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ARCHIVED - Aboriginal Sound Recordings: Music and Song

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European Influences

When Europeans first arrived in what became known as North America, they brought with them their own music traditions. Explorers like Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain brought soldiers who introduced military music and fife and drum bands along with Christian hymns.

During the 1600s, French missionaries brought such instruments as pipe organs and the viol (an early violin). They taught hymns and other music to Aboriginal converts. Aboriginal peoples learned English and French folk music, accompanied by fiddles and other instruments.

From the late 1800s through much of the 20th century, Aboriginal children were sent away to residential schools, run by the churches. There they encountered church services and school bands. Those who served in the armed forces were also exposed to marching bands.

Contemporary Aboriginal Music

During the 1930s and 1940s, numerous Aboriginal marching bands sprang up throughout North America. For example, the Silver Nightingale Band [
] (accessed May 28, 2007), from the Rama reserve in Ontario. Although traditional folk and country music were the mainstay of Aboriginal musicians, some delved into jazz, blues and rock.

With music genres now exploding in all directions, Aboriginal musicians from the Arctic to the southern United States play every style of music -- traditional folk, religious hymns, classical, post-industrial sound art, country, hip-hop, heavy metal, punk, reggae, rap and world music.

Rap and hip-hop, performed mostly by younger people in their teens or 20s, often imitate the major icons of the music industry. Some rap lyrics are notable for their disrespect for women and their profiling of party life or crime.

Aboriginal artists meld these new musical expressions with their own distinct sounds, setting their music apart from the mainstream.

What is Contemporary Aboriginal Music?

Most contemporary Aboriginal artists draw on traditional Aboriginal music. They use traditional instruments such as the flute and the drum, sometimes accompanied by natural sound effects (wind, bird calls, etc.) to reinforce the music's cultural identity.

Their subject matter usually focuses on aspects of Aboriginal life: identity, historical experiences, current events, influential individuals or spirituality. Spirituality is often a key feature of New Age, rock and country music. Rock and heavy metal songs are often vehicles for political statements, resistance and identity.

Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis [] (accessed May 28, 2007), includes contemporary musical elements in her songs. Mohawk flute player Thomas Maracle [] (accessed July 21, 2009), employs electronic embellishment within his work.

Both Ways Now

Aboriginal music has been influenced by the mainstream culture, but influence has also gone the other way. Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq Gillis accompanied the Icelandic singer Björk on her 2001 tour. The Barenaked Ladies invited the powwow group, Stoney Park, to accompany their song "Spider in my Room" on the album Born on a Pirate Ship.

Today, Aboriginal musicians are involved in every genre of contemporary music, expressing their thoughts, desires and creativity in a vast array of forms. Aboriginal music has become a music industry of its own.