends, as my first album release took place in Toronto.
How important is live performance and conveying your music directly? Is it strange transitioning between studio and the stage?
I love performing: it’s the best part of my job!
I mentioned I had been a dancer back in the day so I’m finding now, more and more, that performance has become this all-inclusive way to express my art in a final form. I find it far more free and liberating than I do in the studio - it’s as the studio recordings are the template I use to share my thoughts and ideas.
Performance is where people can come to experience the full thought-process.
IN THIS PHOTO: Once a Tree
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
I think you should check out Once a Tree - another Canadian downtempo act; consisting of married duo, Hayden and Jayli Wolf.
Jayli is also a strong, Indigenous female who writes strong, beautiful songs!
And, of course; if you haven’t yet heard of Tanya Tagaq – check her out (you won’t be sorry!).
IN THIS PHOTO: Tanya Tagaq
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
This record is, probably, the most influential on me as an artist, overall. My mind was blown the first time I heard this - with the full strings, bassy undertones; floaty vocals…I loved everything about it! I also found their story inspiring - in how they came together and avoided press; to how nervous Beth Gibbons would get before performing.
Björk: Vespertine Live
This album took so many of my favourite songs - and paired them with a live orchestra. Heaven!
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (4th World War)
The political tone on this record, and the strong, strong woman that is Erykah Badu, gave me strength and encouragement to follow in a similar footpath.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Make sure to learn the voice of your intuition and inner-guide - so that you follow your own lead.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Once a Tree – Howling