Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen
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Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | INDIE

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
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"Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen are bringing Algonquin back"

Home / 2012 / April / 01 / Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen are bringing Algonquin back

April 1, 2012 · by Kate Adach · in Features, Reviews
*Photo from Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen’s official video Kijigog Nimiwan / Galactic Dancehall, via YouTube.

If Junos were awarded based on a band’s ability to create innovative new sounds, connect Canadians, and impact local and international audiences in unprecedented ways, then Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen would’ve taken home the award for Aboriginal Album of the Year.

The vibrant, creative album One Nation represents the best of Canada: diverse voices, Aboriginal wisdom, international influences and a powerful collaboration of talent.

The men behind it, Flying Down Thunder (Kevin Chief), a member of the Algonquin nation and a federal negotiator by day, and Rise Ashen (Eric Vani), a “half-French, half-Italian mutt” in his words, Ottawa realtor and in-demand DJ, see their album as a metaphor for cultural unity.

Chief layers Algonquin powwow-style drumming, chanting, and traditional storytelling lyrics sung in Anishinaabe, on top of Vani’s mix of very urban electronic beats — house, hip hop, nu-jazz and world music. The blend: music that makes everyone want to dance, whether an elder in Northern Quebec or a teen in an underground Bosnian nightclub.

While it’s diverse audience is growing, One Nation is doing more to empower our nation than most Canadians may realize.

Here are the top five reasons why Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen should have all Canadians dancing proudly:

1. They’re making Aboriginal music “cool” again

“It makes young people proud,” Chief says of First Nations teens who hear their music. “[They] can say ‘wow, that’s my culture! That’s my people’s music right there!”

And their music’s “cool enough that you could play it on Much Music or you could play it on the radio and it has that same addictive feel like when you listen to artists like Sean Paul.”

As Aboriginal youths have been shifting their attention to mainstream pop music at the expense of their families’ culture and Indigenous language, Chief is excited to see young people grooving to a new twist on the traditional Anishinaabe teachings that have been passed on for generations.

2. International partiers are loving it

At least 23 countries quickly picked up on the sounds. Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen are getting airplay around the globe from Bosnia to South Africa to Australia.

The international reach is awesome, Vani says, because Aboriginal music is “usually only heard in very, very select circles in traditional gatherings.”

The DJ, who’s used to his music playing overseas, is thrilled to see his colleague’s sounds “have a new life.”

3. They’re empowering youth

Chief and Vani use their music as an educational tool. Vani and his wife teach and perform house dancing. Chief’s daughters, 12 and 17, sing and dance with their dad. Together the two families, and a crew of urban dancers, lead workshops in small towns and First Nations communities across the country.

Last week they brought their “dance party” as they call it, to a school in the Timiskaming First Nation, one of Chief’s home communities near a northern Ontario-Quebec border. In June, they will bring the workshop to Iqaluit.

The kids who attend “want to learn cool moves,” Chief says, “and more importantly we want to teach them the proper values.”

“The main value being respect. Respect for each other and respect for the music itself, and that you don’t have to do what you see on TV.”

The duo want kids to be proud of who they are. “Not to be shy on the dance floor,” Chief says, but “just to be there to represent who you are as a person.”

Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen performing their title track “One Nation” at the Mercury Lounge in Ottawa, 2011.
4. They promote racial unity

The artists dedicated One Nation to William Commanda, an Algonquin elder and spiritual leader who died last August at 97. Commanda had traveled extensively, leaving his community near Maniwaki, Quebec, to share his wisdom and participate in ceremonies with other influential leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

Although Commanda and Chief had had a personal relationship, the elder’s message of racial unity resonated for Vani too. Commanda was an advocate for cultural respect and would host annual powwow gathering called “the Circle of All Nations”.

“He would invite all of these musicians and artists from around the world,” Vani says, “Africans, Asians, it was really like a very multicultural mix of music.”

“He said that we were all rainbow people.”

Chief and Vani agree. “It doesn’t matter what race you are,” Chief says, “respect one another, love one another.”

Vani uses some of Commanda’s words as lyrics he raps in their title track “Pejig Dodem” (“One Nation”), in much the same way, they point out, as Bob Marley used the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s 1963 UN speech for the song “War.”

5. They’ll make you wanna move too

Oh yeah, and there’s that. It’s absolutely impossible to listen to Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen without bouncing even a little. One Nation could easily get all of us moving together — crossing cultural divides and dance floors - University of British Columbia Journalism School

"CBC - All in a Day - Congrats to Ottawa & area JUNO nominees!"

