In the Mohawk tradition, gatherings called “socials” give family and friends a formal opportunity to see how each person is doing and assess the overall health and well-being of the community.
“It’s to see where everyone’s at, if anyone needs help in their lives and to take care of each other,” says DJ Shub, the Ontario-based producer born Dan General. A Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, Canada’s largest First Nations reserve, General has attended these gatherings since childhood and incorporated some of the traditional music of these events on his newest track, “The Social.”
“You need to take care of yourself and the people around you and figure out how they’re doing,” General says of the song’s meaning. “If everyone did that, the world would be a better place.”
Premiering exclusively with Billboard (listen below), the song extends this ethos of caring to listeners worldwide, with lyrics delivered by Toronto-based hip-hop artist Phoenix reflecting the intentions of the events. “You can cry at the social, no need to hide at the social, all love at the social,” she announces with bombast, while also touching on issues related to race, justice and spirituality.
Out Friday (July 24), “The Social” is the lead track from DJ Shub’s forthcoming album, War Club. The name refers to a weapon historically used by Indigenous people in the area where’s he’s from, with General taking this concept of weaponry and connecting it to the musical output he’s made both as a solo artist and as a member of the lauded group A Tribe Called Red. The winner of the 2014 Juno Award (the Canadian version of the Grammys) for breakthrough group of the year, A Tribe Called Red helped develop and popularize powwow-step, a genre combining electronic beats with traditional tribal music.
“Music is my war club,” General says. “I use my music as a weapon.”
Indeed, there is great force and authority in his work, which expands powwow-step with electronic productions with Indigenous drumming and singing. The concept for War Club is finding one’s own weapon, the metaphorical power and responsibility each of us has to effect change in our own lives and communities.
General related this idea to Phoenix, who wrote and recorded the lyrics to “The Social” and sent back a demo. General says receiving the track was “a magical moment” in which he knew that his intention for the song and the LP were being developed with real power. But instead of hitting listeners over the head, he was doing something even more effective by connecting on emotional, physical and spiritual levels through music.
While a more summery dance jam, “Shake Ya Bustle,” was originally intended to be War Club‘s lead single. But in the midst of the social unrest following the murder of George Floyd and the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement, General felt “The Social” was a more fitting song for this cultural moment.
“Indigenous people in Canada are like the Black Lives Matter movement in the States,” he says. “It’s pretty bad here, especially when it comes to shootings by police. The statistics are crazy, so I think we [as First Nations people] can relate to what’s happening. That’s why Phoenix [who is Black] gets it so deeply, we’ve both experienced the same struggle in Canada.”
(In June, Canada’s CTV news reported that “an Indigenous person in Canada is more than 10 times more likely to have been shot and killed by a police officer in Canada since 2017 than a white person in Canada. Of the 66 people killed by police in Canada since 2017, 25 were Indigenous.)
A more personal challenge for General has been figuring out how to transcend the “Indigenous artist” label and get recognition simply as an artist. It’s an issue he faced with A Tribe Called Red, which he was a member of until 2014, when the group considered whether or not to submit their work for the Juno Awards’ longstanding, and fairly controversial, Indigenous music album of the year award.
“We specifically did not want to submit our work in that category,” General says, “because we wanted to be looked at as artists, not just Indigenous artists.” He believes categories such as these makes it that “music by Indigenous people doesn’t get out that far. It reaches a threshold and doesn’t break through. So many Indigenous artists are trying hard to get their music out there. There are so many of us with so much talent.”
While he hasn’t yet figured out a solution to this issue, there’s progress simply in him releasing music and playing at festivals like New Orleans Jazz Festival, Halifax Pop and Winnipeg Folk, where he shares the bill with non-Indigenous artists. (The hyphy DJ Shub track “Indomitable” was also recently selected by Sacha Baron Cohen as the theme to his Showtime series, Who Is America?) By performing for more mainstream audiences, he’s been able to normalize the presence of Indigenous artists while sharing both the traditional music he samples and his feelings on topics such as the inappropriateness of wearing traditional headdresses to festivals.
Meanwhile, all proceeds from “The Social” will go to organizations benefiting Black Lives Matter and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, a major issue among First Nations communities. For General, using a song rooted in the tradition of checking in with one’s community to help people in need is the essence of a modern war club.
“Instead of just pointing your finger and yelling at someone,” he says, “when you marry [a message] with music and art, it makes the conversation easier to start.”