Cris Derksen enhances her sonic adventure

the powwow factor

Cree cellist and composer showcases Orchestral Powwow in Vancouver

Cris Derksen ranges across the musical spectrum


In the inner cover of her Juno-nominated instrumental category album Orchestral Powwow, Cris Derksen strikes a pose that says much about the half-North Tall Cree nation/half-Mennonite musician.

Standing in the snow outfitted in standard far Northern Alberta uniform of work boots, jeans, heavy jacket and furry ear flaps cap with some fun designer frames, her hand cups the top of a sticker-covered, battered green cello case. This is the essence of this classically-trained University of B.C. composer/performer in many ways more punk than classical, more van seat than conservatory settee.

Hers is the “have skills/will travel” player’s pursuit.

“It’s funny, because I relocated from Vancouver to Toronto because of work and I still pay rent in Toronto, but I haven’t really been there lately,” says Derksen ( “This year has seen a week in Montreal for an interdisciplinary collaboration with some indigenous artists for a show in June, then I was off to Austin, Texas, for something called the House of Songs songwriting summit with a bunch of Swedish, Canadian and American musicians, and then the Folk Alliance in Kansas City, and to Australia to play more festival showcase things for future bookings. It’s been a really fun adventure.”

It’s an adventure showing no sign of slowing with her latest album getting the Juno nod.

Weird Canada

Enter through the East facing door. You are immediately drenched in the tears of spirits desperate to be heard over the deafening chatter of demons. You feel the vibrations of howling ghosts as they weave through intricate threads of conflicting comforts: loud and soft, weak and strong, destroyed and rebuilt, mourning and hopeful. In a daze, white light crashes into your body, rejuvenating lost hope and fusing the spirit world with your own. Electrified and covered in flecks of gold, you exit through the West door gasping for air.

Serve Calgary

Drew Anderson  | Jul.25.2011 |

No Yo Mas – This seemed like an exciting workshop, featuring Cris Derksen of Lightening Dust, Portland Cello Project, Raleigh  and Swamp Ward Orchestra. There were nine cellos onstage at once, but there was no collaboration going on, which was disappointing. So why is this on my list of favourites? Raleigh was great, and you should check them out next time they play Calgary (their hometown), but the real treat was Cris Derksen. With repetitive loops and beats blended with her deep cello sound and voice, it was a dreamy and wonderful performance.


Exclaim! Magazine

By David Dacks 

While growing up in Edmonton, AB, Cris Derksen started thinking about what instrument would be right for her. Narrowing it down to bass and cello, she chose the latter partly out of practicality; she thought there would be less competition. The specific charms of the cello quickly won her over and her instrument of choice has ended up taking her many places, including onstage with Kanye West.

"I don't really have a genre that I fully fit into, which I think is a good thing," Derksen declares. "I have a whole bunch of different audiences. I have an almost specifically aboriginal audience, an indie queer audience and an older art-folk audience. As a musician, it's super helpful ― I can play a lot of different venues in the same city."


The Discorder

By: Andrea Bennett

Her style is reminiscent of Final Fantasy, layering energetic cello playing with looped electronic sounds and aboriginal instrumentation. Cris played solo and was joined for a few songs by opera singer Melody Mercredi, Marta Jaciubek-McKeever (of E.S.L. and Fan Death) as well as a mesmerizing young aboriginal dancer, who spun in time to the rhythms and melodies in Derksen’s instrumental pieces.


The Vancouver Province

By Stuart Derdyn


A rising star on the Canadian classical/jazz/folk/pop/electronica/what have you scenes, cellist Derksen is known for captivating solo performances building layers of sound into often surprisingly slamming dance music. On her latest solo effort, the 13 tracks range from classically oriented, multi-tracked soundscapes ("We Danced Movement I & II") to upbeat party bumps inspired by her half-Cree ancestry ("Pow wow wow") and hybridized pieces that sound readymade for climatic moments in art or cinema. She composes with an incredibly natural feel. Gorgeous, playful, wow. Grade: B+


The Georgia Straight
Cellist Cris Derksen and opera singer Melody Mercredi stay wild at Heart.
By Alexander Varty
“I realized how lucky I was to have picked such a versatile instrument. You can do way more with the cello, I think, than a lot of instruments.”
Considering Derksen’s approach, that’s an understatement. In solo performance, she uses electronics to turn her cello into a bass or a viola or even an entire string section. And as an accompanist, she’s worked with dancers, rock bands, songwriters, and the wildly innovative Inuit throat-singer and improviser Tanya Tagaq.

