“HIStory”: Tony Louie’s Transition from Musician to Award Winning Film Star

by Amy McGarry

It’s my great honor to introduce to the Huckleberry Press readers Tony Louie, musician, singer/songwriter, and spoken word poet. I begin with this introduction out of respect to Tony’s indigenous background. He is a proud Colville Tribal Member who grew up in inchelium on the Colville Reservation.

“Introductions are important in my culture,” Tony tells me.

This explanation serves as yet another example of what Tony expresses with his music and poetry–educating others about his culture.

Tony Louie

Tony has been sharing about the Native American experience through his songs for years. In 2019, Tony and fellow members, James Pakootas and Daniel Nanamkin won a Native American Music Award for “Best Rap/Hip Hop Video” with their first single, “Break These Chains.”

As for so many musicians, COVID impacted Tony’s opportunities for live performance. He embraced this change for a new opportunity. He now composes his music and spoken word through film. He calls this his “pandemic transition.” He and his production team “learned how to pick up a camera,” which resulted in greater success than Tony ever imagined. His 5-minute short, entitled “HIStory” was an official selection at the LA Skins Fest in Hollywood, California. James Pakootas shared the success of transitioning into filmmaking by making his directorial debut with the production of “HIStory.”

Tony says, “It’s beyond my wildest dreams that my mug would be on the big screen and I’m blessed to experience such things. Nonetheless, it’s an honor to represent my people through my art and a privilege to use any stage I find myself on to speak up for any indigeous peoples whose voices often feel unheard.”

“HIStory” was initially Tony’s attempt at putting his thoughts, what he was “truly thinking,” into a hip hop song. But as a song, Tony admits, “it didn’t feel right. The chemistry was wrong.” He considered that maybe this condensed lifelong collection of thoughts and notes needed to simply be spoken. Thus, a film was born from this “spoken word poetry display” about the experience of indigeous people through the eyes of an indigenous man.

Growing up on the Colville Reservation, Tony is no stranger to tragedy. Asking himself “how do I cope with tragedy”? His answer is writing. “Writing is that place for me. It’s an outlet, a therapeutic method to express the inexpressible.” At the same time, Tony is clear that he is not just writing for himself, but also for others. The main goals of the project have always been about connection, not just to Native Americans but “all walks of life.” And while Tony has “wandered all over,” the people with whom he connects most deeply are the Colville Tribal members. Inchelium, where he grew up, is still the place he “calls home.”

Much of Tony’s subject matter serves to reclaim a narrative of trauma “in the right way,” without letting the message “get lost in the noise.” He strives to promote peace and understanding. He also speaks proudly of the strong roots of tribalism, the unity of his community, the importance of family and laughter.

Interspersed in the YouTube video “Tony Louie Full Concert (live at Caldera Arts)” are interview segments of Tony sharing about his personal journey. “I was blessed to come from a family that held me accountable. With that as the root of who I am, I’ll never pawn off my problems. I take it on headfirst. I think we all should take a little more accountability in our lives. That’s a start. Look in the places you’re running from. There might be some gems there.”

Before the filmmaking, there was the music. Tony describes his songwriting as having a will of its own, refusing the trappings of any one genre. Describing his approach to his music in the same YouTube video, he questions himself. “Do I want to sing some country? Do I want to rock out? Do I want to rap? Do I want to sing some soulful R and B? It gets a little bit maddening, but that’s the beauty of my curse, I guess. That’s what I was given to figure out. That’s my rubik’s cube, so I don’t ever commit to one thing. I go through different moods that carry me to different sounds. It’s not like I go in trying to grab the sound and force my will upon it because that doesn’t work. So I try to pay the ultimate respect to mother music and just let it vibe from beneath me and see what spawns from that. The only intention I have is to stay true to who I am. This is truly me. All these different sounds and different genres and different vibes…that is who I am.

“I’m trying to branch out, have multiple hooks in the water, see what bites, see what helps people, see what makes a difference. If I can speak on issues that need speaking on from a hip hop perspective, I’m gonna speak on it. If I can sing about something with a guitar in my hand that resonates with peoples’ souls, I’m singing that song.”

He continues to describe how the pandemic has challenged him to question the road he’s on. His response to this challenge? “I’m gonna just breathe and go at the pace that the current’s taking me. We’ll see what the end has in store for me.”

The early success of “HIStory” is not the end at all. It’s just the beginning. “HIStory”’s production team has been invited to other indigenous film festivals, most recently the Phoenix Film Festival.

I feel grateful for the opportunity to shed light on this valuable project and wish Tony, James, and all of the production team even greater and continuing success.

You can see videos of Tony singing and spoken word on YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/TonyLouie91. Or follow on Instagram: www.instagram.com/tonylouie1 and Facebook: www.facebook.com/tony.louie1