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Cris Derksen Takes Her Cello for a Red Ride

Cellist Cris Derksen mixes classical music with hip hop and Aboriginal styles, and she might be coming to your town on the Red Ride Tour.

The Red Ride Tour features a collective of Aboriginal musicians with a goal to showcase the diverse talent of artists from across North America. This year’s tour is already underway and will work its way eastward through Canada and end with concerts in New York and Seattle in June. One of the fixtures of the annual tour is Cris Derksen (crisderksen.virb.com).

Derksen is a composer and cellist who augments her instrument with electronics, including a guitar multi effects pad and a loop station, to create her evocative music that seamlessly alternates between dance floor friendly rhythms and meditative neo-classical pieces. This use of electronics, and a litle help from a Dr. Rhythm 880 drum pad, enables her to play her multi-layered music live as a solo performer. 

The upcoming Red Ride Tour dates are as follows:

May 22: Pyramid Cabaret, Winnipeg, Canada
May 23: The Apollo, Thunder Bay, Canada
May 25: Debajehmujig Theatre, Wikwemikong, Canada
May 27: Capital Theatre, North Bay, Canada
May 28: The Monarch, Toronto, Canada
May 30: The Garnet, Peterborough, Canada
Jun 03: Club Saw, Ottawa, Canada
Jun 04: Ashukan Cultural Space, Montreal, Canada
Jun 07: Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn, NY
Jun 21: Sunset Tavern, Seattle, WA

Though she is known for her contribution to soundtracks to television and film, such as the 2012 CBC television series 8th Fire: Aboriginal Peoples, Canada & the Way Forward and the award winning documentary People of a Feather, Derksen has also provided music for theatrical performances, such as the Kaha:wi Dance Theatre’s “TransMigration” (2012). She has also released two albums, The Cusp (2010) and The Collapse (2013), both of which include some vocals, but are primarily showcases for her instrumental compositions.

Derksen grew up in Edmonton, where a public stringed-instrument program got an instrument into her hands when she was a child. “When I was 10 years old, I came home with a piece of paper saying I could learn to play the violin, the cello, or the bass," she says. "I wanted to learn to play the bass because I thought the cool kids played the bass, but my mom’s car was too small, so she said to take the next biggest thing which is how I got into the cello. I was lucky, because the cello can be such a diverse instrument. You can do so many things with it.”

Though the cello is a classical instrument, Derksen saw its possibilities, in conjunction with electronics, to create a fusion that takes equal inspiration from both classical and pop music; however, as a performer, she was more inspired by what she saw at Folk Fest rather than the symphony halls.

“My first year after college I did the Vancouver Opera, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Derksen says. “A certain highbrowness comes with classical music that I don’t really embody. I’m not the kind of guy who wants to sit in an orchestra and go along with anyone else’s music; I want to play my music. I’ve been creating stuff since I was a child, composing little ditties, so I went to university not to be an orchestra player; I went to get the technique that I needed to be an excellent tutor and collaborator.”

So how does she categorize her music? “I don’t know; it’s a fusion," she says. "I’ve been influenced by everything around me. Everything from hip hop to Northern Cree inspires me. I look at creating music as like being a jeweler; we take little stones that are totally different and we put them together in a bracelet that only we can make into a beautiful fashion. That’s how I view the world. In music we put all these tiny gems together to make one piece. The genre is Cris Derksen.”

Derksen has finished recording her next album, Orchestral Powwow Project, to be released in the summer of 2015. Players on the recording, and upcoming live performances, include Cris on cello, the 11-piece Chippewa Travelers powwow group, Jennifer Kriesberg on vocals, and a 9-piece symphonic ensemble.

You can stream Derksen’s first 2 albums, The Cusp and The Collapse on Spotify for free.