Reflecting on Indigenous Music in Canada: An Interview with Robin Cisek

By Nicole Da Costa

One of the central themes discussed during the creation of A Walk-Through Indigenous Memory: A Student Exhibition was maintaining the presence of Indigenous excellence. To honor this theme alongside the exhibit’s central goal of sharing the names and histories of Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island, I sat down with alt-pop Metis musician, Robin Cisek, to talk about her recent experiences in Canadian music. 

I was excited to go for coffee with Robin Cisek after she returned from Toronto, to discuss her trip attending the Juno’s rehearsals and what her overall thoughts are as a rising Indigenous music star in today’s industry. A transcript of our conversation is as follows:


Nicole: So, you recently attended the Juno 2022 rehearsal day as a part of your experience with Canadian Music Incubator (CMI), where you were one of 7 Indigenous artists chosen from across Canada to participate in the Indigenous Music Accelerator. What was your experience attending the Juno Rehearsals as a part of this program? 

Robin: So, when I attended the Juno rehearsal day, I was actually allowed to go thanks to the Canadian Music Incubator- they scored us some tickets. I went with my friend Kara that I met during the program, she goes by “TheRa1 1n”, we attended together, and I also brought my mom along as well, because she comes with me to a lot of these things. 

I was invited to take part in the Canadian Music Incubator program called the Indigenous Music Accelerator, and I was one of 7 artists chosen from across Canada, which was- I just felt so spoiled to be picked, it was an honor. So, for a lot of CMI programs you get invited to the CMI building which is located in Toronto, and you go there, and you meet with mentors, and you kind of talk about the music business, and then try to learn from that. I got to connect with some amazing people, people that I now call friends and can work with in the future, um, I’ve made some amazing contacts! I have emails to people who have worked in the music industry for years and years, and I’ve been able to sit down with them, and kind of get their opinion on things such as, like, radio pitching, and just general music business things, all the things that happen kind of behind the scenes. So, that was super cool! We also made a lot of content too, so I’ll be having some new photos coming out, and a live recorded performance of one of my new songs that isn’t released yet. So that was really cool, and that was one of the first times that CMI has done a program like this where they made content and specifically focused on Indigenous music. So, all 7 artists that joined me were Indigenous artists as well. So yeah, then we ended up attending the Juno’s showcase’s, a few of them, and we ended up attending the Juno rehearsals as well. So that wasn’t really apart of the [initial] program, it was like an added bonus that CMI was able to give to us. Luckily, I had planned some extra days to do some fun things around Toronto, and kind of be ‘tourists’ with my mom and connect with the other Indigenous artists, so I was able to go to some of those programs as well, um so I just, I got really lucky and they kind of just wanted to give me all of the opportunity that I could get, and this was a great opportunity to connect with people.

So, [The Juno’s Rehearsal] was a really cool experience, I got to watch the Snotty Nose Rez Kids perform, and I thought their performance was amazing. It was really cool to be involved with the rehearsal process to kind of see behind the scenes and how the music industry kind of makes these events go on. We really got up-close and personal with industry contacts because we also got invited to a lot of the showcase events as well, so I got some really cool photos of a lot of the celebrities that were there, like the host, Simu Liu, and also a lot of the performers too. It was really, really, cool and I just feel super spoiled to have been able to even go.   

Nicole: You previously created a music video for your song memories with the help of 2 other metis creatives. I know you have a new song coming out on June 3rd, and I wanted to know if you have been able to continue to work with Indigenous creatives throughout your music career, whether that’s recording, videos, editing, promos…. I’m sure you do a lot of work! Have you faced any struggles to include Indigenous co-collaborators in your work as a rising Metis pop-musician? 

Robin: The music video that I created for my song ‘Memories’ was created with the help of two other Metis creatives, and one of those Metis creatives was a guy who goes by the name Strenneth, and he is a local Edmonton Metis Director, and we also had a lot of production help from my mom who is also Metis. At the time, we were dealing with a lot of covid restrictions, so we wanted to be really respectful with that and keep the crew really, really small and be able to social distance and that sort of thing and wear masks, because of course when I am recording, I can’t wear my mask, so we wanted to make sure that people were really safe. 

So, in my opinion, not a lot of Indigenous peoples are in places of power and that is pretty consistent with the music industry, uh, right now I see that that is beginning to change and allowing me to make more connections and being able to collaborate more with more Indigenous people, especially with the program through the CMI. I’m really hopeful for the future to be able to continue working with Indigenous people and to collaborate with new artists that I haven’t met before, um, and it really means a lot to me to be able to see these Indigenous people taking up these positions of power and being able to use their art to propel their voice and to help represent the other Indigenous people from our community.

