Sunday, November 08, 2009

harvest time: Native American music

As autumn turns toward winter in the northern hemisphere, harvest time is celebrated, and in North America, stories of history involving contact between Native Americans and European settlers are told. Mnay of those stories, over time, have come to have more fiction than truth in the details, but the peoples did connect with each other in many different ways. As they still do.

Louie Gonnie, a visual artist and musician of the Dine (Navajo) people of the American southwest, sings of fire, water, wind, and earth in Elements.
The songs are in the Dine language. With rhythm and sound, pitch and harmony, his ideas come through clearly, though, and in the liner notes there are words in English which reflect his thoughts as expressed in songs including Dawn of Fire, Earthbound, and Winter’s Breath.

Johnny Whitehorse offers a percussive groove laced beat in a selection of song honoring his name, framed around the connection between man and horse, and the life the two live out beyond the edges of places where people gather. Warriors dance around a ghostly drum, and then ride off into the distance, wild ponies race, and the iron horse of the railroad comes to the west in Whitehorse’s vision. Tribal drum and Native flute meet in stories of a west gone by in his self titled album, in songs including Indian Pony, Last Ride of Cochise, and Riders of Snowy River.

Joanne Shenandoah, who is of the Oneida-Iroquois Confederacy of New York state, and Michael Bucher, who is Cherokee, join together for a project that in many ways traces the troubled history of Native American connection with the laws and lives of those have come later to North America. It is also in part a tribute to three musicians who walked that ground several decades ago, only to experience blacklisting and hostility: Johnny Cash, Peter LaFarge, and Floyd Westerman. There are songs by each of those men on the recording, which is called Bitter Tears Sacred Ground, There are several very fine originals by both Shenandoah and Butcher, as well. In what may be the balance point of the album, Shenandoah sings The Star Spangled Banner -- yes, the one you’re thinking of -- as almost a lullabye, and a lament. Whether you know or care anything about the history of all the varied Native tribes or not, it’s likely you will be drawn to listen to this album all the way through, and to come out with both answers and questions when you’re done.

That may be true, though for different reasons, when you listen to Kelvin Mockingbird’s recording Sacred Fire, as well. Mockingbird grew up on a Navajo reserve in Arizona, which, he says, taught him respect for space, spirit, and time. He was drawn into playing the flute by a dream. This album features songs of quiet reflection, with titles including Wind Child, The Flames Within, and The Healing of Hand, with emotion which translates readily through melody, with no words needed.

you may also want to see

R Carlos Nakai: Talisman

Music Road: looking toward Christmas: Bill Miller

Music Road: work of autumn: music

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

These covers are simply gorgeous.

3:16 PM  

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