De l’Abitibi à Hong Kong

Samian in Hong Kong

Franco-Algonquin hip hop is the last thing I expected to encounter in Hong Kong, but that’s exactly what I heard this past weekend at the former Central Married Police Quarters, which has suddenly become the most interesting cultural space in town. Over the past month, the Heritage X Art X Design festival and the Indie Ones series of concerts have used the space to great effect, transforming its concrete courtyard into a fake lawn (in contrast to the beach created by November’s Detour festival) set in front of a bamboo stage illuminated by red market lamps.

Samian is the son of a French-Canadian father and an Algonquin mother; he grew up on a native reserve in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, about 800 kilometres northwest of Montreal. He started rapping when he was a teenager, first in French, and later — after he met the influential hip hop crew Loco Locass — in Algonquin.

Samian took the stage on Saturday in a performance that was energetic but marred by poor sound, which was mainly because the organizers had to muffle the vocals after the police got a slew of noise complaints from nearby luxury apartment towers. (“At least in Quebec we have until 10pm before we have to keep quiet,” Samian’s DJ said to me after the show.) The crowd responded enthusiastically even though most of the people there didn’t speak French.

Central Married Police Quarters, Hong Kong

Samian’s lyrics are usually described as “engaged,” which doesn’t quite convey the forcefulness of his message. As one of the only First Nations rappers who has crossed into the relative mainstream, Samian clearly feels it is his duty to make his listeners aware of the aboriginal experience and the First Nations political imperative. The fact that he raps in Algonquin says a lot about his commitment to a culture and language that many would dismiss as irrelevant. “I exist and my people exist,” he has declared, which would seem supercilious if it weren’t for the fact that only 3,000 Algonquin-speakers remain in the world today.

The two music videos I’ve included below are good representations of Samian’s approach. One, “Les Nomades,” works well as an introduction, features animated footage of some familiar Montreal sights — places that most Montrealers would celebrate, including the Maguire Meadow, the silo my friends and I liked to sneak into and of course Mount Royal — that are put in a different light as Samian raps about a dispossessed people. The second, “Injustice,” is an even more straightforward account of the mistreatment suffered by indigeneous peoples, and it features some gorgeous images of life on a native reserve.



This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday March 15 2010at 10:03 am , filed under Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Canada, Music, Society and Culture, Video and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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