Upon arriving at the Mod Club on a relatively mild February night, patrons were handed white, paper masks that covered only around the eyes. That surprise peaked my curiosity much more about what the night would bring.
Coming late to the venue due to just missing the train by 2 minutes, I walked in on the opening act, Riit's set. On stage were two young women in black unitards with lace cut outs singing to each other over electronic beats. I listened in a little harder and noticed that one of them wasn't singing, but actually making very low-pitched growling noises. I want to say it almost resembled like a beached whale, or seal. Very animalistic. Before judging the noises, I assumed that perhaps this was a part of Canadian Indigenous culture somehow as both acts were from Indigenous decent and celebrating said culture. Riit exited their set by explaining that they are from the northern Canadian territory of Nunavut and they brought their culture to their set.
The beginning of Iskwē's act was very thematic. It began with a lowly lit group of men drumming in an Indigenous style on authentic hand drums. Most likely made from wood, animal skin, and twine. They then began to chant and sing in traditional Native fashion. Then Iskwē's voice talked over them, describing that she comes from the Metis and the Cree tribes of Canada. She also provided a land acknowledgement; stating that Toronto sits on the land of that Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. She then describes how in her culture, they are taught that people come from the stars and go back to the stars when they are done with their time here on earth.
In the first song the group of drummers exit the stage and her supporting guitarists abruptly thrash into the first song of the night. Iskwē walked on stage in very tall stilettos, a leathery body suit, and cornrows in her long, dark hair. She was powerful in delivering her messages about liberation and freedom of the First Nations people through her hand gestures, lyrics, and focus. Her voice never faltered and had a sharp attitude that keeps your attention. The music had a contemporary rock feel with its modern drums that still had that First Nations feel to it. It also had electronic elements to add a current feel to it as well.
After the first three or so bombastic, thematic songs, Iskwē sung a personal song about a past relationship that was more of a piano ballad. It showed a softer, quieter side to Iskwē. Soon after she exited the stage and the drumming men came back, playing as an intermission for a few minutes. Iskwē arrived back on stage with a costume change. She was dressing in an off-white/beige chiffon dress with layered silk on her torso section. She went back to her thematic songs until the very end of her less than 10 song set.
But of course, an encore was called upon Iskwē and her crew. She, the supporting musicians, and the drumming men came back on stage. Iskwē took a moment to express her gratitude and explained why she had given everyone a white paper mask. She said that it was to have this temporary time to not be anyone and to blend in and forget all about your problems and be in the moment. But then told everyone that why don't need it anymore because she believes in individuality and in Cree culture, they find individuality very precious. Then she said she had a surprise.
Up on the mezzanine of the venue was three groups of young girls in white who were surrounding a microphone each. So then Iskwē erupted in her last song and the groups of girls sung background vocals. She also encouraged the concert goers to sing part of a song that had an Indigenous language part. The pronunciation was displayed on screens around the venue as they sung along. Iskwē said that that part of the song was about calling on the spirits to come and be a part of this celebration. The song finished and the entire crew came together to bow at the cheering and clapping crowd.
Iskwē has a powerful voice and is using it to bring attention to First Nations issues and aspects of their beautiful culture. She is very creative, interactive, and makes the venue feel "together" by the end of the show. She dresses very artistically and sets up the stage in a grandiose way even if the venue small. Great show all around.