Rainey grew up a Red Lake Ojibwe in Minneapolis, a city with one of the largest and proudest Native American populations in the country. The Red Lake Reservation sits five hours to the North, a sovereign state unto itself, but Rainey grew up down in what Northerners call “The Cities,” in his mom’s house on historic Milwaukee Avenue on Minneapolis’ South Side. He was raised less than a mile away from Franklin Avenue, the post-Reorganization Act urban nexus of local Native American life, a community centered in the Little Earth housing projects and the Minneapolis American Indian Center. The neighborhood still serves as a home for both the housed and the un-housed, and the don’t-even-wanna-be-housed Native. It is the birthplace of the American Indian Movement (AIM), the pioneering grassroots civil rights organization founded to combat the colonizing forces of police brutality. Rainey came of age in the heart of this community, but always felt like he was living in a liminal space—not that he was uncomfortable with that. “Growing up, knowing that you weren’t from the Rez, but you were repping them, was kind of weird,” he says. “But I liked that.”

On Niineta, Rainey finds himself in between cultures again. This time collaborating with the producer Andrew Broder, who brought his multi-instrumentalist, turntablist sensibility to the project. The two of them first met backstage at Justin Vernon’s hometown Eaux Claires music festival before encountering each other more frequently through Vernon and Aaron and Bryce Dessner’s 37d03d collective—both contributing to the last Bon Iver album before broaching the possibility of working together sometime in the future. “At first I didn’t know what I could add to Joe’s incredible recordings,” Broder says. “But eventually I came to understand everything is rooted in the drum—even the songs on our record that have no drum, they’re still rooted in the drum.” So each song started with Broder’s beats, the two of them experimenting with various sounds and tempos, before bringing in other 37d03d collaborators to orchestrate and recontextualize the ancient Pow Wow sound in strange, new in-between places. The album pulls from Rainey’s vast sample folder of Pow Wow recordings, layering and remixing slices of his life of singing in venues across the upper Midwest and Canada.

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Bild: David Guttenfelder