This past October, experimental rock trio nêhiyawak launched their debut album nipiy, a welcome arrival appearing almost a year after the group burst onto the Indigenous music scene in 2018 with their Starlight EP. It’s a moving album filled with powerful juxtapositions—pain and understanding, past and present, knowledge and questioning.

Hailing from amiskwaciy (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) on Treaty 6 territory, the group is made up of musicians Marek Tyler (drums), Matthew Cardinal (synth/bass) and Kris Harper (vocals/guitar). The group’s name (pronounced NEH-hee-oh-wuk) is an expression of the members’ ancestry and indigeneity, meaning Cree People, People of the Plains or Free People. nipiy, the cree word for ‘water’, is meant to symbolize the flow and pull of their music and is a tribute to the lessons that the mighty element has taught them. In the band’s words, “There are many important ideas and teachings that we were raised with in our lives, but few more important than water. It’s a modern conversation with complex meanings and understandings.”

With lyrics steeped in cultural connection, the group’s music beautifully merges lingering melodies with churning guitar and terrestrial rhythm. By incorporating traditional instruments with contemporary electronic sounds, nêhiyawak produces an ethereal element to their music. On the new album, the sounds of an elk hide frame-drum, a carved cedar log drum and a pow-wow drum can be heard, played by the band’s drummer Marek Tyler. “I became friends with those drums,” said Tyler. “Together, we played loud. We shared whispers. We had a moment. When I heard those drums back in the studio, they sounded beautiful and proud.”

nêhiyawak uses carefully-crafted arrangements of spoken word and melody to address difficult topics, such as the Sixties Scoop and disappearing Indigenous peoples. The band hopes this album inspires others to speak out and share their message for future generations.

Every issue of SAY Magazine includes profiles of prominent and emerging Indigenous musicians. This issue also featured Q052, Alan Syliboy and the Thundermakers, and Shon Denay. Subscribe today to read them all.