Music series

Indigenous music series Amplify is more than about identity

Creator Shane Belcourt discusses the series and the Two Spirit Identities episode with Shawnee

Shane Belcourt mixes formats for Amplify, his Indigenous music documentary series on APTN. It does away with the typical biographical style that most music documentaries rely on. They often spit out facts, informing and feeling inspired by the pages of Wikipedia. Instead, he takes notes from shows like Netflix’s Chef Table and HBO’s Sonic Highway.

“I loved how you get to know the person by doing something else,” Belcourt told NOW on Zoom.

Amplify investigates new Aboriginal music by asking artists to write a song about a point of inspiration. It could be a book, a ceremony or even a season. In each episode, songwriters like Shawnee, Christa Couture, iskwē, Jason Burnstick and Melody McKiver take the song from concept to final product. As they unfold, the show’s crew takes to the field to interview authors, experts, and alumni on the subject.

“At the end, when we hear the song, we’ll really know what it’s about and we’ll really get to know the artist,” Belcourt explains.

Each songwriter partners with a director from the same community or sub-community to make the episode a collaboration. For example, Lacey Hill writes a song about Snow Snake, a traditional Haudenosaunee game. She is paired with Six Nations director Zoe Leigh Hopkins. Shawnee, whose episode airs tonight (September 25), explores being two-spirited with director Adam Garnet Jones.

Belcourt adds that series are not about reconnecting or reclaiming their identity or culture.

“There’s a new generation (of artists) for whom that’s not the issue,” Belcourt says. “The question is something else specific to their trip.”

“The Shawnee episode is not about trying to figure out her Mohawk identity. She is Mohawk. Let’s move on. All the episodes are more about their personal exploration of understanding an aspect of themselves that goes beyond that question.

Watch the video below with Shawnee and Belcourt discussing Amplify’s Two Spirit Identities episode. Amplify airs Fridays on APTN at 8:30 p.m. ET.