Writer in Residence

Your Global Indigenous Playlist: Summer Solstice 2023

By Suzanne Methot

Yesterday, I received 200-plus comments from an editor on the first draft of a manuscript. I love this part of the publishing process, when I’m in conversation with someone about making a book. Page design, illustrations, ideas for visuals – this is where my words come together with the work of the editor and the production/design team to create a work of art that will be recognized by readers as an actual middle grade children’s book. In the next month, I have to write an introduction, simplify some of the science-y bits, create topic headings, write glossary entries, and switch the text on some pages into visual diagrams. It's going to be fun... but I’m going to need a playlist.

Here’s what I'll be listening to on this summer solstice 2023:

Lila Downs: Zapata Se Queda

I’ve seen Lila Downs live at least half a dozen times, and I’m always in awe of her talent. She’s a storyteller and theatrical performer who combines her mother’s Mixtec folk songs with jazz, reggae, pop, and rock in genre-defying performances that highlight her ridiculously flexible vocal range (from deep baritone to high soprano). On this song, she pairs up with accordion player Celso Piña and Colombian singer Totó la Momposina to tell us that we can be our own revolutionary change makers.

Yothu Yindi: Treaty (Original Version)

On this classic track from 1992, the late Yolngu singer Mandawuy Yunupingu, lead singer of Yothu Yindi, says that Indigenous lands and laws were never given up during the colonization of Australia. At the end of the song, he talks about a “brighter day,” when Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia will come together in kinship and shared purpose.

Buffy Sainte-Marie: Now That the Buffalo’s Gone

This just might be the North American equivalent of “Treaty.” In this song, Buffy Sainte-Marie sings about land theft and broken treaties – and what settler-colonial society owes Indigenous peoples now that Indigenous economies have been destroyed by colonization. An early statement on land back and cash back.

Archie Roach: Took the Children Away

The late Archie Roach was a member of Australia’s stolen generations, who were forcibly removed from their families and placed in foster care with white families over the course of 100 years. The pain here is raw, and although the song gives us hope – many children of the stolen generations have come back to culture, land, and family – there is no gift-wrapped happy ending, because Archie Roach’s storytelling is too good for that. Indigenous removal and return to community is a wonderful and painful journey, full of beauty, rage, and sadness.

Ulali: I’m Going Home (Original Version)

Pura Fé (Tuscarora/Taíno), Soni Moreno (Maya/Apache/Yaqui), and Jennifer Kreisberg (Tuscarora) sing pre-colonial music from the southeastern U.S. using shakers, hand drums, and voice. The best version of this song is the original version, from the 1994 album Mahk Jchi. It ends with a call-and-response stomp dance that shows how Indigenous music contributed to the development of blues music in the Americas.

Link Wray: Rumble

This song was banned from several American radio markets in 1958 because the title seemed like it was inciting violence. The distortion on the guitar amp and the drum beat were also seen as dangerously transgressive – likely because the drums reflected Indigenous drum songs. Link Wray’s guitar style was the birth of metal and so much more. This Shawnee from North Carolina is still the coolest dude on the block.

Jesse Ed Davis: Washita Love Child

Kiowa/Comanche guitar genius Jesse Ed Davis played with Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Jackson Browne (yep, that’s him on the guitar solo for “Doctor, My Eyes”), and John Trudell. By the time he recorded this track – from his only solo album – he’d turned the tables so that Eric Clapton was his guest. That’s how we do it! “Washita Love Child” is four minutes of sheer, unadulterated brilliance.

Lucie Idlout: E5-770 – My Mother’s Name

This blues-inspired song is bangy and clangy in all the right ways. Inuit were stripped of their names, assigned numbers, and issued dog tags under Canadian policy. Lucie Idlout rages and whispers this story so that we never forget.

Derek Miller: Music is the Medicine

I don’t know if it’s the black suit, the self-taught guitar prowess, the swinging melodies, or the growly vocal flourishes – but Derek Miller is a straight-up star. Hop into a car, roll down the windows, sing along to this song, and your summer has officially started.

