What does it mean to be a ghost people, a vapor, part of a storied past existing as a spectral presence fading into an unknown future? For the last decade, DJ trio A Tribe Called Red (Ian “DJ NDN” Campeau, Tim “2oolman” Hill, and Bear Witness), has cross-fertilized indigenous liberation ideology with electrified powwow-dub aestheticism birthing and re-birthing the primal urge within their audience to vibrate along with them. Their new album, We Are the Halluci Nation, is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a deafeningly democratic album with cuts languishing in lividity, demonstrably detached, often indecipherable and altogether loud in its insurrection.

ATCR is not as insulated as those on physical reservations, how can they be? DJs are, by trade, connectors. And the “Halluci Nation” is less a nation based on station and more on the recognition of and proximity to quotidian state violence – both the slow and impulsive variety. The trio cast a wide net –from Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq to hip-hop retiree and South African expatriate, Yasiin Bey–putting forth a thesis that argues state-sanctioned pain is as constructed and intentional as the social signifiers and geographic borders we come up with to define them. The trio argues in robotic staccato on the opening track, “We are the human beings.” And we experience that humanity in the vitality of our struggle, through fat ass chord progressions that begin as meekly as we do, then explode into powerful djembes and electric harmonization, slaying genre and the disgusting cultural erasure of “world music.”

Northern Voice, the First Nation chorus, is as much a factor in ATCR’s articulations as the group itself. Over bottomed out synth-y chords, “Indian City” uses their Atikamekw chants, calling and responding to one another, to speak against the Eurocentric framework of individualism. ATCR juxtaposes the dub in 4/4 with wailing that floods over from drops on beats one and three into two and four seamlessly. The beat sings under Tanya Tagaq’s clear and guttural tones on “Sila,” where the DJs scratch the record back and forth, looking forward in time while staying in the present. This faux-progression describes the space between real change in the political world and the stasis of the now.

Many other artists speak their two cents on record. Saul Williams has been on the hacker kick for a while now, so his presence on the aptly titled “The Virus” comes as no surprise. Shortness of breath, skittishness and break-toned spoken word spasms along with the ability to speak forth the power of the drum (“drum beats by region”) are all symptoms, but the diagnosis is a “compound that’s burning.” We’ll all end in this structure. Polyrhythmic dub drum patterns build upon one another, generating a latticework structure condemning the paradox of trying to explain a burning building while breathing in smoke; we are both within the structure and without it.

Lido Pimeiento, whose performances are as much for the audience as they are about them, dismantles the notion of register on “The Light.” Her vocals looped upon themselves redefines her voice as the principle instrument and ATCR is happy to give her the floor. The DJs are selective, fully aware that the genius of a particular song might not be the mix at all, but the artists featured are willing to give it up to the dance party when the time comes. This reciprocity makes for a utilitarian feel that speaks to the freedom marginalized peoples have fought and died for, as well as been imprisoned by; a real democratic nation birthed in and constrained to living in blood, but altogether worth its weight.

Essentially, this is an album for those people and the allies that support the cause of the Halluci Nation. The charge isn’t to come back to life as this presumes the finality of death. Rather death is but a physical construct as your spiritual being remains bonded with the corporeal world. “Before, I was lost but I’ve found the nation of the NOW,” a First Nation prisoner suggests to the crew. He continues, “you stamped the world before you left it, you’re a part of a great seal in our nation.” In this, death is not the end. Rather it is relative to everything else and the ghost, the Halluci Nation, is not living within a parallel reality but ours, in the NOW. This metaphor is itself a proof as the lands, people and body we inhabit are all in unison; the claim to life as important as the freedom fought to ensure it. We Are the Halluci Nation claims that blood and dance generate and re-generate life, a life worth the struggle. Listen and behold.

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