WINNIPEG'S INDIAN CITY WALKS BEYOND THE PANDEMIC WITH NEW ALBUM CODE RED
When the COVID-19 pandemic first settled over the planet, Vince Fontaine started walking, and as he walked he thought. At first, he wasn’t thinking about music too much. But over the course of walking more than 2,200 kilometres that year, Fontaine felt an urgent new energy welling up from a world that was, temporarily, frozen in place.
Now, that energy is awakening with Code Red, the fourth album from folk-pop collective Indian City. Led by Fontaine, the Juno Award-winning founder of First Nations rock icons Eagle & Hawk, and featuring acclaimed singers and musicians Don Amero (Cree-Metis), Jeremy Koz (Anishinaabe) and Sandra Sutter (Cree-Metis), as well as Canadian music stars Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), Chantal Kreviazuk and Chris Burke-Gaffney, Code Red is an album to lift the heart, feed the soul and inspire us for what comes next.
The eight songs of Code Red were written during the pandemic, but it is not a pandemic record. It is not a record about loneliness, or isolation, or the things that we’ve lost. It is, rather, a call to celebrate old truths that still shine like new, and the timeless values that carried us through the challenge: wisdom. Love. Respect. Bravery. Honesty. Humility. Truth.
To many Indigenous communities, these are the Seven Sacred Teachings, a framework for how to live in the world in a good way. To Fontaine, who is Anishinaabe from Sagkeeng First Nation, the pandemic offered a chance to strip away the complexities of daily life, and refocus on those core values that bind us to each other, and to Mother Earth.
“It turns out the things that are important are still the same,” Fontaine says. “Life will carry on. But we had a moment where we thought about what is important and found that it’s love, and caring. I anticipated that one day we would be past the pandemic, and what would we want to hear? It’s uplifting. It’s pop. We may not be out just yet, but there’s a light ahead.”
Each of Code Red’s songs plays a different note in this forward-thinking vibe. The album’s title track, co-written by Amero, grooves with gritty guitar riffs and a pressing chorus call. “Smile,” sung by Koz, was born when Fontaine noticed how he could see the warmth of people’s smiles in their eyes, even when they were wearing masks; the result is a spirited pop romp. The ballad “Storyteller” sparkles as Sutter’s heartfelt voice glides over graceful piano chords.
"Inspired by the values of indigenous people: courage, truth, honesty, wisdom, respect, love and humility, this song "Wannabe" was created for the Indian City project," says Kreviazuk. "It is meaningful to me especially because my roots trace back to the peguis first nation.... and I believe that these values are the way for us to heal the planet and bring hope to future generations."
All of Code Red’s tunes delve into the connections shared between people, but also between Nations. On “The Path,” ebullient lyrics and an irresistible chorus reveal how reconciliation can be a joyful journey, led by radiating hearts. This healing power of compassion is explored even further on “ForGiving,” which looks to a future in which we will, as Fontaine’s words urge, start rewriting our collective story by defending love."
In that vein, one of the album’s standout tracks was born on Canada Day 2021, when a text from Fontaine’s longtime friend, Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy, sparked a conversation about the meaning of reconciliation. That discussion blossomed into a collaboration on “Star People,” a lyrical exploration of Indigenous concepts of existence and belonging. Vince and Chris wrote the song shortly after and sent it to Jim.
“It was an honour,” Cuddy says. “The content of the song was an origin story of sorts, and of course it spurred a lot of thinking. The personification of people as constellations was a heavy idea. I held that in my thoughts for a long time.”