Ay Lelum feat. Rob the Viking: Travelling Song

The multi-generational Ay Lelum Design House at Snuneymuxw First Nation doesn’t only make fantastic clothes using natural fibres such as bamboo and hemp. They also make music and do a whole bunch of other stuff too, which proves my theory that most artists are polyglots who speak more than one artistic language. Storytelling and cultural preservation are central to their clothes and to their music. This song makes me dance in my chair, every time.

WithOut Rezervation: Guilty ’Til Proven Innocent

Make no mistake – this is a call for rebellion and resistance. WOR is from Oakland, California, and they’re not playing nice. Founders Chris LaMarr, Kevin Nez, and Cory Aranaydo are old-school rappers who tell stories about urban Indigenous struggle. They grew up in a city where Indigenous, Latino, East Asian, and Black citizens stood up for their rights and protested the social inequities created by redlining, urban decay, and displacement after urban renewal. This song is what we mean when we say “speak truth to power.”

Red Bull: Darling Don’t Cry

This is Cree-style hand drumming, heard only on the Plains. The squishy-brushy sound of the drums happens when players touch the back of the drum skin to change the tone in between beats. “Darling Don’t Cry” is a round dance song that brings everyone together – and it’s also a champion snag song, too. Sing this to your honey, and you won’t be alone tonight.

Mari Boine: Čuvges Vuovttat, Duođalaš Čalmbi

Norwegian Sámi singer Mari Boine combines traditional Sámi joik singing with rock music to create songs that are simultaneously dreamy and urgent. Mari Boine was invited to sing at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, but refused on the grounds that it tokenized Sámi people and their cultures. This take-no-prisoners approach to decolonization matches her music, which is melancholic, celebratory, and unapologetically rooted in land and culture.

Jeremy Dutcher: Mehcinut

My favourite song from the album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, which won the 2018 Polaris Music Prize and the 2019 Juno Award for Indigenous Album of the Year. I’ve seen Jeremy Dutcher live many times, and his smooth tenor works in concert with western-classical influenced piano and shaker to create art that transcends time and language (Dutcher often sings along with archival recordings of his ancestors singing Wolastoqiyik songs).

Jen Cloher: I Am the River, the River Is Me

Maori/Pakeha singer-songwriter Jen Cloher’s new CD has been on repeat ever since I ordered it (all the way from the UK… and it was worth it). This song is an offering to Indigenous youth, who have inherited generations of grief and strength and struggle, and now have to face the climate emergency too. The song title refers to the Maori proverb ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au (I am the river, the river is me), which reminds us that water is a living entity and human beings are part of, and dependent on, the natural world – not rulers of it.

Katú: Aguyjevete

Artist, musician, and activist Katu Mirim was adopted at 11 months old and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil, by white parents. She discovered her Indigenous identity (Bororo, from the state of Mato Grosso) when she was 13 and now says she’s in “identity recovery.” This is a certified banger track that also has street cred as political resistance.

Willie Dunn: I Pity the Country

Mi’kmaw/Scottish folk singer and filmmaker Willie Dunn wrote this classic takedown of racism and colonialism way back in 1971. I’d like to think that the systems and institutions of the state have changed in the intervening years, but this song rings as true today as it did back then. The real change has been in the citizens of this country, who know the true history now and are willing to talk about it – so there is hope after all.


Photo by Divina Clark (Unsplash)

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Suzanne Methot is the author of Legacy: Trauma, Story, and Indigenous Healing. She has worked in adult literacy and skills-training, as a museum educator, and as a teacher, creating a classroom program for Indigenous students experiencing intergenerational trauma. Born in Vancouver and raised in Peace River, Alberta, Suzanne is Nehiyaw of mixed Indigenous and European heritage. She lives on Gabriola Island, B.C., on the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw Nation.