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Alaska electronic group Indian Agent ‘won’t applaud your history’ in new album

An Alaska music group called Indian Agent has a new album out that uses electronic music to highlight historic atrocities committed against indigenous peoples.  The album “Meditations in the Key of Red” is out now on Homeskillet Records.

Indian Agent’s first single “Life keeps on spinning” opens with lush soundscapes and deep grooves. The lyrics allude to a growing awareness and ideological shift.  

It’s the latest release from Tlingit and Unangax̂ artist Yéil Ya-Tseen, also known as Nicholas Galanin. He’s joined by Zach Wass who also plays guitar in Silver Jackson and Seattle artist OC Notes. Indian Agent’s debut album is called “Meditations in The Key of Red.”

“Red is reference to indigeneity, red is reference to anger, reference is to love,” said Galanin. 

Historically, Indian agents were government officials, who Galanin said carried out colonial agendas in the United States and Canada, banning ceremonial practices. Galanin said the group’s name Indian Agent and the album are an opportunity to educate through their music and art.

“It was also an opportunity to reverse those ideas and roles and resist against it, I suppose, with our song, with our dance, with our strength and our words are empowerment,” he said. 

On their song “Can you hang” there’s a refrain: “We won’t applaud your history.” Galanin said the song is about the curriculum taught in our education system, the national holidays that are celebrated, and the values displayed by our monuments.

“We’re familiar with the history and a lot of it’s not OK,” Galanin said. “A lot of it’s ugly and nasty, a lot of it’s rape and murder and all of these things. You can’t make it look nice with a bronze statue.”

Recent history was also an influence. The song “Dakota” was written in response to last year’s Dakota Access pipeline protests. The track captures the conflict and unrest at Standing Rock, and includes audio samples recorded on the ground by members of his artist collective Winter Count.

To Galanin, the idea that humans can own land is a myth, instead we belong to the land. It’s a theme throughout these recordings.

Yup’ik musician Stephen Qacung Blanchett of the band Pamyua joins the album in “We move lightly on land and on sea.”

“It’s a reference to our care, our respect that we have for place and the ocean and how powerful the land actually is and how powerful the sea is,” Galanin said. “And we have care for that and we understand through subsistence and through hunting and being out there with it. And the opposite side of that spectrum is complete lack of care and disrespect for it.” 

At the end, Blanchett sings in Yup’ik,“My people I come before you, singing our song and dancing.” It comes from a traditional entrance song protocol.

The album ends with a the track “Mother,” featuring a visceral and unsettling performance from the internationally renowned Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq. The release also includes appearances from Tlingit composer Ed Littlefield, and hip-hop producer and Macklemore collaborator Budo, among others.

“Meditations in the Key of Red” is a marriage of electronics, vibrant percussion and acoustic instruments. It’s collaborative and experimental, layers of story and sound, and some of Galanin’s most cohesive work. 

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