Tribe: Northern Cree
Genre: Powwow, Northern Drum
Location: Little Pine Cree Nation near North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada
Members: Melvin Stone, Brian Moosomin, Melvin Eyahpaise, Edmund Bull, Terrance Oxibin, Lawrence Kiskotaygan, Lux Benson, Francis Green, and Irvin Waskewitch.
Red Bull Singers, pow wow drum from the Cree Nation. Bio, discography, reviews and quotes. Buy Red Bull Singers pow wow music below.
The Red Bull Singers are recognized by many as being one of the most accomplished Powwow Drums and Round Dance groups in North America, perhaps the world.
Most of the members of the Red Bull Singers are from the Little Pine Cree Nation near North Battleford, Saskatchewan. The group is mainly made up of family members, where the tradition is handed down from their families from generation to generation.
The Red Bull group varies from 10 to 15 members, including: Edmond Bull, the leader and main composer of the drum group, Melvin Stone, Brian Moosomin, Melvin Eyahpaise, Terrance Oxibin, Lawrence Kiskotaygan, Lux Benson, Francis Green, Quinton “Buck” & Terry “Chopper”
Checkosis, Brian Waskewitch, Troy “Moosuk” Tootoosis, Melvin Eyahpase, Wesley & Randy Strongarm, and Irvin Waskewitch.
Given the central role the drum group plays for First Nation communities everywhere, it's no mean feat to be judged the best one in the world. That honor goes to the Saskatchewan drum group Red Bull.
"The world championship is the highlight of our career," group leader Edmond Bull says in typically quiet understatement. The group earned the award at the international competition in Hartford, Connecticut.
Edmond, a 49-year-old Cree from the Little Pine First Nation near North Battleford, comes from a family where drumming and singing is passed down from generation to generation. His first recollection of drum music was hearing his father and uncles perform on the reserve. Eventually he joined them, and their group came to be known in powwow circles as The Little Pine Singers.
By 1987, Edmond was the leader and primary composer of original music for the group. Before performing at an important powwow in Regina that year, he changed the group's name to Red Bull.
Their powerful debut under the new name led to invitations to perform across Canada and in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Mexico and Oklahoma. As news spread of their spirited and soaring performances, requests poured in for Red Bull to act as the honored "host" drum group for powwows across North America.
Red Bull now has performed in Poland, Finland, Sweden and Russia, as part of the Goodwill Games, as well as from coast to coast across North America.
A composition Edmond created and performed with Buffy Saint-Marie won a Canadian music industry Juno for Best Music of Aboriginal Canada, and the group received its own Juno nomination for a 1995 album entitled "Dancing Around the World", produced by Saskatoon's Sweet Grass Records.
The Red Bull Singers have appeared on television specials, a Buffy Saint-Marie music video, and they continue to be in high demand on the powwow circuit.
It's been a busy 11 years for the group, which now draws its mostly male members from the Little Pine, Onion Lake, Red Pheasant and Poundmaker First Nations.
Red Bull's music is considered "northern original style", a form characterized by high-pitched vocals associated with Cree singers, explains Edmond. Some of the tunes, such as sacred songs of celebration or ones honoring past leaders, are handed down from previous generations like folk songs in the non-native tradition. Others are contemporary in nature, composed by Edmond and ranging in subject matter from politics to love. Some Redbull songs have a humerous nature.
"I'm a composer," says Edmond, "but I don't write songs down on paper."
According to First Nations tradition, the leader of a drum group is gifted through the Creator to make songs that connect with the spirit world. Typically, Edmond composes a song during a performance. He sings the words or voices the melody once or twice, and then he's joined by other members of the group.
Red Bull members record with Buffy Saint-Marie. Darling Don't Cry, composed by Edmond and Buffy, won a Juno award in 1995.
"We started adding Cree words to our music in 1987," says Edmond. "Up until then, there were no words for Cree singers -- it was mostly an original tonal melody."
Many of their original songs also include a portion of the lyrics translated to English for the enjoyment of non-native listeners.
Red Bull spends the warmer half of the year touring the powwow circuit and performing at outdoor celebrations around North America. The pace slows somewhat during winter, but the group performs about every second weekend at Round Dances across the province.
The Round Dance, which involves dancing in a circle while holding hands, is a marathon of friendship and spiritual renewal that begins at 7 p.m. and ends at 5 a.m.
"We (musicians) take turns. We move to the middle of the circle and stand up to sing. We sing three or four songs and then another group takes over. Sometimes there's 24 groups of singers."
Edmond is especially pleased with the move by young people towards a more traditional way of life. He says this growth in customary ways is nowhere more apparent than at a Round Dance.
"A lot of young people are very into that now, and it's a good thing. It keeps them away from alcohol and drugs."
Traditional groups like Red Bull are much a part of those changes.
Red Bull Singers Discography and Awards:
Having Fun Dancing was the first recording Red Bull did with Sweet Grass Records. A classic and still popular recording.
RED BULL - VOLUME 2
Dancing Around the World was nominated for a Juno award in 1995.
Mother Earth is full of great powwow songs.
Red Bull Schemitzun '96 was recorded in Connecticut at the World Championship of Song and Dance. Good pow wow songs.
World Handdrum Champions is a round dance recording made the year they won the Hand Drum competition at Schemitzun.
The Best of Red Bull is the best of their previous 5 recordings. Mostly powwow with a few round dance songs.
Millennium was chosen to be the name for this album to celebrate the year 2000. Very good round dance songs. The harmony sang by the women back up singers is wonderful!
