Music documentaries are tricky things.
The best ones manage to walk a tightrope, finding a satisfying compromise: enough broad context to draw in a layperson, while still digging deeply enough to deliver for hard core fans. Rumble, a film about the legacy of Indigenous musicians and their impact on American popular music, delivers on both counts, in abundance.
The film, a well-received release from Montreal’s Rezolution Pictures (it took home the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling at Sundance), lays out a riveting timeline of prominent Indigenous artists and their contribution to popular American music over the last hundred years. While by no means comprehensive, Rumble is a fun, vibrant look at an unsung music legacy and will appeal to anyone.
Rumble Executive Producer Stevie Salas compiled this playlist inspired by the film for RPM
The connections the film presents are surprising and delightful. There’s Mildred Bailey, an influential Tekoa jazz singer during the 1930s whose vocal glides can be directly traced to the Indigenous music she grew up with, and Charley Patton, the father of the Delta Blues, who was one of the earliest performers to do showman-style tricks with his guitar. There’s also plenty of brutal truth: a young Robbie Robertson’s mother advises him to be careful who he tells that he’s Mohawk; Buffy Sainte-Marie speaks candidly about what her activism did to her career.
Rumble covers a lot of territory in its 103 minutes, musically and emotionally. It’s well-crafted and accessible, and features a lot of familiar faces (Dan Auerbach, Taylor Hawkins, and Iggy Pop, to name a few) discussing the impact Indigenous artists have had on their music. Particularly timely during Canada 150 and reconciliation efforts, Rumble uncovers yet another example of the groundbreaking contributions of Indigenous artists, and the debt contemporary music owes them.