You need to watch for Hamilton-based singer-songwriter IsKwé this year
Recently named one of the “Top 10 Artists to Watch in 2016” by CBC Music, IsKwé is an Irish and Cree/Dene singer-songwriter with an intricate sound that combines electrifying beats and soulful rhythms with poignant, introspective lyrics.
Currently based in Hamilton, the Winnipeg-bred artist is known for her fearlessness to weave her political beliefs and cross-cultural influences into both the instrumentation and storytelling of her music.
Following the success of her self-titled debut album in 2013 and her sophomore album The Flight Within, IsKwé is gaining widespread attention with her single, “Nobody Knows,” which highlights the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and is currently featured in the Netflix series Between.
A musician by trade, IsKwé also boasts other creative talents as a visual artist and dancer. Her first taste of music came at the hands of her grandmother, a pianist. She credits her alternative R&B/trip hop sounds to an eclectic household, where there was always room for artistic exploration.
Deeply inspired by the sounds that came out of Bristol during the 90s, IsKwé has always admired bands like Massive Attack and Portishead. She also counts Bjork and Erykah Badu as two of her biggest influences. Both women are pioneers in their respective musical genres and have paved their way to success without hesitation or apology in a male-dominated industry.
"I wanted to be portrayed as the start of a creature, not just as another [glamorous] or beautiful persona".
“I feel this gravitational pull towards gritty and bottom heavy sounds mixed with jazz-styled vocals on top… I always try to blend my love for soul and R&B with these deep bass sounds that really resonate in my chest… I strive to work with [sounds] that vibrate through me in the best way [because] that’s when I feel most [in my element],” said IsKwé.
IsKwé, whose English name is Meghan Meisters, goes by this portion of her full name in Cree to honour her heritage. Roughly translating to “blue sky woman”, IsKwé is also a less formal way of saying “woman” in Cree.
Besides her artist name, another ode to her personal narrative as an Indigenous woman is the paint that often adorns her face.
Her distinctive face paint initially started off as a protest against photo shoots that focused on just making women more feminine looking and traditionally beautiful. IsKwé has since gone through many different faces, with designs that focus on sending politically charged and personally important messages that go beyond beauty.
“I was actually inspired by the film Black Swan… I really related to the internal battle of the good and the bad, the light and the dark… [this] battle happens all the time in the self for a plethora of reasons… so I [decided in this one photo shoot that I wanted to be portrayed] as the start of a creature, not just as another [glamorous] or beautiful persona that doesn’t match me and doesn’t fit in my heart or spirit,” said IsKwé.
IsKwé has also co-authored a graphic novel with David Robertson, her cousin Aaron Leslie and illustrator Greg Chomichuk on the topic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The spring promises to be a fruitful one for IsKwé and her fans, with an album set for release on June 2 followed by a summer tour.
With so many projects on hand and recent acclaim, IsKwé credits her success to fully embracing the ups and downs of what has been a long and exciting journey.
“[My advice to anyone who hopes to pursue art] is to not rush it. It takes a long time. I think we’re often given this idea that a career in the arts is something that can [happen quickly,]” said IsKwe.
“It’s important that I participated in every step of my journey… so if you’re just starting to or if you’re mid-way through or [wherever you are on your wild ride], just be gentle with yourself and take the time to really learn your art, learn who you are in your art and have fun with all of the learning that happens [along the way].”