Medicine Singers is a collective that can trace its origins back to a chance encounter between the Eastern Medicine Singers, an Eastern Algonquin powwow group and Israeli-born, New York-based guitarist and producer Yonatan Gat, who invited the group to a spontaneous collaboration on stage at SXSW 2017 after seeing them play outside the venue, before he was about to play.
That chance meeting led to a five year collaboration that saw Gat and the Eastern Medicine Singers playing festival stages across the US, Canada and Europe — and in some cases, bringing powwow to audiences and places that had never heard it before.
The collective’s long-awaited — and highly-anticipated — self-titled debut is slated for a July 1, 2022 release through Yonatan Gat’s Stone Tapes, an imprint of Joyful Noise here in the States and through Mothland in Canada. The self-titled album sees the Medicine Singers expanding into an experimental supergroup that includes Swans’ Thor Harris and Christopher Pravdica, ambient music pioneer Laraaji, former DNA drummer and no wave icon Ikue Mori and trumpeter Jaimie Branch, who’s a rising star in the world of improvised music, along with contributions from their co-producer and longtime collaborator Yonatan Gat.
With their self-titled debut, the collective have reportedly created a spellbinding and mystical musical experience that cycles through a kaleidoscopic array of sounds including psychedelic punk, electronic music, acid jazz, spiritual jazz and others. But the genre-blurring and genre-smashing approach is firmly rooted in the intense, physical power of the powwow drum and the Eastern Medicine Singers’ connection to their ancestral music and traditions. The end result is material that lovingly celebrates and honors tradition while boldly breaking free from its restrictions — or in the words of Medicine Singers’ leader Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson: “These two cultures can work together, and blend together. We created something that needs to be out there in the world, to show people how we can work together and make something beautiful.”
Last month, I wrote about “Sunset,” a mesmerizing track centered around an expansive arrangement featuring a modal-like horn line, atmospheric and oscillating synths, the Medicine Singers’ gorgeous, multi-part harmonies, intense and forceful powwow drumming and a Robby Krieger-like guitar solo that slowly builds up into a noisy psychedelic freak out. It’s a lysergic yet deeply mystical journey rooted in traditions that seem older than time itself.
“We play the Sunset song at the end of the day, when the sun goes down. Not many people sing these songs anymore: ‘Sunrise’ and ‘Sunset.’ They were given to our drummer Artie Red Medicine Crippen by the great chief Bright Canoe years ago,” the Medicine Singers explain. “They are ancient vocal songs – a thousand years old perhaps – which have the name of the creator – Yahweh. You hear it throughout the song. It’s an ancient calling to the creator. ‘Sunset’ can open up almost anything. It’s a very special song – magical and powerful. It brings great joy to people when we play it.”
The forthcoming album’s latest single “Sunrise (Rumble)” sees the collective exploring the influence of indigenous rhythms in rock and is mash-up featuring two distinct parts: “Sunrise,” a traditional powwow song and a unique cover of legendary, Shawnee guitarist Link Wray‘s “Rumble.” Much like its predecessors “Sunrise (Rumble)” is a seamless and lysergic mesh of the modern and the ancient that feels imbued with an innate and powerful mysticism.
“I’m from the Pocasset tribe and not a Shawnee, but I can relate to their struggle,” Medicine Singers’ Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson explains in press notes. “Link Wray put the pain of his people into the music. For me, it was an honor to expand this song, and bring out the tribal aspects with the drum and singing we added.”
The intimately shot, accompanying video for “Sunrise (Rumble)” is split between footage of Yonatan Gat and the Eastern Medicine singers performing the song in the round in a red-lit club and a powwow dancer in the woods.