Women and the Indigenous are two groups that historically have been continually silenced. While there have been Aboriginal musicians throughout time, a few particularly brave Indigenous women in recent years have entered the mainstream music industries. Through their artistry, they bring a cultural awareness to their heritage that is often overlooked by society.
Winner of the 2019 Indigenous Music Awards’ Best New Artist, Janel Munoa is from Southern California and is a member of the Pechanga Tribe of Luiseño. She began singing as she howled “through the dark oak forests at the edge of her tribe’s reservation”. This continues to influence her music as she fuses it with a diverse array of genres, such as blues, soul, rock, and even a little hip-hop. She has a strong connection to her home and is not only an art director, dancer, visual artist, and singer-songwriter but is also an activist. Her music reflects her activism, not shying away from subject matter such as sexism and racism.
Munoa says, “Much of my music deals with a sense of personal territory and standing up for it, being proud, rising up and not letting anything or anyone violate your boundaries. After I finished the record, I realized how much that was a theme growing up in a tribe in American culture where you have to continuously reinforce boundaries and land rights, to reinforce a sense of identity, to protect and honor and celebrate that. That sense of my own personal journey reflected the larger culture I grew up in.”
You can stream her latest album Blackstone on Spotify now.
Although there have been successful Native American musicians throughout history, there have not been many pop artists. Pop singer Brooke Simpson is from the Haliwa-Saponi tribe in North Carolina. She discovered her love of singing at just seven years old as she grew up attending both church and pow wows.
While singing was always a part of her life as she also was in Lee University’s music ensemble Campus Choir, her music career officially began when she appeared on the thirteenth season of The Voice. After singing Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold,” all four judges turned around. While she ultimately made it to third place in the series on Team Miley, it gave her the platform to jumpstart a career. Now, she is a self-proclaimed “happy singer that writes sad songs” with the goal to relate and move her audience with her lyrics.
Her latest release, “The Wrong One,” is available on all streaming platforms.
Thelma Plum is an award-winning folk singer-songwriter and also a Gamilaraay woman from Australia. While she was growing up, she was very aware of her Aboriginal heritage, and found a role model in her mother. However, she says that the lack of representation in the media negatively affected her: “I had to learn to love how I looked.”
Her music career had a jumpstart in 2012, when she was awarded Triple J’s Unearthed search for an Indigenous artist. After recording “Made For You,” Sir Paul McCartney happened to stumble into the studio and her song. He liked it so much that he volunteered to lay guitar down for it; resulting in an almost accidental collaboration with the legend.
You can pre-order the Anniversary Edition of her album Better In Blak here.
Samantha Crain has a music career that spans eleven years and has won multiple awards; including an Indigenous Music Award and a couple of Native American Music Awards. Rightfully so, as a quintuple threat of poet, producer, musician, songwriter, and singer. From Shawnee, Oklahoma, she is of Choctaw heritage. She has said that since genocide and dislocation stripped traditions and connections to their ancestors, she believes it is especially important for indigenous Americans to “create our own traditions.”
Crain says that all that she creates is Choctaw because she is Choctaw. It does not always have to fit into the stereotypical box of what most consider Indigenous creation. While many Indigenous musicians state that their heritage influences their music, Crain says, “My heritage hasn’t influenced my music. My music is my heritage.” While her sound might be difficult to describe, her voice is uniquely raw and haunting. Despite suffering a “a full-on breakdown” from a combination of tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, she has come back with an eleven-song album titled A Small Death that is available to buy and stream now.
Based in Toronto, Mimi O’Bonsawin’s French Canadian and Abenakis roots play a large part in her music as her bio states that her “musical creations flow through a center of love, with the intention to give back and spread awareness.”
While she may have been recently awarded Best Pop Record at the Indigenous Music Awards, her music goes beyond mainstream pop as a “contemporary roots songwriter”. When she’s not writing or performing, she also hosts workshops.
Her latest single, “Tug of War,” is out now.
Mohawk singer-songwriter Shawnee Lynn Talbot had a unique start to her career as she was a Shania Twain impersonator from Ontario. Since then, she’s shared the stage with pop icons such as Lady Gaga and Tegan and Sara. Although she goes by she/her pronouns, Shawnee is a “proud two-spirit person” with Six Nations of The Grand River heritage. She has said that “being two-spirit is a beautiful, empowering term for an Indigenous person who carries the gift of knowing, understanding and walking in both gender worlds.”
Shawnee is especially passionate about using her music to help aboriginal youth. One of her most notable projects is “Warrior Heart”. Its goal is to bring awareness to youth suicide; and all of its purchase proceeds go to the We Matter Campaign, in support of empowering Indigenous Youth in Canada.
Her latest single, “Don’t Go” is available to stream now.
Waseskwan Iskwew, known as iskwē | ᐃᐢᑫᐧᐤ, is an award-winning singer-songwriter and unlike any other artist. She’s exceptionally creative in all artistic expressions, especially music. Her music style is described as “cross-cultural electro-pop” with traditional Indigenous influences, resulting in songs that are especially poignant.
Originally from Winnipeg, Canada, she is of Cree, Dené and Irish heritage. Her single, “Nobody Knows,” is a powerful tribute with a mission to spread awareness to the missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada.
Her new album acākosik is available for purchase and streaming.
These talented women continue to contribute to their culture and heritage with their art, ensuring a legacy for future descendants.
Header: Brooke Simpson