By Sebastian Buzzalino
It seems fitting that when BeatRoute connected with Matthew Cardinal, bassist and synth player for the band nêhiyawak, they were recovering from a severe thunderstorm that had rained out their set at Supercrawl in Hamilton, Ontario.
“They had to close down the stages and there was lightning everywhere,” he says. “Luckily, they were able to get everything going in time for Buffy Sainte-Marie.”
That nêhiyawak were caught up in such forces of nature suits the thunderous and atmospheric indie rock. Rounded out by Kris Harper on vocals and guitars, and Marek Tyler on drums, the trio from amiskwaciy in Treaty 6 Territory (current day Edmonton) weaves together intricate soundscapes chiming with jangly guitars, modulated synths, and swelling rhythms. It’s the sound of prairies sighing, of mountains uprising, of rivers racing and skies splitting open, all devoted to investigating their land, history, and heritage.
Combining contemporary indie songwriting and traditional methods of storytelling, nêhiyawak are part of a renaissance of Indigenous artists from across Canada using their music to unravel the legacies of colonialism.
“The subject matter is pretty important for me — it’s pretty intense,” explains Cardinal. “It’s inspired by the Idle No More moments, the Sixties Scoop, the displacement of Indigenous people in general.”
Their debut full-length, nipiy, which translates to “water,” is a spirited expression of resistance. Bookended with odes to kisiskâciwanisîpiy (North Saskatchewan River), the flow and rhythm of water is a central part of the album’s identity, and nêhiyawak leverage their teachings that come from water as a lens to raise awareness for the themes they tackle.
“If people can hear our music and learn from that, and then reach out to other people, that’s all we could ask for,” says Cardinal. “It’s cool to be part of all these Indigenous musicians who are gaining some traction, and getting our stories out.”
nipiy is out October 24 on Arts & Craftsnêhiyawak