“The community in many indigenous societies is a circle. It’s not a pyramid with the more powerful oppressing whoever is beneath them. And that’s why the Net is so important. Input from artists, from women, from rural people is so important, because the contribution of the entire human species make a much more rich, varied and real world than if a few corporations run it. And it is finally possible, with artists, American Indians, brilliant people, telepathic Australian aboriginals — on-line.” - Buffy Sainte-Marie on the necessity of technology [*]
Buffy Sainte-Marie is a prophet. She has often been ahead of the curve and in being so forward-thinking her audience is leagues behind her. The complexity of her gifts cannot be neatly summarized, as it often is, as simply “a 1960s Cree folk singer who does some activism for Native American rights”.
Take the mystical 1969 album Illuminations. The first ever quadrophonic vocal album and widely believed to have laid the groundwork for gothic music. But in 1969, such a strange experiment became a financial disaster, her record label forcing her into more commercial pursuits. Yet it is now described as “[One of] 100 Albums That Set the World on Fire While No One Was Listening”, “spine-tingling”, “spellbinding”. Early use of the Buchla synth, softly woven tracks that segue into each other and sounds moving between headphones were remarkable for the time and illicit gasps in modern critics. A seamlessly transitioning, barrier-breaking variety of musical forms - opening with chants of a Leonard Cohen poem about God and magic, then biting social commentary and soft love lullabies that suddenly blend into the album’s finale and most alarming, avant-garde track, “Poppies”. A “gothic folk classic- the most operatic, druggily beautiful medieval ballad ever sung.” [*]
Sainte-Marie was one of the first to recognize the future of technology - after this groundbreaking album, she championed technology and the internet as a tool for heightened communication, education, and artistic expression, especially within a much needed Native American context. “You couldn’t get into a gallery, you couldn’t get a concert, you couldn’t get a record company,” says Buffy of the accessibility of pre-internet days. “All of that is falling away, and it’s back in the hands of the people.” [*]