History of Tribe of One

Tribe of One - A Collective History

In 1999, the Foreign Affairs Department of Canada launched a ‘Children in Armed Conflict’ initiative. In response to the government’s request for pilot projects, Rik Leaf and Tribe of One drafted a proposal to travel to Macedonia. Thousands of Albanian, Kosovar refugees fleeing Serbian-led ethnic cleansing campaigns were living in camps outside the capital of Skopje. Tribe of One offered to travel to the camps to provide music, dance and art workshops with children in the refugee camps who had suffered the traumas of war. The proposal caught the attention of then Foreign Affairs MP, Lloyd Axworthy, who approved the group’s proposal. By the time the government approved the project the war had ended and the refugees had returned to what was left of their homes.

In September 1999, in conjunction with War Child Canada and the Canadian government, Tribe of One traveled to Pristina, Kosovo where they participated in a United Nations humanitarian festival called ‘The Return’ hosted by actor Vanessa Redgrave. The U.N.I.C.E.F. initiative drew a roster of international artists, including the Martha Graham Dance Company from New York, composer Phillip Glass, Bruce Cockburn and Lebohang “Lebo M” Morake, the South African composer from Apartheid-ridden Soweto, most famous for arranging and performing music for the Lion King movie.

Traveling with a small video crew, Tribe of One documented their life-changing trip, as a group of university students from Pristina befriended the band and shared their stories as they toured the wreckage of their bombed city. For the previous 10 years, they had not been allowed an education, to speak their own language, walk on the sidewalks, stay out after dark, or be in large groups outdoors. Albanian musicians were not allowed to perform publicly and their opportunity in the theatre was limited to being stagehands. ‘The Return’ signified not just the physical return of Albanians to their homes, but also a return of their culture and their voice to communicate on the world stage as global citizens. The National Theatre was officially opened and the streets were filled day and night with sights and sounds of music, art and large groups celebrating newly won freedom.

When Tribe of One returned to Canada, Robert Enright and the CBC used the band’s footage for a short documentary on the amazing journey and the profound and lasting effect the experience had on the group. Tribe of One’s tour to war-torn Kosovo in many ways marked the beginning of artistic identity that remains to this day, a desire and commitment to use our voices to help others find theirs so they can share their stories with us.

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