Have a Good Time
Gather the People was recorded live at the University Of Washington, Seattle, Washington.
"My dad is a singer, and I used to listen to him sing when I was small," said Edmund Bull. "He would sing with a hand drum. When he was not home, I would take his drum and sing to myself. That's how I started to sing, just on my own. When I turned fifteen, I started to sing in a group with my dad and my uncles."
"As the manager of the group, Red Bull, I keep the drum, so you say that I am the Drum Keeper. A lot of drum keepers believe in smudging their drum with sweetgrass before singing at a powwow. Smudging the drum with sweetgrass, is a way to respect the spirit of the drum."
"It is believed that there is a Drum Spirit, and it is considered sacred. To care for the Drum Spirits, some Drum Keepers will feed their drum. This means they will hold a feast in honour of their drum. The Drum Spirit is what gives dancers energy to dance, and it also gives energy to the singers. This Drum Spirit is what we mean by, "The heartbeat of our people."
"There are two types of drums I use, a hand drum, and a powwow drum.
The hand drum is small, and is held by one person. In one hand the drum is held, and in the other, the drumstick. Sometimes there is only one singer, but hand drum songs can be sung in a group, with each person holding their own drum."
"The hand drum is often used for round dances, or other types of ceremonies, like the Prairie Chicken Dance. This is a dance that they sing all night long. It is held in the springtime, and is something they do in both Saskatchewan and Alberta."
"The powwow drum is bigger. It sits near to the ground, and can have as many drummers as can fit around it. Sometimes it could fit up to fifteen drummers."
"My dad makes his own hand drums. He would prepare the deer hide. He not only made these drums for himself; he would sometimes make them for other men. A friend of mine, a singer, wanted to make a drum. He didn't know how, he thought he would just try it. He made a good hand drum for himself; of course he must have watched someone else."
"Drum making is a gift. It has to be done right, to make an effective sound. The hide has to be the right thickness, to make a good sound."
"Drums are made mostly from moose, deer, and elk hide, but nowadays, they can be made from cowhide. The wood is usually from a cedar, or other type of tree. The hides of the hand drums are mostly from deer hide, but some are made with beaver pelts. Hand drum frames use the wood from the black poplar tree. Some people paint their drums for different reasons, sometimes for decoration, or they may have had a dream about it."
"There are two types of songs, Traditional and contemporary songs. Traditional songs do not have words; they are chants, or melodies. Contemporary songs have words. As a matter of fact, I was one of the first in this area to make a song in Cree, because traditionally, the Cree people didn't have word songs. only the Dakota, Blackfeet, and other tribes had word songs."
"I liked the way they would sing these songs, so I decided to make a word song in Cree. A few years later, other Cree groups started to make their own word songs. This all began around 1984, in Saskatchewan. Now we have contemporary songs for Honour songs, Intertribals... we have all types of contemporary songs."
"My first song was about dancers and dancing, having a good time together. A Cree verse from one of my songs translated to English, would say something like this, ...'All you dancers come in and join. Come and dance together. Come and enjoy this celebration with us....' "
"An honour song is to recognize, and respect someone. All should stand when there is an honour song. At Grand Entry, an honour song is the first song that begins the powwow. The Eagle Staff and flags are brought in at this time, and it is usually carried by our veterans. A flag song follows this."
"A verse from a flag song Red Bull sings, is about the flag, (Union Jack), that the Queen gave our people, and this flag will always be with us - flying high."
"Veteran songs are for the veterans who went to war, to acknowledge the ones who didn't come back. We remember them, and honour them with veteran memorial songs. Victory songs are for all the veterans. We recognize these veterans who won the wars. It is because of them, we are free here today."
"Sometimes we are asked to sing an honour song when a person has a give-away, like a memorial give-away. A memorial giveaway is for someone that a family has lost. So we sing for their loved one that has passed on."
"Some parents will host a giveaway when their child enters the powwow circle. They can enter the circle as a dancer or singer. This is a type of initiation, and we welcome them in by singing. We also sing honour songs for our elderly people."
"Round dances are for enjoyment, so some songs are comical. A round dance song can also be a love song. A good love song my dad made when he was young says, 'Don't you know I care for you a lot. You're my pretty little sweetheart. I love you, and nobody else in this world, hey ya, hey ya.' I call this my mother song."
"My niece, Delia Bull-Waskewitch, started to sing with us when she was nineteen. She travels and sings with the group. She enjoys singing, and when she sings, she prays for all the People. Delia has a beautiful voice, and inspires many women to start singing."
"Women will stand behind the drum as a support. Women singers start to sing when the men start to sing low. Their voices harmonize with the men."
"Whistle blowing is adopted from the States again. The Dakota people call them eagle whistlers. Eagle whistlers are traditional men who went through a special ceremony. They are then given the passage to carry these whistles. Usually another carrier passes on these whistles. "
"The original carrier, whistle man, will only pass on the whistle to someone who will honour and respect that whistle, and carry on the special significance of the whistle."
"When an eagle whistler blows on a drum, it means that the eagle whistler is moved by, or really loves that song. Sometime an eagle whistler will be asked by someone to blow his whistle on a drum. When someone requests this, it could be for a family member to get well. Then it is done for healing."
"When a whistle is blown on a drum, that song will go on for four starts. It is a good feeling for the drum group, when this happens to them."
Red Bull Singers - Reservation Blues
Red Bull Singers - Darlin Don't Cry
Red Bull Singers at the 2004 IWASIL Pow-Wow in Tacoma, WA
This article was published on Friday 20 June, 2008.
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