As a 44-year-old female First Nations DJ, Squamish’s Crystal “DJ Kwe” Favel is unique in more ways than one.
On top of her musical talents, Favel’s photo, “Cedar Wolf Woman,” was one of 70 out of 1,000 submissions selected for a new Canada 150 exhibition called Points of View, at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. The photo is of Favel wearing traditional First Nations garb and headphones while standing at Shannon Falls.
The Squamish Chief caught up with Favel for a chat about what being included in the exhibit means to her, foraging a new musical path and the responsibility she feels to carry on her family name.
What follows is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: So, your photo is displayed in the Museum for Human Rights. Why did you want to be involved in the Canada 150 exhibition?
A: My photo was chosen for the exhibition in the category of “Inclusion in Diversity.”
I wanted to be a part of it because I have worked very hard to be a part of Canada and to contribute. What I do, no one else does, but to me it is what Canada is all about – the opportunity, the inclusion and the diversity.
Q: The celebration of Canada 150 has been controversial, given our troubling relationship with First Nations peoples. Your ancestry is Metis, Cree and Irish – how do you feel about the celebration?
A: Yeah, it was controversial. There was a theme going around of “Resistance 150.
My role, I feel, and my position on Canada’s history is this: my family has been deeply affected by Canada’s history in that my father was taken out of the home and put up for adoption as part of the Sixties Scoop, which completely disrupted his entire family and, in turn, that impacted me and our family.
We lost a lot of our family history when that happened and we were all disconnected.
I feel that it is up to me to bring our family back together and reclaim the honourable role and position that we had.
It is up to me to represent with honour and pride. So, part of my resistance is not only acknowledging what happened to our family, but to also go against that adversity and reclaim our name.
I am the last Favel left in my family and then my family name will be extinct.
Q: That is a heavy burden for you to carry, isn’t it?
A: It is. My ancestors drive my purpose in life and it is just really important to me to reclaim the name that was taken away and restore the honour of my family.
Q: How did you feel when you were chosen for the museum exhibition?
A: I was elated! I found out sometime in January or February. I also felt like it was about time, in some way, that I was able to get that acknowledgement for the family name. I kind of feel like I reached my destiny or my fate – that I have done everything that my ancestors wanted me to do.
Q: How did you get started as a DJ?
A: I have collected records since I was in Grade 7. My husband and I now have almost 30,000 records in our place. It is horrible to move them, by the way.
My father gave me my first record, David-Campbell’s Pretty Brown, and since then I have been collecting records of all genres.
I have always really connected to music. When you go through trauma or tragedy in life, music can fill that void very quickly. I still have that first album.
Even though my father and I were estranged, it meant the world to me to have music I could access in my time of need. Then when the DJ thing started in my generation, I thought, “I have all these records and music makes me feel this way so why wouldn’t I want to make other people feel good in their time of need?’
I had my first professional event in 1997.
Q: What do you like about being a DJ?
A: To be a DJ is a lot of work: to get the music ready, to get yourself ready, to be cognizant of your audience, it is so much.
The best part is the one hour you get up on the stage where you are putting a month’s work out there.
It is like you almost lose control on stage because it is so much fun. I am just in my element.
Q: For someone who hasn’t seen you perform, what are your shows like?
A: I always use turntables. You won’t find me DJing without them. People have attempted to teach me how to DJ on a computer, but unless the computer will spin, I am not going to learn.
I will have either two, three or four turntables and a mixer. It is like watching a conductor at a symphony concert. That is how I imagine it. I try to reach everyone in the crowd in some way. They may hear traditional singing, traditional drumming; my own spoken word on top of music; so they will hear teachings and one of a kind poetry.
There’s always going to be some element of nature such as birds or wolves and then music underneath. It is a new genre – electronic drum music – and I have been making it since 2006. It incorporates the heart of the drum with the heart of electronic beats and putting them together in a remix.
Basically half of it will be electronic and half of it will be traditional, all mixed up in a salad bowl.
Q: You just put out a new album – tell me about that.
A: My last album, “Radio Remixes - Voices of Binga” [by Favel and Claudia Wegener], was with an all-female production team. One woman was in Germany and the other women were in Zimbabwe.
It is the best production I have ever done and we are very proud to be able to communicate worldwide with an album that has teaching, women’s rights and Aboriginal language revitalization.
It is an all-in-one album. We are quite proud of it, but it is hard to get promotion of it because we are an all-female team that a village put together. People don’t understand how much work and karma went into that.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Being the first Aboriginal female to turn professional DJ music producer was my top goal. I didn’t plan to be the first, though, I was just doing what I loved.
What I would really love to do now is go more into my traditional art making. I create beautiful dream catchers and feather hair clips and that kind of thing.
I would love to share my music and my art to create healing around the world.
Crystal “DJ Kwe” Favel’s next big gig is in Victoria at the festival Rifflandia 2017. For more information on that festival go to rifflandia.com.