A Tribe Called Red's musical evolution has been nothing short of incredible. We Are the Halluci Nation comes three years after Nation II Nation catapulted the Indigenous DJ trio into global consciousness, and a mere five years since they took their first steps into original music. They've progressed from a dance party to the full-grown cultural movement reflected in their new album's title. Faced with intense expectations, they've hit a home run.
We Are the Halluci Nation is an extremely well executed concept album that sticks unwaveringly to its vision. The late singer/American Indian activist John Trudell's recitation introduces the concept right from the jump: we can all be part of the Halluci Nation if we wake up and reject current ways of living in iniquity and learn to truly love and understand one another.
Needing to address an audience exponentially larger than the one to which Nation II Nation was released, Tribe have broadened their sound without watering it down. Rather, they've woven their fabric tighter, even as they draw from geographically disparate contributors from Sweden, Australia and Colombia to posit the globally Indigenous sound of the Halluci Nation. The thrust of four-to-the-bar powwow beat and EDM bigness is less dominant on this album, overtaken by dancehall-indebted polyrhythms and creative beatmaking.
They skilfully avoid "global groove" patronization by offering no easy ethnocentric nods to their collaborators (save for the barest hint of cumbia in Lido Pimienta's "The Light"); this music is collaboration between equals. Besides, why even contrive a label for tracks like the Tanya Tagaq collaboration "Sila," in which her vocals are julienned into abstraction? Better just to get swept up in the song's whirlwind.
The great unifying musical element is that powwow drums no longer simply underpin songs — their timbres are engrained into the very lexicon of their rhythm programming. Even straight-up bangers like "R.E.D.," powered by Narcy and Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) gain much character thanks to their sonic detail. Anthemic moments are balanced both by the narrative-like passages of Trudell and Joseph Boyden, and by songs unafraid to collapse into absolute silence as part of the overall journey.
Through it all, messages of resistance, hope and justice ring throughout the collaborators' contributions, reinforcing the album's inclusive but urgent mission statement. This record is a milestone in Canadian music. (Pirates Blend)