Canada Scene: Stepping up with DJ Shub

DJ Shub. Photo: Ogichidaa Arts

Dan General has an angel watching out for him, er, perhaps, listening. The angel is the legendary singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie.

General, better known as DJ Shub, is one of the major exponents of a form of electronic music known these days as PowWow Step. The music started to take off during his time with the trio A Tribe Called Red and is continuing in his solo career.

On July 3, he’ll actually be on stage with Sainte-Marie and the legendary Randy Bachman in a Canada Scene concert.

“It’s pretty intense to be a part of that evening,” he said by phone.

He first played with Buffy on his Six Nations home turf about a year ago, so the gig is a reunion of sorts.

“She sent me three of her songs that she wanted me to do something with. I have been working with that. I’ll be performing them with her. It’s pretty exciting.

“It was a challenge to work with it (her music). I really had to figure it out. A lot of it is percussion. I added in the drum sound that I am known for.”

Recently, after Shub released his first solo EP called PowWow Step last December, Sainte-Marie sent him a tweet of support, praising a video called Indomitable he released with the Northern Cree Singers.

“I was very touched by that. I was at a loss for words; someone that important. I know who she is obviously everyone does, and for her to like that video and to say something like that’s jut amazing.

“I have jammed with her at Six Nations and she was loving what I was doing. That’s when we first connected and I have been in touch with her ever since. That was early last year was before the EP came out.Some of the stuff she was doing, she was free styling. It was awesome to see her enjoying my music so much.

“Her knowledge of music is pretty intense. It’s so humbling.”

The support has come at the right time as Shub is now on his own as a solo act.

“I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do as a solo act. It’s very exciting because opening new doors and exploring different kinds of music. Being able to do that is great. And right now, it’s really coming together … as planned.

The road to today began for Shub at home.

“In my family there are a lot of musicians. Music came naturally to me and it was the only thing I was good at. Right from start it was something I knew I had a passion for. I was lucky to have supportive parents and family. They would never tell me, ‘You need to get a real job’. They supported me from Day 1. I thank them so much.”

The first instrument he played was a guitar.

“I was in bands. I played drums too. But my older brother was a DJ and he was travelling across the border to play gigs in Buffalo, New York. He used to work at the colleges there. He would take me with him when he was record shopping. That’s how I fell in love with DJing. He bought me my first set of turntables.”

Shub started as a battle scratch DJ.

“What I loved about it was being able to manipulate records to do whatever I wanted with them. I saw it as an instrument. It can be anything. It was something that I knew, once I started doing it, this was it for me.”

He is also connected to his Mohawk heritage through his music.

“I used to go to powwows all the time. It was always something that I had in my head. When I would hear the powwow music I was always thinking about putting something with that. It was when I connected with (A) Tribe (Called Red) that things got moving.”

Did it ever. PowWow Step is just surging in popularity.

“I love the fact that it has created this tidal wave of up-and-coming young producers who are doing the same thing. I go to schools as much as I can to talk to youth and they seem to eat it up.”

Shut had, at one point, talked about producing a full-length LP. But he’s changed his mind.

“I don’t think I will do a full length LP. I like releasing EPs. It’s easier (and faster) to put out a five or six track EP and move on.”

He’s moving on to other projects. One involves working with something from Six Nations and Mohawk culture, the high speed Smoke Dance.

Smoke dancers employ really fast footwork, Shub says. “That brings up dust up from the grass and ground. It’s a great thing to experiment with because it’s visually very cool.”

He says he is trying to tell the story of where the Smoke Dance comes from.

“Many people have never heard of it. It’s just one part of Mohawk culture that is beautiful and amazing and so much fun. I’m excited to get this show on the road.”

In addition to releasing EPs, performing in concert and touring, some of Shub’s music has shown up on Viceland the very trendy TV network. He has a buddy working on the show Dead Set On Life and he asked Shub for some music. That’s turned into a fairly regular request for tunes from the network.

When you listen to Shub’s music, the drum is central.

“The drum is the heartbeat of the music. It’s the most important thing when it comes to the music. I have to pay respect to it. That’s why it is always in your face.

“I get recordings of drums being played, I don’t play a drum.”

There is a commitment that one needs to make to play the drum in Mohawk tradition.

“I wouldn’t feel right playing one” at this time, he says.

He does, however, have powwow drummers offering to play for him all the time. They want to be a part of what Shub is doing.

Buffy Sainte-Marie with DJ Shub and Randy Bachman
Canada Scene
Where: Southam Hall
When: July 3 at 7:30 p.m.


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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.