Sultans Of String & Crystal Shawanda Visit The Rez

The global music vets enlist the award-winning singer for a track from their new LP.


Sultans Of String and Crystal Shawanda take you to The Rez on their smouldering, southern-flavoured new single and video — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

The fourth preview single from the Sultans Of String’s ambitious Sept. 22 release Walking Through the Fire  — a collection of collaborations with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit artists across Turtle Island — The Rez unites Juno-winning blues and country artist Shawanda and the CFMA-winning global music vets. Shawanda, an Ojibwe Potawatomi singer born in Wiikwemkoong First Nation on Manitoulin Island, is also decorated with Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards, Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, a CCMA, a Canadian Radio Music Award, and too many Juno nominations to list.

“I started singing as soon as I could make noise”, says Crystal. “I grew up in a house where everybody listened to all styles of music — and from an early age I could see that for my family, music was like therapy. So depending on what mood they were in, that’s the song they would listen to. My dad taught me to play guitar and after he taught me everything he knew, he suggested I take lessons. He always tried to let me know how important it was to be able to play an instrument for myself.”

Initially signed to RCA in 2007, she hit her stride as a country singer and songwriter when she scored a top 20 hit with her song You Can Let Go. She tallied sales of over 50,000 copies of her debut album Dawn Of A New Day and subsequently debuted in the Billboard Top 20. Fast forward 16 years, and even though Shawanda lives in Nashville, she still keeps her roots close to her heart.

“I wrote The Rez with Ed Hill and Shay Smith, and it came out of the stories I had shared with them when they asked me what it was like growing up on a reservation,” Crystal explains. “They said, ‘That sounds like a song’, and from there it came together pretty quick!

“I’m very proud of my roots, proud to be a rez kid, she continues. “I grew up around intergenerational trauma, but that’s not all I remember. I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, but in mine I remember my beautiful family that surrounded me with love and showed me that laughter, like music can be medicine. I remember my community, so resilient and strong. We have all been through so much, but we’re still here. My roots, the rez is very much a part of who I am as an artist and person.”

Studios throughout Ontario were used to record the track. Crystal’s vocals were recorded with Grammy and Juno-winning John ‘Beetle’ Bailey at Orange Lounge Recording Studio in Toronto. Sultans of String bed tracks were recorded at Jukasa Studios, an Indigenous-owned world-class recording facility on another reservation, Six Nations of the Grand River, south of Hamilton.

Recently asked if she goes back to Manitoulin, she answered “Definitely for inspiration. I go to Manitoulin Island to rejuvenate my soul. When I’m there, it’s being around my family, my community and even just the land. It’s the island, the water, the land. When I’m there, I feel inspired.” Like the song says:

“It’s my blood, it’s my tears
Everyone I love is here
Yeah I know in my heart I was blessed
To grow up on The Rez.”

Watch the video for The Rez above, hear more from Sultans of String below, and find them at their website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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