DJ Shub doesn’t just make Powwow Step, he helped create the genre.

We ask the “Godfather of Powwow Step,” as he’s sometimes known, if it ever sinks in that he had a hand in cooking up a style that’s a monumental mix of powwow songs, drumbeats, electronic music, and dubstep. “It hits home whenever someone brings that up in an interview, or if I’m introduced that way before a show,” says Shub, born Dan General.

“It makes me realize (what I’m doing is) a responsibility, musically and culturally,” he adds. “I love Indigenous music! It carries itself through the culture, and it gives us the opportunity to shine and say, ‘Hey, look how beautiful our culture is!’ And what’s really exciting to see is that it’s getting more popular, and that there are all these sub-genres [of this style].”

Not only did the sound that Shub pioneered when he was with A Tribe Called Red (now re-named The Halluci Nation) fill dancefloors all around the world, their second album  Nation II Nation won a JUNO Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year – making Tribe the first Indigenous artist to win in a non-Indigenous category.

This year, Shub, a Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario, has been nominated for Contemporary Indigenous Artist of the Year for his 19-track album, War Club. “A war club is a weapon used by our people during war times,” he explains. “My music is my war club. It’s my voice, and it makes you dance. And the MCs in the film, they’re writers, and their pens are their war clubs.”

The film (actually a TV show) to which Shub refers is also called War Club, and it’s a beautiful 40-minute “cinematic adventure” that was shot at Longwoods Road Conservation Area near London, Ontario. It’s currently streaming on CBC Gem, and features Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Fawn Wood, Phoenix Pagliaacci, and Boogat, as well as six Indigenous dancers in regalia.

Shub says the album and film, which is “a celebration of song and dance, with a message of power and protest,” provide “a doorway to learning about our culture, and for me to find out more about my culture. I grew up off-reserve, so the culture was there, but I’d never thought about mixing it with music. But now that I have, it feels like I was supposed to do this.”

Shub is in great spirits the day we speak. He’s chatty, jokes, and his excitement to take War Club on the road is infectious. You’d never know he was in a dark place a few years back, if he wasn’t so forthright about his former drug and alcohol abuse. He’s a survivor, he’s keenly aware of that, and credits his recovery to the people around him. “It was my family that got together, saw me at my worst, stepped up and made sure I got help – and got it fast,” says Shub. “I thank the Creator for them every day. Honestly, I wouldn’t be here if not for them.”

It goes without saying that watching fans lose their minds at his shows makes it all worthwhile for Shub. But, we ask, have there been moments when he realizes the cultural impact he’s making? “I got a message from an aunty who said, ‘I want to thank you for making this album. My niece and I were drifting apart, and I gave her your album for her birthday and we’re talking again.’

“I was in tears,” says Shub. “That’s the magic that people don’t see. It really hit home.”

(Originally posted in April 2022)



Brampton, Toronto-based singer-songwriter Astrokidjay recorded his breakthrough hit “Ibiza” in a closet. At the time, he had lofty ambitions of reaching 50,000 views with the video – a last-minute, DIY shoot in an Airbnb. Those visuals have over a million views to date, and a lot more has changed since then.

The 2019 single (recorded with Stenno) put Astro on a white-hot trajectory, earning attention from producers like Murda Beatz and Evrgrn, as well as Astro’s manager, Karma Jonez. “He’s the one who pulled me aside and told me to sit back and work on my craft. He felt like I had potential, and that I could do more,” says Astro. “I learned, and I practiced a lot. I read the dictionary, I read a lot of books to help my grammar and my lyrics. I sat back for a little bit [and] stopped dropping music, just to work on my craft. To get better flows, better melodies, and better lyrics.”

That diligence led to a big year for Astro in 2021. He dropped an independent album called Wizard Boy, earned a feature with Polaris Music Prize-winner Haviah Mighty on her single “Coulda Been U,” and landed a record deal with Interscope in November. “I’m more of a developed artist now,” he says. “I know better, I grew up a bit more. I’m signed to a major record label [and] I have way crazier music than [on] Wizard Boy. I just feel like my things are getting better and better.”

The youngest of six kids born to Tanzanian parents, Astro’s music aspirations started relatively late in life. As a child, he preferred soccer over songwriting, and didn’t take an interest in rapping until his late teens. Thanks to varying musical tastes across his large family, though, the 20-year-old does remember being exposed to a mix of genres at home; artists who would later influence his own work. His inherited an appetite for R&B from his siblings, and credits the genre with his distinct, melodic delivery.

“I sat back for a little bit, stopped dropping music, just to work on my craft”

“I listen to a lot of throwback R&B, like 2000s R&B – Keyshia Cole, Alicia Keys,” he says. “I [still] listen to a lot of R&B before my sessions, because it helps me with melodies. A lot of people my age don’t listen to throwback R&B. [But] there are different types of melodies in it that we don’t hear in today’s music. It definitely helps me.”

