Kelly Derrickson Delivers ‘Country Tribal Rock’ Music With A Message

Since dropping her debut album in 2013, Kelowna’s Kelly Derrickson has been turning heads and opening ears with a singular style she dubs “Country Tribal Rock.”

While the niche genre is named for her diverse taste in music, it came about as a response to the unwanted labels she faced earlier in her career.

“I hated, hated, hated being pigeonholed,” Derrickson says. “I’ve had record deals before where I had to say, ‘You know what? Here’s your money back. I can’t do this.’

“I didn’t want to be known only as a pop-rock singer, or a country singer. I want to speak about my people and my politics, but I also want to sing about love and I want to sing about having a good time on Friday night. If we can’t be ourselves, we’re never gonna grow.”

But whether she’s rocking out or honouring her Indigenous heritage, Derrickson’s sound is always secondary to her message. Touching on everything from Idle No More (Idle No More) to youth suicide (Suicide Song) to Mother Nature (I Am), she writes and sings about important issues in a “non-angry way that hopefully opens people’s eyes and hearts.”

“I’ve always wanted to play music and sing, but at some point you have to ask yourself why you’re doing it,” she says. “I don’t think doing it for fame or fortune is enough. My grandmother always told me, ‘You’re only as good as what you give.’ So I don’t care if you’re a cook or a nurse or a trash man or you work at A & W, you’re only as good as what you give in this life. If we’re not giving, it’s pointless for us to even be here.”

By giving back to the community with her gift of music, Derrickson hopes to not only raise awareness about Indigenous issues, but heal pain, inspire change and create meaningful connections.

“I’ve won awards and met a lot of celebrities and things like that, but none of that’s important to me,” she says. “The most important thing is when people reach out and I get Facebook messages from people. I got a message one day from a guy who had been planning to kill himself, and he said when he listened to Idle No More he changed his mind. He realized there was somebody out there who cared.

“If you write one song and it affects millions, that’s wonderful. But if it affects even one person on that kind of level, I know I’ve done my job.”

Judging by her mainstream success and ever-growing social media following, Derrickson is most definitely doing her job.

Since the release of 2013’s Warriors of Love, she’s rolled out a number of music videos, won multiple awards and dropped a second album. Featuring her trademark mix of “upbeat fun stuff and more political stuff about what’s going on in my community,” I Am (2017) is nominated for Country Album of the Year at the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards. This summer, Derrickson will embark on a Canada-wide tour and perform at Vancouver’s inaugural SKOOKUM Festival, which will showcase fellow Indigenous artists like Crystal Shawanda, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, William Prince, Buffy Sainte-Marie and others.

But if Derrickson has anything to do with it, she’s just getting started. While she’s noticed an increased awareness about Indigenous issues over the past few years, she says, there’s plenty more work to be done.

“We can hide behind a keyboard, or we can really connect and really encourage each other,” she says. “Through my music, I hope to spread the message of my people and try to help our people. Until our people are full of strength and confidence, I’m not going to stop writing music.”