An audio interview of Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen after being at the JUNO awards nomination press conference.
Click the first audio tab. - Canadian Broadcast Company

"Rise Ashen and Flying Down Thunder : A little creative combustion"

The category: Aboriginal Album of the Year

The album: One Nation

The Competition: Speakers of Tomorrow by Brothers of Different Muthers; To Whom it May Concern by Donny Parenteau; Songs Lived & Life Played by Murray Porter; The Gift of Life by Randy Wood

Where Canadian Aboriginal history and culture are concerned, Rise Ashen says our educational system does a fine job of engendering guilt in non-Aboriginals. As to imparting knowledge or fostering curiosity about First Nations people, well, not so much.

Will the arresting, creative album One Nation, nominated for a Juno in the Aboriginal Album category, change that? Rise Ashen (Eric Vani) and his musical partner on the disc, Flying Down Thunder (Kevin Chief), both hope so.

The two Ottawa-based musicians/producers/dancers — Vani is also an in-demand DJ — have blended the fat and very urban electronic beats of Vani’s house-cum-nu jazz-cum-world music with the traditional powwow sounds that Chief, a member of the Algonquin nation, has brought to Canadian and international stages.

“Electronic music is like the diaspora of native (North American) music where nations have their own dances and cultures,” says Vani, a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the evolution and multicultural derivations of his own music.

By marrying urban and Aboriginal music, each of which brings its own audience, he and Chief issue an invitation for us all to experience and understand each others’ cultures and musical histories without forcing us too far outside our own comfort zones.

“Aboriginal music is about storytelling,” says Chief. “We wanted to show respect to that tradition, not just add beats to powwow music.”

The album includes Aboriginal stories passed down from elders and sung in the original tongue (Chief, a 37-year-old father, negotiator on self-government with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, and what Vani calls “a force of nature,” says he checked his pronunciation with his mum, a language teacher). When non-Aboriginal listeners ask Chief what the songs mean, it’s his chance to enlighten them about the spiritual, cultural and ceremonial aspects of native life. That some of the songs are about racial harmony is a bonus.

Chief and Vina’s meeting was pure serendipity. Vina was skating on the Rideau Canal with his wife on a bitterly cold day during Winterlude a few years ago when he passed Pig Island near Lansdowne Park. Chief was performing on the island, and Vina was stopped cold by the sound. “I heard this unbelievable chanting; it was unearthly,” he recalls. He introduced himself to Chief, and a year later they finally followed up on their mutual promise to get together.

They met in a recording studio with no idea what they wanted to do and little knowledge of each others’ music, says Chief. “Then Rise gave me this beat, and I just started singing. What came out was Nigan Mikan ­— The Road Ahead, and that was the first song we did for the album.”

Their collaboration has also meant learning about each others’ dancing.

Vina, born in big-city Montreal and by day a 38-year-old broker with the family real estate firm in Ottawa, accompanied Chief, a native of tiny Long Point, Quebec, to powwows. There Vina discovered that, like house music and especially house dance where a circle can spontaneously form with dancers taking turns in the centre, powwows are a very social form of artistic and cultural expression.

“Collaboration is the basis of my work,” adds Vina, whose string of albums includes musical partnerships with Jamaica-born Ammoye. Chief, meanwhile, has gigged with a couple of rock bands, including Winnipeg’s Eagle and Hawk.

For Vani, the collaboration is another opportunity to navigate a path through the deitrus of discontent and self-absorption that can permeate contemporary life. “Artists put a focus on creating beauty instead of just the constant chase for money.”

Chief says it’s another way to build the national harmony that still eludes us. With its mix of traditional Aboriginal and contemporary urban music, “This is the original sound (of Canada) and the new sound at the same time. We’ve done a complete 360 degrees, and we’re still respecting the language and the singing and the words of the elders.”

Read more: - Ottawa Citizen

"Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen One Nation"

Recently added to the nominations list for a JUNO Award is a new addition to the Balanced roster. Originally from northern Quebec Kevin ‘Flying Down Thunder ‘ Chief brings an original sound cultivated from Algonquin pow-wow meshed with the deep spirited emotions that Rise Ashen brings into the mix. They originally met on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and have been working for some time on this album. It could be hard to categorize these sounds you are about to hear but focusing on the passion that pushes forward from the rhythm it is much like your heart beat, something you just can’t survive without. Rise Ashen not only draws from his electronic background but brings forth a world vibe adding an eclectic variation of world beat, house and broken urban sounds. ‘Pejig Dodem’ is a perfect example of melding powerful tradition dance and drumming with an urban ghetto twist. To put it simply think about Peter Gabriel and your favorite Ninja Tune artist together for the first time. Jumping over to a genre that evolved from Drum & Bass which seems to be catching on quickly in commercial markets is dubstep. ‘Nigan Mikan’ rolls around in a thunderous deep raging b line and wobbles with a chanting background. ‘Ijinamowin’ stills holds the time-honored sound of pow-wow but it gradually transforms into a sultry echoing mass of consciousness like a beautiful love song much like Enigma produced in the mid 90’s. Putting a more positive spin on regurgitated vocodered songs ‘Andasokan Nimiwan’ lifts the soul with a swagger and mellow drumming plus drifting ambient echoes. Ojibway medicine man Alo White lends his vocals on this melodic deep house gem.. It’s a moderate track that encompasses a soulful groove and building elongated pads. Exploring new sounds such as One Nation should be a gift that everybody challenges themselves with. Creativity like this should also be appreciated, good luck at the JUNO’s! [Oxide] - - Urbnet

"Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen One Nation (Balanced)"

In a new collaborative project between Ottawa's Flying Down Thunder (Kevin Chief) and Risen Ashen (Eric Vani), the duo bring two worlds together into a surprisingly cohesive package that is a unique interpretation of Algonquin singing and chanting filtered through modern electronic dance music influences.
The genre-spanning collection of tracks combines elements of deep house, nu jazz, world music, breaks and future bass. From Kijigog Nimiwan - Galactic Dancehall, which wouldn't sound out of place in the deep, meandering, hypnotic DJ sets of guys like Ricardo Villallobos or Seth Troxler to the upfront bass sounds of Nigan Mikan - The Road Ahead to the streamlined grooves of Andasokan Nimiwan - Hoop Dance, Chief and Vani have channelled the energy, spirit, storytelling and openness of traditional powwows into a modern, dance-floor friendly concoction. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2
-- Anthony Augustine
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2011 G4 - Winnipeg Free Press

"Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen One Nation"

By Daniel Sylvester
Like the land that houses most Canadian cities, Ottawa is First Nations territory. Although a stroll through the capital gives little insight into this, the city's underground arts scene is fraught with memoirs of this ever-evolving struggle. One Nation (the first collaboration between Ottawa-based electronic producer Rise Ashen and Long Point First Nation vocalist Flying Down Thunder) is a look into the issues of the still thriving Algonquin Nation. Deftly combining thick, urbanized beats with traditional Pow-Wow sounds, chants and spoken word, Flying Down Thunder & Rise Ashen craft an original singular version of dance music. What makes One Nation so absorbing is the fact that is comes off as so much more than the sum of its parts, as songs like "Miskojonia ? Red Gold" (featuring spoken word from the late Algonquin Hereditary Chief) and "Pejig Dodem ? One Nation" (with Ashen rapping a 1987 speech delivered to the UN) come off as slick, modern and inventive as they are poignant.
(Balanced) - Exclaim


One Nation - CD/digital - Balanced Records 2012



Rise Ashen and Flying Down Thunder deliver a new and unique sound, sharing Algonquin language and chanting through Indigenous and urban electronic music. Honouring Aboriginal culture through collaborative composition, One Nation is a fusion of the traditional Pow-wow sounds of Flying Down Thunder's Algonquin heritage and the dance-music wanderlust that Rise Ashen brings to the night club. Spanning afro, deep house, nu jazz and breaks, these tracks become rolled into Pow-wow. This style is brand new, and the future sound of Canada.

Typically known as the capital of Canada, Ottawa is Algonquin land. It was appropriated by English and French settlers in a dispute that still remains unresolved. Mainstream media presents very little information about the founding people of Canada. This album reminds us of the history of our home, and of the original Anishinabe care-takers of this land. One Nation features contributions from William Commanda, Hereditary Chief from the Algonquin Nation, and from medicine man, Alo White. The heartbeat of aboriginal culture continues beating in Pow-wows and on dance floors around the world.
Rise Ashen and Flying Down Thunder met on Ottawa's frozen Rideau Canal and have been pollinating One Nation ever since. It was important for the pair to create music which was truly an amalgam, true to both the underground club sound and the traditional vocal style of the Anishinabe. Through engaging in the composition arts we are keeping the traditional sounds fresh and new, while respecting the roots of Anishinabe music.
Originally from the Long Point First Nation in Quebec, Canada, singer,
composer and producer, Kevin Chief (aka Flying Down Thunder) now makes his home in Ottawa. Chief is a respected pow-wow singer and traditional dancer from the Algonquin Nation. Kevin has performed at Canadian national events, across Europe and in China. His inspiration for music comes from the words of his elders. Anishinabe people, he was told, needed to build a bridge between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal, as we learn to understand one another. Through music, Kevin shares the love of his Aboriginal culture to others.
Producer, Musician, DJ and Dancer Eric Vani (Rise Ashen) has devoted his life to the study of sound and movement, applying hi-fi knowhow to underground music. Focusing on nu-jazz, breaks and house, as a DJ, he mashes and blends it with traditional and popular music from across the globe. Rise Ashen has collaborated with Juno award winners Kellylee Evans & Miguel Graca as well as Fred Everything, Trevor Walker, Jojo Flores, Blissom and many others.