Burning the bannock at both ends
Comedy follows Indigenous musician’s fraught journey to superstardom
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Struggling Cree DJ Kevin Cardinal (aka DJ Burnt Bannock) embarks on a journey to realize his musical dreams but encounters plenty of trouble on his way to superstardom.
So starts the premise of APTN lumi’s latest comedic web series starring an ensemble cast including Darcy Waite, Paul Rabliauskas, Ivana Yellowback, Joy Keeper, Meegwun Fairbrother, Sarah Luby and GeNie Baffoe.
Waite, who created, wrote and produced the series, plays the eponymous DJ Burnt Bannock.
Standup comedian Rabliauskas is the perfect foil to Kevin’s irrepressible ways as his wiser and more responsible cousin Alan.
“I am an older cousin who has helped him but is getting sick of his stuff,” Rabliauskas said during an on-set interview.
Filmed in Winnipeg last year, Waite incorporated his own journey into Kevin’s character and the two leads represent both sides of Waite’s personality.
“The series has a light tone, but it’s not afraid to go deep. We wanted to address important issues head on, including family love and forgiveness, lateral violence, relationships with the cops, and what ‘success’ means for an Indigenous man,” Waite says.
“The main character is based on me — there’s the side of Kevin who would do anything to succeed and then there’s Alan who wants to settle down, have kids and grow the family business.”
Waite, who was raised in Alberta and grew up in Calgary and Edmonton, says moving around as a child shaped his perspective on how he sees the world and tells stories. Currently based in Transcona, he was keen to maintain a city setting to reflect his own experiences as a youth.
It’s a move Rabliauskas applauds.
“Obviously it’s taken us a long time to assimilate into this society. I think it’s really important to have that modern feel for other young Indigenous kids; it’s a hybrid between old culture and new culture,” he says.
In the six-parter, Kevin goes through various mishaps as he attempts to become a world-famous DJ. His long-suffering Kookum, played by Joy Keeper, often has to bail him out. Every character in the show is based on a person in Waite’s life.
“Kookum is based on my mother, who was very good at breaking down barriers. I wanted to show that with the character Joy plays, who is an entrepreneur and has her own restaurant,” he explains.
“Kevin is very lucky to have such a strong Kookum in his life, such a strong presence that kept him alive and makes sure he’s OK,” Rabliauskas says.
The restaurant in question is the fictitious Bannock Burger where Kevin is forced to work in the kitchen after getting fired from his job as a fitness instructor at the Friendship Centre.
“Indigenous comedy is so funny and it thought it would be fun to do this with an older crowd, ” Waite says.
“Friendship Centres have a lot of programming and I wanted a scene where Kevin teaches an urban Indigenous aerobic class to some elders.”
The chaotic scenes, where Kevin twerks, twirls and grinds his way through the students, were tricky to film but he wanted to show another side to Indigenous elders.
“Humour is a big part of why we’re still alive today,” Rabliauskas says.
“We’re a people that were almost wiped out by genocide. So when we say laughter is medicine and laughter is healing… that’s not a fun catchphrase, that’s actually the way we live and it’s really important to us.”
Both Waite and Rabliauskas are Manitoba boys through and through. Waite was born in Brandon and Rabliauskas lives in Poplar River First Nation.
Making sure to represent faces and stories like theirs — especially in a more modern context and setting — is incredibly important to both men.
“Manitoba has the biggest Indigenous population in Canada and I wanted to show the different sides to us,” Waite says.
“The story is about this young man on a journey but it’s also about this urban Indigenous family and how they connect to city culture.”
Growing up, Rabliauskas remembers waiting eagerly to watch North of 60 on CBC, saying one hour out of seven days was the only chance he had to see somebody who looked like him on television.
“I barely had that growing up. When we did see ourselves on TV it was negative stuff it was all ‘we’re protesting again,’ ‘somebody went missing again’… so to have a positive story, when First Nations are doing something positive it means everything to the youth that are watching.
“It just so happens these guys are native and this is the life they’re living and the culture is a big part of it but it’s not the main focus so that’s beautiful to have that,” he says.
Making sure there is fair representation of diverse cultures on sets is paramount for Waite.
“BIPOC people are finally getting into rooms they have never been into,” Waite says. “ It’s changed a lot in the past ten years, and I’m one of those fortunate people who benefited from this change. It’s moving in the right direction, but I think there should be more diversity in the industry.”
What next for Kevin Cardinal and his alter ego DJ Burnt Bannock? Are there bigger things on the horizon?
“We want to have a bigger show! I’ve got some crazy ideas, he’s going to dig himself into a hole and have to figure out how to get himself out of it,” Waite says.
“It’s a rollercoaster… this young man feeling like he’s on top of the world and then you see him sort of fall and crumble. But that’s the tale of our people, we fall and we get back up and we wipe ourselves off and we continue throughout the day and that story definitely comes across with DJ Burnt Bannock,” Rabliauskas adds.
DJ Burnt Bannock premieres on April 11 on APTN