On November 16, 2012, I had the opportunity to attend the North Wind Album Release Party with Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen at Mercury Lounge. The duo, signed with Balanced Records, released their second album following One Nation, which came out in the Fall of 2011. In an effort to promote North Wind, Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen offered a live performance and presented several new tracks off of the recently released album.
I first found out about the duo back in April, when they performed in Ottawa as part of Juno Fest, a week of Juno-related events and shows happening throughout the city on the occasion of the Juno Awards’ stop in the Nation’s Capital. Nominated for a Juno in the Aboriginal Album category, the pair generated buzz around their unique style, which combines traditional Algonquin songs with urban contemporary sounds.
This second performance aloud me to witness the growth that the duo’s sound has reached over the last months. Flying Down Thunder’s voice is beautiful and rich with stories of his Algonquin people while Rise Ashen, who creates most of the beats, intrigues us with the use of a variety of unfamiliar and inviting sounds. Ashen, who’s real name is Eric, loves to experiment with new sounds and instruments and he demonstrated this interest as he played the kalimba, a sub-saharan African percussion instrument. The two artists share a synergy that enables them to flow smoothly with ease from one song to the other. Although a bit short, the show was great and gave a nice overview of the songs found on North Wind.
I had the chance to ask Rise Ashen a few questions regarding North Wind, which is available through Balanced Records in over 150 online stores including E-music and iTunes.
Elly: Since the release of One Nation last Fall, what has been your principal source of inspiration with which you have been working that enabled your sound to evolve?
Rise Ashen: Inspiration has come from collaborating with other artists, and also from asking ourselves “what do we want to teach others about First Nations culture through a dance floor groove”? Our aim has been to deliver a diverse sound that can resonate with every culture, every nation and every style of dancing, while showing true respect to Aboriginal language and culture.
Elly: On the track called Renewal, we hear some beautiful throat-singing by Marie Belleau and Kathleen Merritt. What was the inspiration behind that song?
Rise Ashen: On our trip to Iqaluit, we learned a lot about the Inuit culture. We met these talented young ladies backstage at the Alianait festival. We actually recorded the voices backstage and made the beat when we came back home, adding the words later. The beautiful women voices reminded of us of something futuristic, a female spirit, someone whom we haven’t met yet or is not here yet. The thought of a couple parting ways in the current, and knowing that the couple would both move on in their lives and that they would both be just fine, both finding a new love…that’s the spirit in the song. It’s a life message that when one door closes, a new one opens. In this case, through a relationship. We e all know people who have separated ways and both found new love.
Elly: Your work is similar to what A Tribe Called Red does in fusing traditional pow-wow music with modern sounds and bringing Native music to the masses. Have you considered joining forces and working together on a collaboration?
Rise Ashen: We are big fans and are definitely open to working with them! We have big respect for them because they’re also promoting Aboriginal style of singing through electronic music. Our approach has been to work with people who have walked into our lives and were eager to make music with the same understanding of cultural unity and respect for Aboriginal language and
culture that we have. Those are the people you’ll find on the North Wind album: beautiful souls who walked into our lives and said, let’s make some music, and brought that Northern spirit.
Elly: What’s in store for Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen for the year ahead?
Rise Ashen: What’s in store is to open that Northern Door and see what walks in! To allow the album to speak for itself and guide us where ever it may take us. This is what an elder friend of ours teaches us. To have faith in the Creator and let faith guide us. The One Nation album brought us to China for performances and Northern Canada. Who knows where the North wind will blow…!