2020 was a tough year for a lot of us, but thankfully music is always helping us get through even the toughest of times. Here are the releases from Indigenous musicians and artists that helped us get through the year – in no specific order.
Anachnid “Braids” (YouTube)
What is likely the only radio friendly track on Anachnid’s “Dreamweaver” album, "Braids" is a fun little dance tune that’s a send up on Indigenous hair styles. Don’t get me wrong, the whole album is fantastic, but “Braids” is an easy add for most stations. This track also quickly became my alarm because of its smooth horn over subtle beats.
Hataalii “Lover Call” (YouTube)
Navajo singer and songwriter and student from Window Rock, Arizona, Hataalii blends esoteric and celestial instrumentation into some feel good tunes. Hataalii may be the breakout artist of 2020, and here’s hoping the album “Painting Portraits” is one of many to come from this young artist.
GLVES “Abyss” (YouTube)
GLVES is a Lutruwita (Tasmania) born, Kaurna (Adelaide) raised, now Meanjin (Brisbane) based First Nations singer. “Abyss” is one of two tracks (the other is “Heal Me”) released this year. “Abyss” is a quiet track with soft vocals and dark undertones.
Uyarakq “Move I’m Indigenous” (YouTube)
Quickly becoming an anthem for every Indigenous person who’s ever been glared at sideways from a shop owner or Karen. Uyarakq rhymes are so smooth and simple, creating a drumming rhythm to the whole track before building up to its electronic crescendo. This may be the track of the year.
Samantha Crain “An Echo” (YouTube)
From Crain’s release “A Small Death” has almost a Phoenix rising from the ashes, particularly considering the artist survived horrible car wrecks in 2017. The album and “An Echo” is deeply personal and you can hear it in the songwriting, instrumentation, vocals and lyrics. “A Small Death” ranked No. 25 out of 50 among NPR’s best albums of 2020.
The Northstars “Monsters” (YouTube)
Elton J. Salt and Gary Jolly aka The Northstars who hip-hop and electronic dance music. “Monsters” is a send-up to everyone that’s had to fight demons – inner and outer. The rhythm of the track drives the lyrics into an incredibly chorus hook.
Once a Tree “Rush” (YouTube)
Canadian electronic music duo, Jayli and Hayden Wolf have become adept at creating danceable beats and "Rush" is a good example of that. The song is an easy listen and easily something you could have in the background or turn up and dance around your living room.
Leonard Sumner “Pieces” (YouTube)
Anishinaabe artist Leonard Sumner creates a distinct fusion blend of blues, rap and country. The first time I heard “Pieces” it hit me like a brick to the chest and sticks with me through a tough year. I doubt Sumner realized he was writing an anthem for my 2020, but this is it.
Alice Skye “Blue You” (YouTube)
I fell in love with Alice Skye’s “Friends with Feelings” album, but when I heard a track she created for a Kev Carmody tribute album, I realized it was the perfect vehicle for her subtle vocals.
Played the Fool “Squeeze” (YouTube)
Independent music artist based in Manitoba, Canada, Played the Fool released a five-song EP “Healthy Boundaries” this year. And the track that stands out to me is “Squeeze.” It’s catchy and slick, with just enough electric guitar to keep you listening through the song’s breakdown. I am really hoping for a full-length release from Played the Fool for 2021.
Digawolf “High Arctic” (YouTube)
Digawolf’s hard-driving delivery hints at a slightly industrial underbelly in “High Arctic,” from the album of same name, which is also fantastic. “High Arctic” is weirdly inspirational, and its strong rhythms will easily get you to bouncing your head to the beat.
Christa Couture “Sad Story Over” (Bandcamp)
A companion album to Christa Couture’s memoir, the music of “How to Lose Everything,” is easily one of my top three albums of the year from an Indigenous artist. “Sad Story Over” (technically a re-release) is a fun little piano jaunt through Couture’s storytelling that plays with the vocal delivery as if it were another instrument, accompanying the strings, horns and percussion that build throughout the track.
Crystal Shawanda “When it Comes to Love” (YouTube)
Raised on country music growing up on the Wikwemikong reserve, you can hear the many influences from that, blues and soul in “When It Comes to Love.” It’s the perfect accompaniment to Shawanda’s belting vocals that all tug at your soul. You can find “When It Comes to Love” off Shawanda’s “Church House Blues” album released in 2020.
North Sound “Heavy Heart” (YouTube)
“Heavy Heart” is the third single off The North Sound’s album “As the Stars Explode.” The sophomore album from Saskatoon-based The North Sound, and “Heavy Heart” is a wonderful example of Forrest Eaglespeaker and The North Sound’s country-roots … well, roots.
Joey Nowyuk “Nalliggakku” (YouTube)
“Nalligigakku (Because I Love Her)” was one of the many great surprises that came out of 2020. Pangnirtung singer and songwriter Joey Nowyuk blends a multitude of different sounds that clearly incorporate a multitude of influences. “Nalliggakku” is the first release of his planned debut album “Tumitit (Your Footsteps)”, which leaves me incredibly hopeful for a full-length release from Nowyuk.
And there are so many more that we just couldn’t get to. Check out Mattmac’s “Paradise”; Wolf Castle “Believe It”; Twin Flames “Battlefields”; Sebastian Gaskin “Snakehold”; Raye Zaragoza “Fight Like A Girl”; The Johnny’s “Your Girl”; G.R. Gritt “Quiet Years”; Ansley Simpson “Firewater”; and many, many more.