Acclaimed artist Iskwé captivated at Ottawa’s Glowfair street festival Friday night.
With slow-burning, electronic-edged alt-rock, Iskwé was a marked departure from the dance tracks blaring from DJ stages along Bank Street.
Nonetheless, The Juno-nominated performer kept the crowd mesmerized with her imposing stage presence and unique pipes, which were as effective belting out huge choruses on songs like “Soldier” as on the intense near-whisper of self-love ode “Say it Sweet.”
Opening with gothic ballad “The Storm,” Iskwé played a 45-minute set that ran the gamut from Alanis Morrisette-esque rock (e.g. scathing breakup track “Disturbed”) to punk-edged empowerment anthems.
Balancing dark realities with communitarian uplift, her distinctive sound recalls nineties rock and industrial icons like Garbage and Nine Inch Nails, with hints of The Cure and Buffy Sainte Marie. A highlight of the set was an awesome cover of NIN’s “The Hand That Feeds,” which she called “a song I wish I’d written.”
The singer-songwriter, who is of Cree, Dene, Metis, and Irish descent, also draws inspiration from Indigenous music and culture. One of her most acclaimed songs was the sparsely-instrumented, politically-pointed “Healers,” which she dedicated to “my Indigenous brothers and sisters.”
Another emotional moment was her raw rendition of electro-blues ballad “Nobody Knows,” written about the death of Tina Fontaine, a murdered indigenous teen from the singer’s hometown; Iskwé delivered the chorus with an anguished wail, both an expression of grief and a call to action.
She closed with her most powerful track, searing call-to-arms “The Unforgotten,” leading the crowd in a singalong of its Ojibwe-language bridge. It was a perfect ending to the set, showcasing her unique sound and community-building spirit.
Venue: Morguard Main Stage, Glowfair, Bank Street, Ottawa ON
Date: June 15/2018, 9:45 PM