Ojibwe First Nation artist Alja discusses what it feels like to be “Outnumbered”
North Bay, ON – Earlier this summer Ojibwe First Nation artist Alja released a brand new nine-track mixtape entitled C.H.I.E.F, which features Alja’s latest single “Outnumbered.”
“Outnumbered” was written after a particularly tough period of time where Alja was looking for work. And people on his reservation were looking for work. But for some reason, people who weren’t even part of his reserve were getting all the jobs on the reservation. And although the track isn’t shy about calling out the state of affairs, it’s an incredibly uplifting and empowering song. Because it serves as Alja’s own mission statement to prevail.
Artistically, Alja is very much a storyteller. He grew up on the reservation of Shawanaga, and uses his craft to share his experience and identity as well as to explore solutions to the systemic problems plaguing the First Nations communities. It’s a voice that’s needed in the Canadian music industry right now, and especially within the hip-hop community. Listen to “Outnumbered” below, take in the C.H.I.E.F mixtape, and scope our interview with Alja after the jump.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of racism growing up and I feel that it comes from people who don’t really understand what we’ve been through. Both my grandmothers have been put through residential school and they still feel the impact of it to this day.”
HipHopCanada: Start off by telling me what this track means to you on a personal level and what prompted you to write it.
Alja: This track means alot to me personally. I wrote it after experiencing racism in my reservation and the surrounding area. I remember feeling depressed because I was struggling to get a job on my own reservation, while people who are not even part of the reserve were getting jobs without an interview process, and taking the jobs from our youth and members who actually live on reserve with families that they needed to support. And they got overlooked on mulitple occasions.
HipHopCanada: I appreciate how this track calls out the low key racists, too. Just because someone isn’t outwardly saying or doing something discriminatory, a lot of racism presents as people feeling a certain type of way and having certain attitudes about others.
Alja: I’ve dealt with a lot of racism growing up and I feel that it comes from people who don’t really understand what we’ve been through. Both my grandmothers have been put through residential school and they still feel the impact of it to this day. And I can honestly say that it left them traumatized and scarred for life. A lot of people don’t know what it feels like to be snatched away from your family to be locked up in a place where you’re force-fed a certain way to live, and to be abused on the daily just because we love our culture.
“A lot of people don’t know what it feels like to be snatched away from your family to be locked up in a place where you’re force-fed a certain way to live, and to be abused on the daily just because we love our culture.”
HipHopCanada: How prevalent do you find racism to be within the Canadian music industry and what’s been your experience with that?
Alja: I feel there’s some racism in the industry. You never hear about Aboriginal people making it in the headlines or achieving success. I know I can be the one to put everyone on notice that we’re strong people and we can rise and overcome anything and everything they throw at us.
HipHopCanada: What did the process of collaboration with AndreOnBeat look like for this single? How did the track all come together?
Alja: Andre and I have collaborated on multiple tracks and I felt his production style and his signature sound fit the mood of the song I was trying to build. I got the beat from him and once I heard it, I instantly felt a strong connection to it and it felt perfect for what I had envisioned the song to be.
HipHopCanada: For you – personally – what does it mean to feel “Outnumbered”?
Alja: To be “Outnumbered” to me – personally – is when you’re witnessing your homeland and community being overrun by non-members and outsiders. I’ve seen them taking the jobs from our people and abusing their powers, using them for bad and to seek revenge on us daily.
“To be ‘Outnumbered’ to me – personally – is when you’re witnessing your homeland and community being overrun by non-members and outsiders.”
HipHopCanada: Talk to me about the significance of your album cover art.
Alja: The album cover for C.H.I.E.F. is very meaningful. It has the feather of the eagle on it, which in our culture symbolizes respect, honour, humbleness, truth, love, natural power, strength, courage, wisdom, freedom and everything that is positive. There is also a wolf, which symbolizes guardianship, loyalty and spirit. And to my people, I feel I am the one to lead them and let the world know that we’re here to stay.