The power of music is undeniable. Liam McDonald, also known as OPLIAM, knows the importance of a good musical influence all too well.
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For indigenous youth, music can be a source of solace and connection to their culture and ancestral roots. Which is why it’s so important they have positive musical influences in their lives.
Liam McDonald, also known as OPLIAM, knows the importance of a good musical influence all too well. Having grown up in Minnesota, the ancestors on his father’s side are Mohawk from Quebec, Canada originally, but were enrolled with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe of New York (Akwesasne). He has been in the music industry since he was a teen and he’s released numerous albums that embrace his cultural heritage.
He also understands the challenges behind ‘being different’, stating “I think most indigenous people often feel ‘othered’.”
However, OPLIAM says, “if you look at the history of indigenous music, those characters that are so radically different and unapologetically unique are the ones that end up changing the music industry.”
In indigenous culture, music has always played an important role in preserving culture and uniting families separated by distance. It provides comfort when faced with life challenges and difficult situations. It also gives kids an outlet to express emotions such as sadness, joy, or anger in a healthy way. It also connects young indigenous people with feelings related to their cultural identities and can help them develop self-esteem and build confidence in themselves from an early age.
Young indigenous communities can feel empowered when exposed to uplifting lyrics or melodies through stories they can relate to. And, as OPLIAM says, it can also give them someone to look up to, particularly if they’re considering a career in music.
“Indigenous youth need to have successful people in the music industry to look up to and someone who can help them build their own success,” he says.
“I don’t think indigenous communities have the same generational representation in the music industry as many other groups, so that’s something I’ve always wanted to be part of. I also want to show the wider, non-native population that we have a lot of talented musicians – and we’ve always had a big impact on music culture.”
OPLIAM states that in the 1960s and 70s, there were a lot of well-known native musicians, like his own musical influences Jimi Hendrix (whose grandmother was of Cherokee descent ) and Robbie Robertson (of Mohawk and Cayuga descent). But this has fallen to the wayside today in popular music. OPLIAM is passionate about changing that.
“I want there to be a Native American Jay Z or a Native American rock star,” he says, someone that kids today can relate to.
He recalls watching Taboo from Black Eyed Peas perform, and “even though he never said he was Native American, we all knew he was, and that was a big source of inspiration for us as kids.”
Liam believes that sort of representation can do a lot for indigenous youth, as well as the ongoing struggle for indigenous rights.
“Musicians can get people’s attention, which keeps these social issues at the forefront of people’s minds.”
OPLIAM’s latest album, All Roads Are Good, was released in 2022 and is available on Spotify now. OPLIAM has also written a book, Indigenous America, which is an easy read on the history of Native Americans.