premiere: indigenous artist ziibiwan champions toronto with new mix 'tkaronto'

The Anishinaabe producer's ambient soundscapes take cues from Radiohead and Björk, but feature homegrown Toronto talents like Smoke Dawg.

by Braudie Blais-Billie
10 April 2017, 2:50pm

​Image courtesy of RPM

Ziibiwan, a Toronto-based experimental electronic artist, only recently began taking the music game seriously. After discovering the Anishinaabe producer, contemporary indigenous record label Revolutions Per Minute debuted his otherworldly EP Time Limits in August 2016. Much like Ziibiwan's previous works, the EP showcased his exploration of ambient soundscapes, genre-defying style, and unrelenting introspection into his Anishinaabe roots. "It's a sonic document of survival and resistance from a millennial-born indigenous person," Ziibiwan says in a release. "A survival of the wounded mind — the state of fear and panic attacks, the depression: a mixture of inter-generational effects and the fears of the human condition."

Though Ziibiwan doesn't shy away from the dark and the difficult, it's clear he's having fun with his music. With hints of hip-hop beats, classical composition, and alternative rock synths, the 22-year-old distorts and melds sounds with a nuanced alchemy. In celebration of his hometown's thriving music scene, Ziibiwan has put together a 12-track mix of Toronto's hottest sounds. From up-and-coming singer songwriter Jessie Reyez to Skepta collaborator Smoke Dawg, the "Tkaronto" mix is an organic introduction to a city on the rise.

We sat down with Ziibiwan to talk Toronto and the danger of the "indigenous artist" label.

Growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, how did you spend your time?
I grew up with a lot of different music and I was into all of it. I've always loved music. On the Six Nations reservation — with the Indian Center in Hamilton, we would take a lot of trips to the rez — it was very much country and folk music.

It turned into a more serious thing with performing and producing when I entered foster care [from 10 to 16 years old] because I had to do something to process that. I got into instrumental lessons like piano and guitar and that led to electronic production.

Your sound is evocative of Radiohead, an influence you clarified when you released "black eyes (radiohead remix)" on SoundCloud. Which other bands or artists were formative to creating your own music?
My main influences are classical composers like Arvo Pärt from Estonia — his music just has so much beauty and space — Björk, Mos Def, and Dr. Dre. At one point, I was really into Radiohead so I was learning about computer editing and glitch pads and guitars. Then it was the Foo Fighters and of course the grunge scene. Moving to Toronto, it was ska and music with that high-pass filter sound — that OVO type sound is what they call it.

How did you get involved with Revolutions Per Minute?
Jarrett Martineau, the label's founder, discovered me online. I don't know how — he's the guy that knows you before anyone else does. He loved my sound and what I was doing at a time when I wasn't even taking it that seriously. I was just playing around with releasing EPs and he picked it up. He's definitely given me the push to mature and start taking things more seriously while still having fun with it. When you're in foster care, you're not really prepared for that type of [professional] environment — you don't even think about it really.

Your "Tkaronto" mix is such an exciting collection of Toronto sounds. Can you tell me a little bit about the origin of the mix and the curating process?
With this mix, I wanted to explore Toronto and the hype around it right now. I could hear a commonality in a lot of artists' tracks — spacey, atmospheric music with big beats.

Why do you think the Toronto music scene is experiencing such a surge of creativity and cross-over success right now?
I think it's because Toronto's people are very colorful and it has a lot going on. It's also hype right now — there are a lot of discussions surrounding it with The Weeknd and Drake. People criticize Drake with the Jamaican stuff but it's like, if you ever go to Scarborough or Jane and Finch, you'll hear that Patois influence because there's a lot of Caribbean immigrants that came to Toronto and Canada in general. But people don't really know that because Canada is often seen as a really white country.

Who are some indigenous contemporaries that you're listening to or looking up to?
Whenever I say I'm an indigenous artist, I think people expect a Tribe Called Red or Tanya Tagaq, whom I love. But I'm a Native person who grew up in a city, so I have a lot more inspirations coming from different places. If I were to compare myself to somebody, I guess it would be another young person who's kind of in the same boat as me: Jordan Thomas [Exquisite Ghost]. We're on the same label. Jarrett does such a good job at trying to find something new within the indigenous music community.

I also look up to someone like Kaytranada. He started by releasing dance EPs that were getting a lot of attention. So he released 99.9% which is so out of the box for Montreal and he has every black genre in that album. It's just so proud to be black, and I love that. He did something totally different by just mixing so many things together.

What can we expect from you in 2017?
I'll be heading to Sheridan College to pursue more visual stuff like film, but I have been working on trying to get a mixtape out or at least a full LP debut. Now that people are starting to pay attention seriously, I want to make something bigger. I'm also working on an EP with Exquisite Ghost in the meantime — we've been working on that for a minute now. It's got beautiful instrumentals and stuff. Flying Lotus is his major inspiration.

Related: RPM is the platform changing perceptions of indigenous music


Text Braudie Blais-Billie
Image courtesy of RPM

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