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Edmund Bull is from Little Pine First Nation and is well known across North American's powwow trail. Bull is the lead singer, manager, and drum keeper of the Red Bull Drum Group. The Red Bull Drum Group were named the best in the world at the 1995 and 1997 Schemitzun World Championship in Hartford, Connecticut.
Bull's singing has taken him throughout the world to countries such as Poland, Finland, Sweden, and Russia.
Bull also recorded with talents such as Buffy SainteMarie. On her Juno award winning compact disc "Up Where We Belong," Bull co-wrote the lyrics to the song "Darlin' Don't Cry."
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My dad is a singer, and I used to listen to him sing when I was small. He would sing with a hand drum. When he was not home, I would take his drum and sing to myself. That's how I started to sing, just on my own. When I turned fifteen, I started to sing in a group with my dad and my uncles.
The Drum Keeper and the Spirit
As the manager of the group, Red Bull, I keep the drum, so you say that I am the Drum Keeper. A lot of drum keepers believe in smudging their drum with sweetgrass before singing at a powwow. Smudging the drum with sweetgrass, is a way to respect the spirit of the drum.
It is believed that there is a Drum Spirit, and it is considered sacred. To care for the Drum Spirits, some Drum Keepers will feed their drum. This means they will hold a feast in honour of their drum. The Drum Spirit is what gives dancers energy to dance, and it also gives energy to the singers. This Drum Spirit is what we mean by, "The heartbeat of our people".
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The hand drum is small, and is held by one person. In one hand the drum is held, and in the other, the drumstick. Sometimes there is only one singer, but hand drum songs can be sung in a group, with each person holding their own drum. The hand drum is often used for round dances, or other types of ceremonies, like the Prairie Chicken Dance. This is a dance that they sing all night long. It is held in the springtime, and is something they do in both Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The powwow drum is bigger. It sits near to the ground, and can have as many drummers as can fit around it. Sometimes it could fit up to fifteen drummers.
Drum Making is Gift . . .
My dad makes his own hand drums. He would prepare the deer hide. He not only made these drums for himself; he would sometimes make them for other men. A friend of mine, a singer, wanted to make a drum. He didn't know how, he thought he would just try it. He made a good hand drum for himself; of course he must have watched someone else. Drum making is a gift. It has to be done right, to make an effective sound. The hide has to be the right thickness, to make a good sound.
Drums are made mostly from moose, deer, and elk hide, but nowadays, they can be made from cowhide. The wood is usually from a cedar, or other type of tree. The hides of the hand drums are mostly from deer hide, but some are made with beaver pelts. Hand drum frames use the wood from the black poplar tree. Some people paint their drums for different reasons, sometimes for decoration, or they may have had a dream about it.
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Come & Dance Together . . .
There are two types of songs, Traditional and contemporary songs. Traditional songs do not have words; they are chants, or melodies. Contemporary songs have words. As a matter of fact, I was one of the first in this area to make a song in Cree, because traditionally, the Cree people didn't have word songs. only the Dakota, Blackfeet, and other tribes had word songs. I liked the way they would sing these songs, so I decided to make a word song in Cree. A few years later, other Cree groups started to make their own word songs. This all began around 1984, in Saskatchewan. Now we have contemporary songs for Honour songs, Intertribals... we have all types of contemporary songs.
My first song was about dancers and dancing, having a good time together. A Cree verse
An honour song is to recognize, and respect someone. All should stand when there is an honour song. At Grand Entry, an honour song is the first song that begins the powwow. The Eagle Staff and flags are brought in at this time, and it is usually carried by our veterans. A flag song follows this. A verse from a flag song Red Bull sings, is about the flag, (Union lack), that the Queen gave our people, and this flag will always be with us - flying high.
Veteran songs are for the veterans who went to war, to acknowledge the ones who didn't come back. We remember them, and honour them with veteran memorial songs. Victory songs are for all the veterans. We recognize these veterans who won the wars. It is because of them, we are free here today.
Sometimes we are asked to sing an honour song when a person has a give-away, like a memorial give-away. A memorial giveaway is for someone that a family has lost. So we sing for their loved one that has passed on.
Some parents will host a giveaway when their child enters the powwow circle. They can enter the circle as a dancer or singer. This is a type of initiation, and we welcome them in by singing. We also sing honour songs for our elderly people.
Round dances are for enjoyment, so some songs are comical. A round dance song can also be a love song. A good love song my dad made when he was young says, "Don't you know I care for you a lot. You're my pretty little sweetheart. I love you, and nobody else in this world, hey ya, hey ya.". I call this my mother song.
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My niece, Delia Bull-Waskewitch, started to sing with us when she was nineteen. She travels and sings with the group. She enjoys singing, and when she sings, she prays for all the People. Delia has a beautiful voice, and inspires many women to start singing.
Women will stand behind the drum as a support. Women singers start to sing when the men start to sing low. Their voices harmonize with the men.
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It is a Good Feeling. . .
Whistle blowing is adopted from the States again. The Dakota people call them eagle whistlers. Eagle whistlers are traditional men who went through a special ceremony. They are then given the passage to carry these whistles. Usually another carrier passes on these whistles. The original carrier, whistle man, will
only pass on the whistle to someone who will honour and respect that whistle, and carry on the special significance of the whistle.
When an eagle whistler blows on a drum, it means that the eagle whistler is moved by, or really loves that song. Sometime an eagle whistler will be asked by someone to blow his whistle on a drum. When someone requests this, it could be for a family member to get well. Then it is done for healing. When a whistle is blown on a drum, that song will go on for four starts. It is a good feeling for the drum group, when this happens to them.