From Onondaga to Peru to Australia, Two Spirit musicians and indigenous LGBTQIA musicians are decolonizing music in concert halls, clubs, and drag shows one song at a time. They use a variety of sounds including traditional drumming and singing, electronic sounds, and even classical instruments such as cello and viola.
Although the LGBTQIA Rights Movement is considered a contemporary movement, beginning with the Stonewall Riots in New York City in 1969, Two Spirit people and thus, Two Spirit musicians have existed as vital members of indigenous communities since before 1492.
Here is a list of indigenous LGBTQIA and/or Two Spirit musicians that, in the words of Tony Enos, “reclaim their rightful spot in the circle.”
Shawnee Talbot is a Canadian pop musician and member of the Six Nations who got her start in a Shania Twain tribute act. Her career has blossomed and she now tours internationally. In defense of Two Spirit musicians, she is vocal about her own life and recognizes both the power and struggles of being a Two Spirit person.
In a 2014 interview with Niagara Falls ReviewShawnee said, “It used to be a quality that was looked up to and respected. Before things changed in Canada, 2-Spirited people were looked up to as artists and community leaders…I’ve only met a few people who respect it as a gift, like what it used to be.”
Here’s a music video of Shawnee’s Mirror Me about looking in the mirror and wrestling with the person she sees reflected.
Melody McKiver is a member of the Obishikokaan Lac Seul First Nation in Canada who prefers the pronoun “they” instead of “she” or “he.” Melody is one of many proud Two Spirit musicians bringing beautiful soundscapes to the world. Melody McKiver combines traditional Anishinaabe dance and classical viola to create experimental music.
Melody believes their work as an activist, a musician, and a media artist are inherently related to their two spirit identity. “Fundamentally, everything in my body of work is a part of my work as a 2S musician because it’s who I am,” Melody said.
Listen to Melody’s Arthur, a viola and electronic arrangement of Arthur Russell’s This Is How We Walk On The Moon
Tony Enos (Cherokee) uses his pop club vocals and glamorous dance moves to get everyone moving on the dance floor. Enos’s artistry goes beyond catchy club beats to include lyrics that speak to the heart of the Two Spirit movement.
While writing his 2015 anthem, Two Spirit, Enos and the song’s executive producer, Sheldon Raymore, had many conversations about writing a song for the movement itself and for the benefit of supporting Two Spirit people and Two Spirit musicians. Enos said they decided on “a song in which we celebrate ourselves and others… we welcome each other back into the hoop.”
Watch the music video for Two Spirit on YouTube which includes the lyrics: “we’re all different but the same, so difference shouldn’t stand in the way. Celebrate me! Celebrate you!”
As a sincere testament as to how Two Spirit musicians are being recognized and honored, Cris Derksen is a two-spirit Juno Award–nominated Canadian Indigenous cellist whose father hails from the North Tall Cree reserve community. Derksen combines massive orchestral sounds with traditional vocals and drumming. Her works range from meditative to drum-driven pop tracks.
Her album Orchestral Powwow, which features accomplished pow wow groups such as Northern Voice, was nominated for the 2016 Juno Instrumental Album of the Year.
Listen to Derksen’s upbeat Heya, Ya, Lets Go on SoundCloud
Dio Ghandih is a Mohawk hip hop artist from Onondaga that spits rhymes about such topics as the decolonizing efforts made by today’s Native people, sex and politicians such as Sarah Palin. “My narrative decolonizes by celebrating my heritage while still proclaiming my individuality,” said Ghandih in interview with Mask Magazine.
Though Ghandih says acceptance of Two Spirit people in the Native community is growing, she also recognizes that finding a home can sometimes be difficult for Two Spirit people. “Being a queer indigenous person, I’ve been searching for a community that accepts and can hold my intersections. I found refuge in Brooklyn among QTPOC communities.”
Here is a video from Ghandih Indigenous Lyricist – Feat. Chhoti Maa regarding her own story as one of many proud two spirit musicians.
Fay Ball is a lesbian aboriginal Australian singer and songwriter who has performed around Australia since she was a teenager. As a young performer she would frequently sang and danced in drag around Sydney. In 2009, she reprised her drag roll for the opening of Big Blak Dot, an exhibition space specifically for queer indigenous artists.
In this video, Ball sings Big Black Beautiful Womanwhile accompanying herself on a traditional clapstick.
She wrote the song to honor her mother and two aunts.
Precolumbian is a Philadelphia-based DJ who combines tropical bass beats with sounds collected from unexpected places, such as whale songs and Sandra Bland’s Facebook videos. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, Precolumbian identifies as an indigenous gender-queer transwoman and she uses her work behind the turntables as a DJ to complement her activism by creating safe spaces where people of all genders and sexualities can dance the night away.
In an interview with Electric Llama, Precolumbian said “I feel like my politics are my art are my life. As a brown person, as an immigrant, as an indigenous woman, an indigenous transwoman, I feel like the art I produce is inextricably connected to my politics and my ancestry.”
Here is one of Precolumbian’s tracks, Selena | Para Siempre, named after the “Queen of Tejano Music”, Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.
Award-winning Cree/Dene electronic musician Iskwé has developed a following across Turtle Island for her smooth vocals and cross-cultural aesthetic. She has received many recognitions and awards for her work including the 2014 Western Canadian Music Awards “Electronic/Dance Album of the Year.” Despite her successes, Iskwé has experienced first-hand the unique barriers that face indigenous musicians. In 2015, only a week before one of her large trip-hop shows in Toronto, Facebook suspended her account for using Iskwé – her traditional name.
Facebook requires users to verify their name using a government-issued I.D. which poses particular challenges to indigenous and queer people. “I had a lot of people coming forward and saying they had in fact had these sorts of problems themselves … either people that had cultural names or traditional names, people who have either or are in the process of transitioning,” Iskwé said in interview with CBC News.
Watch Iskwé’s video Sometimes, an electronic power ballad about leaving painful relationships.