KPU creative writing grad releases debut album highlighting advocacy and harms of colonialism

Tawahum Bige released the eight-song rap album titled Bottled Lightning earlier this month

Kwantlen Polytechnic University creative writing graduate Tawahum Bige released their debut album Bottled Lightning. (Submitted/Megan Naito)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University creative writing graduate Tawahum Bige released their debut album Bottled Lightning. (Submitted/Megan Naito)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University creative writing graduate Tawahum Bige released their debut album on May 5, addressing their anti-pipeline advocacy and the harms done by colonialism.

Bige — a Vancouver-based Łutselkʼe Dene, Plains Cree, and Métis spoken-word poet and artist — was inspired to create Bottled Lighting while jailed for 28 days for criminal contempt in 2020, after protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion two years earlier.

“It’s a traumatic experience that I’ve decided to crystallize and encode into art, and that’s never an easy endeavour,” they say.

“I mean all the experiences are somewhat already held in a good way, but particularly some of the intensity of court and especially the intensity of jail itself, like turning that into a song, it’s hard.”

Bige is referring to “Secret Passages,” the sixth track in his eight-song rap album. The song, which reflects on Bige’s sentencing day, was created during about a dozen writing sessions over three months.

Bottled Lighting is a metaphor, where lightning represents Bige.

“[The system] tried to bottle lightning. They tried to put a container around that which cannot be contained …. They always try to break our spirit, but that is something they are unable to do.”

Bige confronts “the colonial apparatus against Indigenous People” in all their music.

“Lateral” is the second song in Bottled Lightning, which discusses lateral violence in the Indigenous community.

“[In] the ways that even when we’re standing side by side, we harm each other,” he says.

Bige also covers land sacredness and protection, the discovery of mass graves at former residential schools, and the ignoring of Indigenous land rights and titles.

To address the harms explored in the album, they believe more needs to be done systematically.

“I think our individual actions, that we think are important, are worthless,” Bige says.

“Whether you use a little bit more or less tap water or recycle means nothing when corporations do the grand majority of the harm. We have to force corporations and governments to step into line with the sacred contract that we have with the land.”

Bige chose to express the harms through rap, because he loves the genre and finds people can better connect to music than poetry. He describes the transition from poetry to rap as a natural, but louder process.

“The way I write my singles or an album is very different from how I’ve written my collections of poetry, in that my collections of poetry [are] such a quiet experience. I could just sit alone in my room in the quiet, and that’s when that kind of poetry comes.”

Bottled Lightning is not a solo project. Bige collaborated with artists, like their friends Kimmortal and HK whom they met at poetry slams and wanted to work with. Their collaboration with artists also helped with their healing process.

“Other people can contribute to your narrative or have a take on your narrative in this artistic format that helps you get to the vulnerable core expression of what you’re trying to say, [which] is more healing than [what] I could have done alone.”

For listeners, Bige wants them to connect to the album in their own way.

“It’s not mine anymore. Even when I perform it on stage, it’s not mine. It’s [in] people’s ears. They’re hearing it. They’re deciding what to make of it. That’s cool, I like that.”