The 2024 edition of the International Indigenous Music Summit launched on June 10, in an opening night reception and gala concert at the TD Music Hall in downtown Toronto, with a unity of purpose to uplift and celebrate music made by First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and global Indigenous peoples, and a diversity of music wide enough to encompass powwow chants, bluesy rock, fiddle tunes, throat singing, drag, and hip-hop.

After opening remarks from Ishkode Records founders Shoshona Kish and Amanda Rheaume, and shared wisdom from elder/healer Gerard Sagassige, host Cherazon Leroux took the stage. Leroux, a two-spirit, Dene Nation drag queen (who appeared on Season 2 of Canada’s Drag Race) was loud, proud, and funny throughout the evening.
First up in the show, a series of short sets, was Powwow group The Manitou Mkwa Singers – four women chanting to the beat of a hand drum, making a pure and ancient sound.
Josh Q (Qaumariaq), from Iqaluit, followed, working apart from his usual duo The Trade-Offs, in a rock power-trio format, with a pedal steel guitarist for the solos. Playing a beat-up old Gibson SG electric guitar, Q sang his downtempo, countryish blues-rock in a rough, growling, soulful voice, with occasional falsetto, going from a whisper to a scream.

The Red River Ramblers proved their knack for updating the Métis fiddle music tradition. A  quartet of guitar, violin, standup bass, and hand drum, they easily got the audience dancing, without saying a word.

Two throat-singing women from Nunavut, Silla, were a mesmerizing, mind-blowing surprise. Growling, sighing, barking, snarling, and whispering, they created astonishing soundscapes using only their two voices, reflecting the sounds of animals, nature, the wind. They often perform in an intimate, face-to-face embrace – the usual stance for throat singers, as they chant into each other’s mouths.

Cherazon Leroux offered a very entertaining between-set drag bit, dancing, posing, and lip-synching to “Red Wine Supernova” by Chappell Roan.

Maxida Märak, from a Sami background, in the North of Sweden, is a singer, actress, and anti-resource-extraction activist. Mixing hip-hop with tradition, her trio uses drum machines, bassy synths, and treated guitar, to back her piercing cries on the slower songs, and guttural rap on the fast ones. Märak got the audience dancing again, left the stage to prowl the crowd, and her rap skills (in her Sami native tongue) – including a cover of Missy Elliott’s “Work It” – were very impressive.

Straight off the announcement their brand new CBC-TV series going into production, Snotty  Nose Rez Kids headlined the show, in a short but continuously explosive performance, where they didn’t stop moving for the entire 20 minutes. To a wildly enthusiastic, dancing and shouting crowd, they ranged from older material like “Sink or Swim” to newer, like “Big  Braid Energy,” to unreleased songs from their upcoming Red Future album.

All in all, a great way to kick off the summit week.