In the opening song of Black Belt Eagle Scout's sophomore album, At the Party With My Brown Friends, Katherine Paul plaintively sings, "How is it, how is it real?/When you don't even notice it/How is it real?" before breaking into the lilting chorus—"We will always sing"—over and over again. Listeners might be lulled into its dream-pop gauziness before realizing it's an anthem of resilience, a drum-fueled resistance to the systemic marginalization people of color have endured for generations.
Paul, who also goes by KP, is an indigenous multi-instrumentalist based in Portland, Oregon. She grew up on the Swinomish Indian Reservation in northwest Washington state, where music was part of her cultural DNA. "I grew up dancing in powwows, and my family had a drum group where they would sing powwow music," she says during a recent phone interview with the Weekly. "Music was just a very natural part of my life, so I was able to feel connected to it at a very young age. And that connection has obviously stayed with me in how I create music."
Her 2018 debut album, Mother of My Children, is a chronicle of loss on many levels, written during the Standing Rock protests, in which some of Paul's loved ones participated. She also suffered heartbreak of a more personal nature, stemming from the dissolution of her first serious queer relationship and the death of her mentor—illustrator and musician Geneviéve Castrée. "I guess [songs] come out more naturally when I'm having a hard time with things," Paul says. "I'll sit down and just play guitar. Writing that album was like a whole ordeal, because I was having a rough go at stuff."
The process proved cathartic for Paul and opened up her mind to fully embracing the notion of her music not just as an inward chronicle of her experiences, but also as a larger lens giving representation to the intersectionality she embodies: indigenous, activist, queer, feminist. Her close-knit relationships—from her tribal family to her family of choice in Portland's music scene—are woven throughout Party, from "Going to the Beach With Haley," about a day she and fellow artist Haley Heynderickx spent writing music, to its most luminous track, "You're Me and I'm You," Paul's love song to her mother. "She wears her atikluk under the sun/The tundra hits her heart, it's just begun/I am the one/The one she loves/No matter what/My heart becomes," she sings.
Paul, who plans to continue making music in Portland for a few years before going back to the reservation to be with her family, says she hopes her shows bring people together. "Come with an open heart and learn a little bit more, especially about indigenous culture, because in my shows, I talk about indigenous issues," she says. "The narrative around my music is about that, so I hope it opens up [the idea] that space be created for more people of color and leads to people conversing with one another."
BLACK BELT EAGLE SCOUT with Hikes, Sonia Barcelona. November 17, 8:30 p.m., free, all ages. Fergusons Downtown, fergusonsdowntown.com.