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Joe Rainey

An indigenous singer who blends centuries-old musical traditions with contemporary electronic production, Joe Rainey is taking powwow music to places it's never been before. A member of the Red Lake Ojibwe people, Rainey made field recordings of respected powwow drummers for years before he began singing in the traditional style, and after making fans of several noted indie and electronic artists, he began collaborating to create a sound that honored the music's past while introducing it to a new audience, adding loops, beats, and ambient sounds that complement the mood of the music even as they add unfamiliar elements. After making a name for himself among native listeners with his work in the groups Midnite Express and Iron Boy, he took his powwow music in a bold new direction on his debut album, 2022's Niineta. Rainey was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1985. His family was of the Red Lake Ojibwe people, and he grew up in one of America's largest urban Native American communities. (The pioneering activist group the American Indian Movement was founded in Minneapolis in 1968.) By the time Rainey was five, his parents enrolled him in a singing and dancing group for indigenous children and he started taking a portable cassette recorder to powwows, capturing the sounds of the drummers and vocalists. In his teens, he helped found a drumming group, the Boyz Juniors, which was a youthful offshoot of a well-known Minneapolis indigenous outfit, the Boyz. In time, Rainey joined a band with veterans of the Boyz, Midnite Express, and as they became popular among his peers, they performed at powwows across the country. He also performed with another Boyz offshoot ensemble, Iron Boy. While he was on the road, Rainey continued to capture the work of other drumming groups at powwows, graduating to a digital recording rig and amassing an impressive archive of Native American performers. In 2016, Midnite Express and Iron Boy were invited to perform at the Eaux Claires Festival, an eclectic gathering of independent music curated by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of the National. Both groups were well-received, and Vernon and Dessner booked them again for subsequent Eaux Claires events. As other artists became aware of Rainey and his groups, he was invited to contribute to recording projects with Chance the Rapper, Portugal. The Man, and Low. One year, during a set by Andrew Broder, an electronic artist who led the experimental band Fog, one of the dancers from Iron Boy spontaneously joined him on-stage, and Broder was struck by how well his tracks meshed with the indigenous music. Broder and Rainey compared notes on their musical outlooks, and in 2020, when Rainey was working on a project for a course in audio engineering, he asked Broder if he could provide beats for a track he was making using powwow samples. Rainey and Broder were both excited with how the project turned out, and the producer asked Rainey for a sample folder of powwow recordings from his archive. Broder used them as the foundation for a series of tracks fusing indigenous traditional music with experimental electronic and hip-hop sounds. Rainey then added his vocals, and the result was his first full-length album, 2022's Niineta, released by Vernon and Dessner's 37d03d label.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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Discography

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