Southwest Detroit rapper SouFy brings Indigenous issues to the forefront

The 2022 new Detroit music issue

Mar 30, 2022 at 4:00 am
click to enlarge SouFy. - Rosa María Zamarrón
Rosa María Zamarrón

Anishinaabe rapper SouFy does not want you to romanticize Indigenous people as always being "sacred" or traditional.

"We are also rappers, hip-hop artists, and graphic designers, and we order pizza from the same place that you do," he tells Metro Times. "We're staying grounded in our traditions, but we are still people living in this modern world. And don't group us all up either, there are over 500 tribes in America."

The Anishinaabe are a group of Indigenous people from the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. This includes the Potawatomi, Ojibwe, Odawa, Mississauga, Nipissing, and Algonquin tribes.

SouFy, an Ojibwe who grew up in Southwest Detroit, has been rapping since he was in high school, and did his first live show at Clark Park back in 2005.

"Music was totally different for me back then," he says. "My older stuff was more about drinking and partying, and I was in the clubs because that's what I thought I needed to do to be successful."

After getting sober in 2015, he decided to use his platform to highlight Indigenous culture. While all of his songs are not cultural (he emphasizes over the phone that he did grow up in Southwest Detroit, aka the hood, which definitely comes out in his music), some of his more notable rhymes touch on important issues facing the Indigenous community.

"She gone missing, gone missing, nobody looking / No flashing news bulletin / Treated less than human / The fire is lit, it's got me fuming," SouFy raps in a feature on Stuart James' track "M.M.I.W." (which stands for "missing and murdered Indigenous women").

His voice is soft and matter-of-fact, like he's talking directly to the listener as a friend, pleading with you to understand the severity of the situation. You can feel a deep sadness in his tone as he references the REDress Project started by Canadian artist Jaime Black, where red dresses were hung in public places to bring awareness to the sheer number of Indigenous women who have been reported missing.

"I took a trip to Winnipeg / I seen them red dresses hanging so you won't forget / Damn / Now just imagine if your loved one was just gone or abducted / Ain't nobody did shit 'bout it / Can't nobody be trusted," his verse continues.

The raw emotion and sad piano backtrack will straight-up bring tears to your eyes.

The discovery of thousands of unmarked graves of Indigenous children at state-run boarding schools in Canada the last few years have put a spotlight on the genocide of Indigenous populations, but SouFy says people still aren't paying attention.

"In Winnipeg where the native population is huge, there's red dresses hanging in the windows of stores and you see it all the time," he says. "When I saw the homeless population, they looked like my aunties and uncles — they were native. But it doesn't really get talked about here because people don't realize that we have 12 tribes in Michigan."

He traveled to Winnipeg back in 2018 to attend the Indigenous Music Awards, where he had been nominated for one. Though he hasn't had a full-length release in several years, SouFy is working on a joint album with fellow Indigenous hip-hop artist James called The Adventures of Res Boy and City Nish.

James was born and raised on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota and also lives an alcohol- and drug-free lifestyle. The collaboration is due out this spring, and if "M.M.I.W." is any indication, it promises to be a heartfelt release with catchy hooks.

SouFy is also the co-creator of the annual Vibes With the Tribes Festival, an Indigenous music fest. He and his partner Hadassah Greensky started the festival virtually in 2020, and hosted the first in-person event in 2021.

This year's festival will take place in Southwest Detroit on Aug. 27. Last year's gathering featured Indigenous dancers, drummers, singers, and artists from Minneapolis, Albuquerque, Ontario, and beyond. It's sort of a mix between a traditional music festival and a pow-wow — an old-school meets new-school atmosphere where everyone who comes with respect is welcome.

Detroit is a sacred stopping place for the Anishinaabe, who call it Waawiyaatanong, which means "where the curved shores meet" in Anishinaabemowin. So it's perhaps surprising that it took this long for a native music festival to be hosted here. If he wanted to attend a pow wow, SouFy says, the closest one would be in Mount Pleasant with the Saginaw Chippewa tribe.

"We wanted to bring what we usually have to travel for right here to the city," he says. "We wanted to put on something for us to celebrate our traditional ways, but we also wanted to knock down some stereotypes. It's rooted for Anishinaabe people, but everyone is welcome. If you have questions or are curious about native culture, Vibes With the Tribes is the place to come and get those answers."

Beyond music and festivals, SouFy is also working on a documentary series about the Red Ghetto — the neighborhood most Detroiters know as the Cass Corridor. In the late '60s the neighborhood was a thriving community populated mostly by Indigenous people, including SouFy's grandmother.

"A lot of the people who once lived there are now elders in our community, and the Red Ghetto is where many of our family members moved to when they first came to Detroit," SouFy explains. "I feel a responsibility to tell that story because if not, the history will be forgotten, and we've been forgotten about enough."

The audio-video project will feature a concept album, interviews, and music. It's slated to be released later this year.

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