Breaking Out at Adäka

What does the phase “abstract original” bring to mind? Crazy, random art full of paint splashes? A priceless Jackson Pollock?

How about an emerging 26-year-old hip-hop artist from Haines Junction, who will be making his first major public appearance a few weeks from now?

Meet Warren Strand, aka Abstract Original, a self-taught beatmaster who will perform his craft at next month’s Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse.

Strand has been writing and performing hip-hop since high school, where he often collaborated with fellow Porter Creek student Kelvin Smoler, who is now a well-known local hip-hop artist.

Now Strand enjoys both working solo and incorporating friends and kids from rural Yukon communities, which he finds helpful in spreading his message.

“It all seems to come out fairly positive,” he says of his work as a whole.

Warren Strand looks forward to networking with internationallyrenowned Edmonton hip-hop group, Reddnation PHOTO: courtesy Reddnation

“I like to send a message about what’s going on around me in my community, Haines Junction. I know a lot of the people here and I like to incorporate them,” he adds.

“If I see something that’s not so positive, I try to shed a positive light on it, like some of the kids that are into alcohol and stuff, I try to give them a resource to do something else. So when some of my friends come over to record, I try to get them into it and show them there’s another way of living and having fun.”

Citing popular early rap artists Tupacand Atmosphere’s Slug (Sean Daley) as some of his main influences, Strand demonstrates the attention to content and lyrical messages in his music that trademark the work of the iconic writer-performers.

He describes his process and attraction to hip-hop simply and without pretention.

“I do all my own writing, and I produce my own beats for the most part,” he says.

“Usually I just sit down with the music there and write on the spot… take my time with the beat and whatever I feel comes from it. It’s a good vent, a good way to release. If you’re feeling stressed, you can just sit down and write.”

Though Strand’s listed influences may be relatively mainstream, he also cites his work with Smoler and other local artists, as well as schoolmates from France and Japan, as being very influential.

He works toward creating a unique sound and message he hopes will make people think.

“I try to be creative in the sense that it’s not going to be a direct message,” he says.

“I might use different wordings… I don’t know, it’s just different, it’s somewhere I’ve never seen before.”

Though he has performed at several small events like cultural days, meetings and gatherings, the second annual Adäka Festival will be Strand’s first big public performance.

“I’m pretty excited. This is definitely the biggest show I’ve ever been a part of,” he says.

Strand is looking forward especially to performing at the same festival as Reddnation, the ground-breaking First Nations hip-hop group from Edmonton.

“I used to listen to them quite a bit,” he says.

“It’s going to be pretty exciting. They’ve won multiple awards and they’re pretty well-known. I think it will be a great networking opportunity. It should be a great experience.”

Networking is certainly the next step for this up-and-comer, who has an EP in the works that he hopes to release as soon as possible. It’s a joint project with Whitehorse recording artist Kill the DJ.

Strand says they have it mostly finished and just need to work out production and distribution.

“It’s just going to be straight hip-hop, very underground, good for sure. [Kill the DJ]’s doing a lot of scratching and cutting on it,” he says.

“Hopefully this opens up a lot more doors for more shows and exposure. That’s what I’m hoping for, to keep on having fun and doing more shows. Anywhere in the Yukon would be awesome, any festivals—I just want to get it out there.”

Strand has uploaded much of his work to his website, which can be found

He will be onstage in the Longhouse at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre on Friday, June 22. Showtime is 7 p.m.

Willow Gamberg is a former What’s Up Yukon intern who writes about music and other arts-related topics.

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