Sitting in the back of her yellow 2005 Mustang convertible cruising around North Vancouver last week, Orene Askew was doing something she never thought would come true – filming a music video for her debut track.
Askew – aka DJ O Show – is almost ready to drop her first hip-hop single, Status & Clarity produced by Jane Aurora.
“My song, it's about the things that I've experienced being Afro-Indigenous and two-spirited,” the 38-year-old said, adding that the track had a slow beat with an R&B feel.
“There's not very many of us around with all those identities going on.”
The well-known DJ wears many different hats. On top of turning tables, she’s a motivational speaker for Indigenous youth, a Squamish Nation councillor, a voice for the two-spirited on a few different LGBTQ+ boards, and a business coach.
And, now, she can add hip-hop artist to the list. Through her music, Askew hopes to break through to young Indigenous people as well as help non-Indigenous people understand the struggles Indigenous people face.
“I'm hoping people can relate to it and actually listen to the lyrics and understand what we go through as Indigenous people here in Vancouver,” Askew said.
“In a couple of lyrics, I refer to how, you know, I have a status card from the government that has a number on it and it's almost like a barcode. Then I talk about my mom who went to residential school. “Which is a huge topic right now, because of the children that are being found [in unmarked graves at former residential school sites].”
Askew started working on the song just before COVID-19 hit in March 2020. With some delays caused by pandemic life, and after a six-month process, she said the track would likely be released sometime in October.
For Askew, music has always been her “outlet” and it’s “been all around her” tying her life together from when she was young. Whether it was learning the importance of the beat through Squamish Nation teachings in drumming and traditional songs, making mix-tapes for her friends, or hearing her grandma from Gary, Indiana, play the piano at church and listening to her stories of being in an R&B group in the ‘70s called the Rosettes.
“I come from a really musical family,” Askew said, in a previous interview. “I just really had to figure out what I wanted to do with it. DJing is so much fun and the look that people give you when you play their favourite song, it's worth a million dollars, just seeing them smile with their eyes and having the best time of their lives. It's amazing.”
Through DJing, Askew said she was always meeting new people and having doors open to new experiences, including the opportunity to record her own music.
“I feel like, you know, I've just been able to try new things and see what I like and see where I want to go,” she said.
“Now I've got a track coming out … I never thought I'd be a hip-hop artist. It's been a really cool experience, and everything is just coming full circle.”
The song isn’t just a one-off for Askew, either. She said she’d be in the studio working on an album next year.
“It’s funny, I always joke about it, when I first went into the studio, I thought I was only going to write one song, you know, about being Afro-Indigenous and two-spirited and I talked to the producer, and she was just like, ‘yeah, that sounds like a whole album. You're not going to get all that in a four minute or three-minute song.’”
Askew said, so far, making music and songwriting has been “an amazing process.”
“The producer [at Creative BC] that I've worked with, and am continuing to work with, is just bringing all this stuff I didn't even know was inside of me out,” she shared.
Her music style has been inspired by hip-hop folk artist Kinnie Star, Askew said, who has been “an amazing role model” to her and had songs feature on the L Word, one of her favourite shows growing up.
Askew said one of her goals was to always work hard to be a role model for young people in her community, so when it came to coming up with an idea for her song’s music video she decided to make them a part of it.
“It was just filmed in my neighbourhood with some of the local kids and friends of mine,” she said. “I have a 2005 yellow Mustang convertible and we were just riding around North Vancouver in it and filming.
She added it was also a great experience to work with Indigenous film director Patrick Shannon from InnoNative and Anika Sykakis of Wandering Docs.
“The cast and the crew, like the director, Patrick Shannon was just incredible,” she said. “He just let me be free and took all my ideas into consideration.
“It felt like a normal day in our community, but it was just being filmed. It was actually so much fun.”
Being in front of the camera for the music video is nothing new for Askew, who’s also just had a documentary released about her inspiring life. The O Show – which just won Best Short at the Squamish International Film Festival – came about after Askew caught the attention of one of the co-owners of Human Biography, Sharad Kharé, while giving a speech at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
Without giving too much away, she said the producers worked to capture every aspect of her life, from being Afro-Indigenous and two-spirited, the inspiring work she does on the daily in politics and through youth talks, and how it all connects back to her passion for music and DJing all in a 20-minute short.
A screening of the documentary is set to be scheduled soon. Status & Clarity is expected to drop next month.
Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.