It’s been a while since I visited the importance of claiming space for radical politics in art, and the importance therein, of art as a tool for positive change. In my search for examples of this kind of art in practice, I came across Medicine Groove Trio — founded by French musician Jean Michel Wizenne — a band created on the principles of anarchism and Indigenous resistance, and moulded by the founder’s experiences within Lakota Sioux family. I corresponded with Wizenne to ask a few questions about their work.
1. What is the mission of Medicine Groove trio?
Deeply associated with my personal experiences and my many trips and stays on the Rosebud Reservation among the Lakota people, Medicine Groove trio is not only willing to bring a light to the daily nightmare that constitutes life on a reservation, but always makes parallels with the Third World War, which is the war against the poor.
Taking the example of the ethnic cleansing endured by the Native American people, it underlines it as a global treatment imposed upon general populations leading to the loss of identity and memory, and dehumanizing people.
From the forgotten participation of Native Americans in the First World War, to the Judicial system as the new way of assimilating Native people in the US to the Libertarians’ views of the Enlightenment, Medicine Groove Trio embraces a large range of topics, always bringing people to remember or learn about their true history.
I have to insist on a point that I consider essential. As far as Lakota people and Native American people in general are concerned, I have been often asked by European journalists if I would consider myself a spokesperson. To represent a people you have to be part of that people. I will never be a spokesman for anybody but myself, as a white French man who testifies about his own life and experiences. This, combined with my strong anarchist points of view, lead to the decision to carry out a message.
As for my mission, I would only quote Howard Zinn: “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
2. How did you form?
“Speak about us, the native prisoners! Tell the story! This is the only way for us to exist!”
After a young Lakota prisoner at the Sioux Falls penitentiary had shouted those words during my first visit to the Sioux Falls prison where I had been invited to participate in ceremonies, I decided to create Medicine Groove trio as a tool for activism and a vehicle to carry out messages.
Since 2004, I have experimented many formulas for the band, from two pieces plus a computer to a five-piece band.
But it was two years ago that I decided to go for a more urgent and radical form that fits the style in a better way, and that is the trio. We just recorded our first album in January: “For Anarchism and Indigenous Resistance.”
For musical reasons we replaced our bass player during the recording and ended up with an ex-member of a very famous French Rock Band called “Trust.” He also produced the album and succeeded in creating the exact sound I had wanted.
3. How do you use music as a form of resistance? What role does art play in the culture of resistance?
No matter what culture or language, art goes straight to an emotional level. It can touch the soul without going through the intellect. An art piece can make you react emotionally with the same power that a strong slogan will do intellectually.
The corporations understand this perfectly with their manufacturing of consent. This is the reason why most of the propaganda conceived to create behaviours from ways to dress, ways to speak or ways to reach within various situations is served through the enterainment business. The role of resistance in culture and activism in art is to use the same channel to deliver an antidote leading to alternative ways of thinking. Where the corporations handcuff the spirit and poison the soul, art activists have to provide the keys for the first one and the medicine for the second.
4. What is the association between rock music, anarchism and Indigenous resistance?
Whatever Government we will be living under in a few years, Mother Nature and the environment will present the bill, and we’ll have to deal with it. Indigenous people around the world are among the few to pull the alarm about a coming and inevitable catastrophe. In fact, they are almost alone on the battlefield’s frontline.
I think about anarchism, not as a system, but as tool and ideology aiming for a constant improvement of life for people. I strongly think that the urgency of the topic should call the many anarchist groups to ally with Indigenous movements against the corporate world, for the future of humanity.
Furthermore, who more than anarchists and Indigenous peoples of the world to put forward the idea of forms of society regulated by people’s responsibility instead of rich men’s authority?
As far as rock music is concerned, it is the vehicle that I drive the best and it is also a form of art that reaches everywhere and to everyone, regardless of culture and origins.
5. How do your shows embrace your politics of resistance?
Our shows are built around the spine of our album set list, but the spaces between the songs are filled with texts introducing the theme, describing the context and facts, and leading the audience from stories and statements to reflections. We do this in that keeps people’s attention, similar to the storytelling form. The formula has been very well accepted and enjoyed and has also allowed us to touch people who are not automatically fans of the genre but who are caught by the story and its different messages.
6. How do you blend rock music with Native American rhythms?
The main Native American ingredients I am using are Lakota-style chanting and some of the Lakota language that I have learned with them. I am not able to reclaim as such, since I am not Laktoa, but have been adopted into the family. I am underlining my personal story with Lakota people and using this as a signature for the band. The tribal chanting blends very well with the rock beats and electric guitar, giving a sound to “Anarchism and Indigenous Resistance.”
7. What would you like audiences and readers to take home about Medicine Groove trio?
What I would like people to take away from each show is:
I am not a thing. I am a person.
I am not a social security number with a birth certificate and a death certificate but a being with a unique name and a unique story and unique ancestors. There are no rules and there is no universal evidence that gives a family name or skin colour, the right to rule or the obligation to serve.
And above all, there are no right or wrong paths, but the only one is the one created by my own steps. Real people in history have proved this.
8. What are you about and what led you to reach out with rabble.ca?
Since we finished the album, we have been doing concerts in France and we are currently looking for a label to collaborate with. Our first investigation has been Canada because I strongly believe that the message combined with rock could find an echo there. Canada is a place that combines all the elements of the band. From French and English languages to Indigenous territory and environmental topics such as “Le Plan Nord.” I really find the field fertile. We have also been spreading the news of our album release through alternative media. After going around the site and seeing the diversity of news and reports and the way they have been treated, I’m convinced that it would be a very great connection to have.