Unbound (Jagjaguwar)

Contact Patrick Tilley about Bizhiki

Unbound, the new album by Bizhiki out July 19th via Jagjaguwar, opens with a single, trembling chord that rises and descends before meeting a warm, beguiling voice, a voice singing in a tradition that’s been heard in Northern Wisconsin river country for millennia. The music that follows is a soulful dialogue between the ancient tradition of powwow singing and a contemporary musical palette. Today, Bizhiki shares the lead single “Gigawaabamin (Come Through) (feat. Mike Sullivan).” A made-in-Wisconsin collaboration between Dylan Bizhikiins Jennings, Joe Rainey Sr., and multi-instrumentalist S. Carey (Bon Iver), Unbound sees the powwow style entwined with synthesized voice modulation, and hand drumming accented with electronic samples and beats. The harmonies and resonances on this album are equal parts cultural and musical.


“Gigawaabamin (Come Through)” features Mike Sullivan, a Native singer from Lac Courte Oreilles in Northern Wisconsin, as well as additional contributions from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Stephen Garrington (Low), alongside Bizhiki. According to Carey: “[The track] was first born out of (Justin) jamming with Mike, as well as Joe and Dylan years ago.”


For the accompanying video, “We wanted to feature baaga’adowewin, considered by Anishinaabe communities to be the ‘creators game,’” says director Finn Ryan. “It’s also considered to be good medicine and a source of community healing. Baaga’adowewin has historically been played in the community of mashkiiziibing until US policy and assimilation efforts sought to destroy Anishinaabe practices. In the last decade, baaga’adowewin has been brought back and serves as a symbol of reclamation and resiliency.”


Bizhiki originates from the name given to Bizhikiins Jennings  — “it means little Buffalo” — by Eddie Benton-Banai, his wenh-enh (Ojibwe word for teacher), and one of the founders of the American Indian Movement. Many of the songs on this album go back to when the spirit of the Bizhiki was forged, nearly a decade ago, on the banks of Wisconsin’s Chippewa River. Bizhikiins Jennings, one of the two principal Native voices on the album, remembers getting an invitation to play the Eaux Claires festival in 2015. “I was driving up in Cornucopia, Wisconsin — way out in the middle of nowhere —and I got a call.” There was a festival being organized on the Ojibwe’s ancestral homelands, and the organizers wouldn’t feel right without the involvement of the land’s native communities. “I agreed,” he remembers. “And I told them I wished more people thought like this — that instead of reading from some land acknowledgement, that they would say ‘we’re gonna give your people space and just invite you to do what you wanna do.’”


Bizhikiins Jennings says the open-endedness of the initial invitation, “collaborate with other artists if you want to, sing some songs in the woods, sing some songs on stage, sing whatever you wanna sing, with whoever you wanna sing with,” isn’t necessarily the kind of invitation he was used to. “It’s in being told where we can fit and where we can’t that a lot of Natives get corralled into doing something that’s borderline appropriation,” Bizhikiins Jennings says, “or just romanticizes who we are.” Bizhikiins Jennings says that in this case, there weren’t any expectations at all, and this “let’s just do something together” spirit continues to inform Bizhiki’s process.


Unbound came together over the course of years and in between several projects from Bizhiki members, including two solo album releases. Both Joe Rainey’s Niineta and S. Carey’s Break Me Open were released in 2022, and the artists have been busy touring their projects. Bizhikiins Jennings has also been committed to a robust schedule of speaking and teaching engagements —he’s in the final stage of his pursuit of a PhD at UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies — in addition to his singing in powwow groups, both locally and internationally.


Bizhiki: Unbound is the recipient of an inaugural Wisconsin Special Projects Grant from Ruth Foundation for the Arts. The project is one of ten selected from a pool of over 80 applicants; selections were made by a national panel of jurors. Project collaborators will develop and tour a multidisciplinary music and video performance, engaging audiences throughout Wisconsin about contemporary Ojibwe culture at live shows in 2024 and 2025. The project will make great efforts to both support revitalization within Tribal communities and enhance understanding in non-Tribal communities.