Andreena Mill

Astrokidjay mentor Andreena Mill

Now gearing up for his tentative April 2022 release, Guns and Roses, Astro – who turns 21 years old in May – is taking a different approach to his writing than his earlier music. He’s traded trap-leaning freestyles and small basement studios for heavier doses of R&B, big studios, and a production team. Seeing an opportunity for professional growth, manager Jonez paired Astro with singer-songwriter Andreena [Mill], who, in addition to her solo work, has collaborated with artists like Melanie Fiona, DMX, and Drake. She serves as co-writer for much of Astro’s upcoming music.

“She’s, like, the best in the world! I learn a lot from her,” says Astro about Andreena. “She helps me with my vocal training, helps me hit certain notes. [She] helps with my writing process sometimes. It’s great working with her and being around her. She’s definitely one of the mentors who help me with my sound today.”

Working with new collaborators like Andreena, OVO-signee Roy Woods, and Jamaican artist Popcaan (perhaps most widely known for his feature on Drake’s “One Dance”) means Guns and Roses will be Astro’s most versatile project yet. While he’s close-lipped about the full list of featured artists, he promises that his new album is sure to widen his audience, and leave a mark.

“I’m on a whole new wave. There’s everything on there for all audiences: children, grandmas, aunties, mothers, everybody,” says Astro. “A lot of people are going to be able to relate to it. It’s going to leave an impact on the city when it drops. I know that for sure.”

 



TiKA SimoneTiKA is a woman of many talents, and entrepreneurship isn’t the least of them. Released in February 2020 on Next Door Records, her first album Anywhere But Here established her as a voice to be reckoned with on Canada’s soul and R&B scene. In parallel to that career, the singer-songwriter took her first steps into the world of screen composing and co-founded StereoVisual, a non-profit organization aimed at fostering the integration of BIPOC musicians into an industry that, even today, leaves them very little space for expression.

Her latest obsession: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. Nearly two months ago, TiKA Simone and rapper Allan Kingdom auctioned a song, “Yebo Life,” via the Etherium protocol, whose token eventually fetched 4.4ETH, the equivalent of just over $14,000 at the time of the transaction. Tika has since followed up by offering tokens of songs from her recent album, limited editions of the .wav files, in this case, while retaining her publishing rights.

“I’m super-stoked by the potential of NFTs,” says TiKA on the phone from Toronto, where she spends her time when she’s not in Montréal. “I find the concept to be a source of progress, especially for artists who are under-served by the music industry.” In other words, they’re a way to generate new, autonomous revenue for artists who often work without the support of established structures or record labels.

These revenues count for a lot in the process, admits Tika, but “they’re also a way to build a community of fans around your project. A major part of the process is posting it on socials or, in other words, being self-confident enough in your own work to actively promote it. You can truly build a community that will, down the line, allow you to rely of a stable source of income. A lot of artists are going through rough times right now because they couldn’t tour. I believe NFTs can allow artists to make ends meet during this rough patch.”

And during said rough patch, TiKA added a new string to her bow: screen composer. Co-written with Casey Manierka-Quaile for Thyrone Tommy’s feature film Learn to Swim, her song “And Then They Won’t” is currently up for Best Original Song at the Canadian Screen Awards Gala on April 8, 2022.

“Composing for a film is a much more intimate and private experience than when I’m creating for my own projects,” says TiKA. “There’s a whole world of difference between composing a song for myself and watching a film, or a scene, to imagine what music would best underscore it, and deciding what instrument best fits that emotion; that’s why I find that process a lot more intuitive. It was especially true with this project, since the director hadn’t finished his movie when I started working on it. That meant we had to communicate a lot about the film’s message, and the emotions the song needed to express. I composed a song based on our conversations, so it’s like I channelled the director’s energy to be able to flesh out the music he was imagining.”

It was also an opportunity for TiKA to take measure of the hurdles she’s had to overcome to gain a foothold in the world of screen composing. It’s a world, she believes, that’s not conducive to the integration of people of colour, who are still very much a minority. As a result, she helped create StereoVisual, an organization that equips that minority to enter the business.

“This project was born out of a strong desire to help this industry change,” says TiKA, who enrolled in a screen composition program at the Slaight Music Residency of the Canadian Film Centre. “It was an awesome experience, but I was also told stuff like, ‘You know, TiKA, if you want to become a screen composer, you must learn to play a string instrument.’ OK, fair enough. But what about all those who don’t get the financial means, or the opportunity, to get such training? Why should they be excluded from that realm, especially since many marginalized people don’t have access to such training, and must learn to use music software on their computer, since that’s all they can afford. It’s the accessibility to that training that sparks a conversation, because if you’re told that to compose for film you have to know music theory, that excludes a whole category of artists who are very often people of colour.”

That’s what the people behind StereoVisual are working on, building bridges between musicians from cultural communities and the “very white and very male” world of film and television. “The whole movie industry needs to change, not just the screen composing segment,” TiKA firmly believes.