The Sounds of Sonic Sovereignty: A Playlist

by Liz Przybylski

Sonic Sovereignty is a book about listening. It demonstrates a method of innovative listening, through which music appears, reappears, and retells stories. Sound and silence are mechanisms through which power is enacted and felt. The book is rooted in hip hop practices that create moments when time extends, stops, and repeats. Hip hop welcomes nonlinear listening, and many North American Indigenous listening practices, drawn from storytelling, visit and revisit moments. These practices create new, decolonial possibilities. This playlist provides another way to experience it. 

Listen, and dance along if you will. Be ready to relive a moment you have heard before, and pay attention to how sound is altered through technological interventions, or follow sampled sounds and your related memories of them across time. This playlist includes songs explored in the book, as well as new music by artists whose work informs my own. Below, I’ve highlighted five songs from the playlist, so you can spend time with old favorites and find new artists to follow.

“Beauty” by Eekwol feat. Ila Barker and Boogey the Beat
From a new solo project that drops this year, Eekwol’s  “Beauty” has a beat by Boogey the Beat and features Ila Barker. Nehiyaw rapper Eekwol lets magic and relationships shine with a beauty that’s more than skin-deep, and Barker sings through action and truth. With a magnetic stage presence, Eekwol has had a busy summer of performances, and you can still catch a few that remain, including the Fringe Festival Saskatoon (Aug 6) and Riverfest (Elora, ON, Aug 21).

“How I Feel by The Halluci Nation” (feat. Leonard Sumner, Shad, Northern Voice)
Listen once for how Shad and Leonard Sumner’s clever wordplay make the song “How I Feel.” Listen again for how the repeated music by drum group Northern Voice starts and ends the experience, and comes back with something new to say again and again in the middle. You might know The Halluci Nation (formerly A Tribe Called Red) from other songs or albums. Pay attention  to them again, with a set of collaborators who each have a story to tell, stories that The Halluci Nation weaves together into a complex gem of a song.

“Someone Great Who Looked Like Me” by Tall Paul
In “Someone Great Who Looked Like Me,” MC Tall Paul honors Jim Thorpe, the first Native American athlete to win a gold medal for the US in the Olympics. Tall Paul reflects on the athletes he heard about as a kid—like Mike Tyson and Michael Jordan—and asks what can happen when young athletes also learn about role models like Thorpe (Sac and Fox & Potawatomi). Listen for the repeated line, “Jim Thorpe, you could be my Muhammad Ali.”

“Revitalize” by T-Rhyme and Eekwol
Listen for the heartbeat of “Revitalize:” the bass drum and snare drum repeat to create a regular four-beat pattern. The rhythmic sound of a record scratching punctuates the beat at steady intervals. A solo flute melody soars over these patterns, the line first rising in pitch and then falling, then rising again, reaching upward. Listen as T-Rhyme raps her words in the chorus in a steady rhythmic flow, and urges listeners to join her: “raise your fists high while we rise.” A spoken voice offers questions about resilience and makes space for answers. How do you feel when you listen?

“Problems” by Sly Skeeta
You could consider “Problems” a love song to a city. As the title suggests, rapper Sly Skeeta is honest about the problems he knows happen in Winnipeg. Yet this song can sound hopeful, with the rapper bringing in the community he finds in “the WPG.” Sly Skeeta is also known as a host for the International Indigenous Hip Hop Awards, one of many media events that showcase Winnipeg as a vibrant city for music and arts.

“Front Lines” by JB the First Lady (feat. Dioganhdih)
Sovereignty is about sound, and it is about land. Over buzzy bass-register electronics and a minor key flute melody, JB the First Lady lays it all out: the truth she sees and the history she knows. On “Front Lines,” JB the First Lady skillfully plays with the tension. She runs over the ends of bars to put an important word on the stressed first beat. She takes on media stereotypes of Indigenous people, and confronts issues with the legal system. This song builds musical and dramatic tension together. Collaborator Dioganhdih speaks a call to recognize sovereignty that already exists, and delivers it with wit.

“Keep listening to the playlist for rap lyrics in Anishinaabemowin, more sports metaphors from duo Rich n Beka, and much more.”

Liz Przybylski is Associate Professor in the Department of Music at the University of California, Riverside, and the author of Hybrid Ethnography: Online, Offline, and In Between and Sonic Sovereignty: Hip Hop, Indigeneity, and Shifting Popular Music Mainstreams. Przybylski is an awardee of the National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship.

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