The Vancouver Province
Fire in her belly, sparks on stage.
By Stuart Derdeyn Feb 19, 2009
    While no one would mistake her for a straight-ahead classical technician, she displays the same sort of dedication to mastering the essentials of her instrument.
    As in, before she adds in some new bit of technology, she'll be sure that there is an array of bowing and fingering techniques that work in a simple acoustic sense before they are embellished in any way.
    This makes her solo shows -- one was recently recorded with the idea of possible release -- ever-changing sound tableaux that never follow anything but her mood.

The Georgia Straight
Tagaq evokes long nights and open spaces of an Arctic winter
By Alexander Varty, August 7, 2008
    It’s Tagaq’s instrumental associates, however, who most perfectly mesh with the singer’s eerie vocals, which often draw on the natural world—wind sounds, animal cries—for their inspiration. Vancouverites Jesse Zubot and Cris Derksen—he a prairie-born fiddler, she a virtuoso cellist of Cree descent—provide uncannily empathetic strings, and it’s tempting to conclude that they, too, have been inspired by the endless spaces and long nights of the Arctic and subarctic winter.

The Georgia Straight
Collisions on shared ground
By Alexander Varty, March 22 2007
    The cellist, whose blend of classical technique and unfettered imagination has made her a sought-after musician in the local underground scene


Hip hop meets cello, Friday, November 3rd, 2006
by Levi Barnett
    While not many cellists and even fewer MCs have likely graced the Great Hall of the Museum of Anthropology in the past, it easily holds up as one of Vancouver’s best concert venues. The building’s post-modern architecture fits well with Derksen’s music, which is unorthodox for cello, but still tied to classical traditions.
    Derksen’s cello and song made optimal use of her performance setting, with the vocal lamentation and stringed sadness wafting through the cathedral architecture of the Great Hall, past the half-dozen totem poles surrounding her and out through the wall of glass into the open sky beyond. It was quite a sight and allowed her music to become greater than herself, reverberating through the Great Hall’s many Aboriginal artifacts.

Xtra West

Riding the Periphery, Folkfest/ Cris Derksen and the 100 year old love of her life.
By Denise Sheppard/ July 7 2005
    While you may or may not remember her name, you'll likely come to know her (if you don't already) by her unofficial title: "the punk rock cellist."
    If the phrase sounds out of the ordinary, know that Ms Cris is very used to messing with preconceptions. As an independent free spirit, she has spent much of her life riding the periphery of various groups and cliques, preferring to eschew their pressures and to remain true to her own unique self.
    Derksen's decision to stay on the periphery of various scenes has propelled her creatively. By not focusing solely in the classical genre, the indie-alternative scene, or in the queer scene, she has left herself open for a host of musical match-ups.

Indian Chants & A Seductive Cello
Sunday, March 25, 2007
    Last week I was fascinated by the Native Canadian influence in Karen Jamieson. Last night Rebecca and I went to an evening at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre that featured assorted groups of which only Kokoro Dance was familiar. Rebecca and I were blown away by half-Cree cellist Cris Derksen and Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
    During my session in my studio with Cris Derksen, Derksen had asserted, "Tanya Tagaq is pure sex." She was right. I was exhausted by Tagaq's performance and Rebecca told me, "My throat hurts from just listening to her."
    In the end both Rebecca and I enjoyed Cris Derksen, best. She did a little singing which was a blend of the avant-garde and what sounded like traditional Native Canadian chanting. Dersken started with an amplified version of Bach's Suite No 1 for cello. From there she degenerated beautifully into sounds we had never heard before.
    We were both seduced.


    opening Act Cris Derksen, a young cellist extraordinaire, blew people away. Her mix of classical training, hip hop and contemporary gigs and her soft, mesmerizing voice, often wails reflective of her aboriginal roots, held the audience in awe. Cris is a local artist; if you haven't seen her yet, be sure to take in her next concert around town.


Monday, August 11, 2008
Review -- E.S.L. -- Eye Contact
Jericho Beach Music
From the Desk of Calvin Daniels
    The band includes wonderful cello work by Cris Derksen. It is the cello on cuts such as Side By Side which truly set this CD apart. Huge credit to the band for having the foresight to use an instrument usually reserved for classical music is a more modern musical setting