Final Rating: 8/10
Someone give this band a Grammy already. I refuse to accept that the unique sound and message of A Tribe Called Red isn’t already an international sensation.
As a follow up to the band’s Juno-nominated Nation II Nation, We Are The Halluci Nation makes even better use of their capacity for storytelling through song. The first track, named for the album’s title, is spoken word over the group’s signature mix of electronic beats, drums and pow wow vocals. The speaker outlines who the Halluci Nation are, living on industrial reservations, called by many names (Indian, native American, hostile), their true selves invisible to the outer world. This sets the tone for the rest of the album, following the struggles and triumphs of this so-called Halluci Nation as they seek a sense of home.
This is not to say the album is down-beat. This is A Tribe Called Red we’re talking about, masters of dance music. The track “R.E.D”, featuring Yasiin Bey (formerly know as Mos Def), is a phenomenal example of the versatility of Tribe’s sound. It’s a dancey rap track, but the background vocals and drums elevate the song to something singular, not taking away from the lead vocals but enhancing them and making the song that much more infectious. “How I Feel”, featuring Shad, follows a similar formula with equal success. The band’s sound makes them ideal for collaboration because no matter the voice in the foreground, the sound is still unmistakeably theirs.
One of my favourite songs from the album, “The Virus”, is a song unlike any I’ve heard before. It juggles spoken word, song and dance beat deftly, succeeding in getting across its message due to its intense listenability. And the message is there: the “chorus”, if you could call it that, is the repetition of the words, “The compound was on fire.” Other tracks, like “BEFORE” and the final track “SOON”, rely on message and story without music. A voice calling from inside a prison discusses a boy named Charlie who ran away from a residential school seeking home, and the search to find him and explain to him that even without home, they have each other, a sort of “Halluci Nation” that binds them together.
This album is more important now than ever. It’s not something you sit down to listen to thinking, “Hmm, hope I’ll come away with a new understanding of the struggles of indigenous peoples across the globe,” but you do. The band is kicking off a tour and will be in Toronto on September 18th at MNFSTO10 Live!, and having seen them live this past summer at Wayhome, I can guarantee that it’s an experience you won’t soon forget. See them, buy the album, share it with friends, and dance your ass off to the infectious beats. I know I will.