Samian's latest work "Injustice"
Billed as one of Canada's first aboriginal rappers, Samian surprised everyone when he burst onto Quebec's hip hop scene in 2004 with engaged, socially conscious lyrics delivered in a mix of French and Algonquin, an indigeneous language spoken by no more than 3,000 people across central Canada.
Now Samian, whose real name is Samuel Tremblay (Samian is Algonquin for Samuel) will be touring across Greater China as part of "le mois de la francophonie," a French-speaking cultural event sponsored by Canada, France and Belgium. He performs tomorrow at 4.30pm as part of The Indie Ones concert series at the Former Police Married Quarters, along with French hip hop crew AL K Traxx and Belgian electro-popper Labiur. Tickets are free but capacity is limited, so arrive early.
We caught Samian as he sat in the back of a Taipei taxi on his way to Hong Kong. Here's what he had to say.
SamianCNNGo: How do you like Asia so far?
It's amazing. It's another culture. Everything is new for us and we're a bit bewildered now, but we're getting used to it. It helps that everyone is so nice. We thought they might be a bit hostile but we did two shows yesterday and they were fantastic. We played at a school in Taipei and then we went to Kaohsiung, where the reception was unbelievable. We don't even get that kind of reaction when we play in Quebec.
CNNGo: For a Chinese person who doesn't speak French, let alone Algonquin, what can they get out of your music?
Even the teachers at the first show who spoke really fluent French had trouble following us. Beyond that, the kids didn't understand anything. We were there to promote the French language, but they understood a lot more if we spoke in English. It was really just a party. Beyond language, it's for the music, and that's the universal language. It was such a great crowd.
CNNGo: You grew up on a native reserve in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, which is a pretty remote part of Quebec. How did you first get into hip hop?
Actually, I started with poetry. 12 or 13 years ago, my sister signed me up for a poetry competition and I won first place. That day I was supposed to read my poem to an audience, and I decided to rap it, right there for the first time. Nobody listened to hip hop at that time in Abitibi. When I first started out with my friend Anodajay [who is also joining the tour across China], we were playing punk shows. Rap was slow to come, especially around there, but it's developing now.
CNNGo: You rap in Algonquin, but when you were a teenager, you'd forgotten how to speak it. How did you learn it again?
I first learned it when I was really young, so I knew how to read it, how to write it and I knew the phonetics. I'd sit down with my grandmother and translate my work from French into Algonquin. For me, doing that was the best way to re-learn the language and learn how to sing it. It's really my grandmother I owe for that.
Algonquin is a very musical language that rhymes a lot. Actually a lot like Chinese.
CNNGo: Was it an obvious decision to rap in Algonquin?
Yeah, but actually at the time, six or seven years ago, I was working with this group called Loco Locass. I was only writing in French and they came up to me once and said, 'Why aren't you rapping in Algonquin?' I'd already been playing with the idea of doing it but that really gave me the push I needed. That's when I went to my grandmother for help. It's good because Algonquin is a very musical language that rhymes a lot. Actually a lot like Chinese.
CNNGo: What are some of the challenges faced by aboriginal people in Canada now?
They're completely ignored in Canada and Quebec right now. Doing what I do helps open up the minds and hearts of people in Quebec. It's not right to go to a town and find people who'd never even heard about our history. You get the sense that they really learn something from my show, which is cool, but it's also weird and surprising. I'm sorry to say, but the native history we learn in school is shit. The real history is hidden. So we have a generation of people growing up with no real idea of how the country was founded.
CNNGo: Are you looking forward to meeting any Chinese rappers?
I'd love to. I haven't met any yet but at the show last night in Kaohsiung, hip hop had a really strong presence, so we'll try to find something tonight in Taipei. I'd love to hear someone rap in Mandarin.
The Indie Ones
Featuring Hong Kong's own indie kings Chochukmo, Algonquin rapper Samian, French hip hop crew AL K Traxx and Belgian electro-popper Labiur.
Capacity limited to 300 people. Free tickets will be distributed at the venue starting from 2pm. Show starts 3pm.
Former Police Married Quarters at Hollywood Road