Nicole: That’s awesome to hear. So- with the struggle to work with other Indigenous artists, is it because you are finding a lack of Indigenous people to collaborate with or is it hard then, if they’re found, to collaborate with them in terms of resources- like getting them to you or finding payment, or things like that? 

Robin: Yeah, I definitely think that there are roadblocks for Indigenous people, uh, in the sense of being able to find those outlets and being able to um, put together the ability to collaborate. I think a lot of Indigenous people do work, um, when they do collabs they do it for free; they work together for free and then they put out music together or they put out artwork together. I think that’s super cool- but being able to see a lot of Indigenous people now and being able to create a home studio for themselves to come up with more professional recordings and that kind of thing, is kind of a little bit new, because a lot of those [Indigenous] people don’t have access to those kinds of things or the funds to be able to get those kind of things to them, and I have been super spoiled as a Metis person to grow up in Sherwood Park, my family makes money, so I have been able to kind of follow my career and follow my dreams in that sense, but not a lot of Indigenous people have that opportunity. So, I think it is important for me to be able to represent the Indigenous community [through music] because of my own privilege.

Nicole: So, If I’m hearing you correctly, you are saying that for Indigenous music artists it is difficult to find spaces to be platformed, and now, Indigenous artists have finally been able to sort of have their own recording studios and things like that, but even that itself is a really big struggle- to get those spaces in order to let other Indigenous people in?      

Robin: Yeah, that’s very true, and you know, when you’re saying that, I’m thinking that like even a lot of non-indigenous people when they’re hearing the words Indigenous music they’re thinking strictly powwow, they’re thinking very, very traditional drumming, singing, in the sense that when you go to ceremony you would see Indigenous people performing prayers and that kind of thing. And that’s interesting to me because the indigenous community in music is actually a lot more contemporary than people think that they are, and they’re kind of expanding into these different places where they’re able to expand on their culture but also bring in this contemporary sense of music, and that’s with me as well. I like to talk about the things that affect me, and effect my community and my music, but I put it underneath a lot of contemporary, very mainstream ideas as well. I think that’s another reason why we kind of have to make our own spaces- is because of this misunderstanding of what our music actually is, because if I am a white person owning a music studio maybe I don’t see the value in bringing in an Indigenous artist who makes traditional stuff- but there are a lot of Indigenous artists making contemporary stuff.

Nicole: So, after attending the 2022 Juno rehearsal and participating in the Indigenous Music Accelerator, what do you see for the future of Indigenous music in Canada? Do you see it headed in a certain direction, are there any common themes emerging? Is there anything that you think needs to be done?

Robin: Personally, I see a very strong generation of Indigenous people using their voices to represent other Indigenous people and making it more acceptable for other Indigenous people to do the same. I see a lot of indigenous artists also adopting more contemporary music styles but infusing it with culture and tradition which I think is beautiful. I also see Indigenous music moving more and more in that direction which in my opinion is helping our culture and tradition become more acceptable in society, and more common for non-indigenous people to see and appreciate and I think that will help non-indigenous people become more comfortable around indigenous tradition. I think when they embrace the more beautiful sides of our culture and tradition then they’ll start to open themselves up to seeing the harder sides, like, the residential schooling and those hard histories and that kind of thing. So, I think that this is a really good movement into that direction. If I’m thinking about anything that needs to be done, personally, I think encouraging those voices, and supporting Indigenous artists- whether you’re a non-indigenous or apart of the community is super important to help them to use their voices and lift them out of the less-advantageous positions in society. I think that is super important.

Nicole: That’s really awesome to hear. Do you have any recommendations on meaningful ways to do that? Are likes, follows, and shares really helpful? Does that make an impact, or are there different ways to contribute?

Robin: Yes, I totally was just going to say that! The most simple way to do that [helping artists] would be to follow people on Instagram, to like youtube videos, to just be able to help the videos and content [gain popularity] that these artists create in the social media realm is huge, because that lifts it up and makes it more relevant for other people to see. I think that’s the easiest way that you can do things without spending a whole lot of time or money into it. So, that’s usually what I recommend for non-indigenous people to do, or for people who are apart of the community. The other thing you can do for supporting indigenous artists is attend art shows, attend music shows that are local too, um, do some research and figure out if you really connect with Indigenous artists, or who you like and why you like what they create, and what parts of their history are included in their artworks. I think that that will really help people to understand the history and the cultural significance between the artwork they create.

Artist Bio

Robin Cisek Biography: Indigenous Superstars’ 2022 Best Emerging artist, Robin Cisek is a Metis singer/ songwriter who creates melodic electro-pop. Robin Cisek emerged into her music career after years of struggles with health problems.

Robin released her first commercial song with the guidance of grammy-winning producers in NYC. Since her first song release, Robin has been on the Indigenous Music Countdown a total of four times. Robin’s single, “Waiting on You” claimed the #1 spot on the IMC. 

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