Looking to the future from the past
"I find myself with one foot in the old world and one in the modern world. That's the challenge for the whole world: do we have to leave the old to be modern? I think we can create the best things when we use the wisdom from the old world and find a meeting point with the modern." - Marie Boine
Modernism - gone.
As we hurtle into the future at what seems an increasingly faster pace, do we have time to look back at what brought us to the crest of this rushing, ever-new wave? Marie Boine and Robert Mirabal use the technology of today to connect with the "old wisdom" of their indigenous cultures.
Mari Boine grew up in a gathering of about a dozen homes in Samiland (also known as Lappland), which runs across the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia. As the Sami people were assimilated into the Christian Scandinavian cultures, the old ways -- the tales of goddesses, the shamans -- faded.
In Boine's childhood home, the Sami language was spoken, but the only songs sung were Christian hymns. In college, she began to discover the old culture, which had become a source of shame for the Sami. Boine left teaching to be a folk singer, but became controversial when she began using Sami stories, drumming and the wordless chants called yoiks.
After Peter Gabriel heard her 1989 album "Gula Gula," he released it internationally on his RealWorld label, leading Boine to become an unofficial Sami cultural ambassador.
Recently she released Eight Seasons (NorthSide), where she puts Sami poetry -- filled with references to folklore and myths -- in a darkly hued electro-acoustic setting.
Boine believed that the Sami way of living in concert with nature, its spirituality, and its solidarity were a part of the culture's "old wisdom."
"I want to bring it back," she said. "to lift it up. I want to say this is a treasure, this is something we should not forget."
"Of course we can't do it the same way they did it in the old times," she said, adding, "I think human beings have this longing for something that was there, a spirituality that was there before. I find this longing everywhere in Europe... People are tired of this materialism, it's so empty."
The Sami are often compared to Native Americans, whose culture also became marginalized.
"Some people will feel that our culture is dying," said Robert Mirabal, who still lives on the Taos Pueblo Indian lands in New Mexico where his ancestors did. "But we have an amazing culture here that is still alive."
Mirabal began his career playing flute in a New Age style, but has broadened his sound.
On Indians, Indians (SilverWave), his songs can have a hiphop swagger or a screaming electric guitar, though the album is generally somber. Taking a new direction, he intersperses spoken stories among the songs, telling of contemporary life on the "res" in an unembellished prose style.
"As Native American contemporary musicians, I think we're obligated to entertain as well as educate," he said, "but ultimately we need to do it in our own style....We need to create our own voices and let people into those worlds that are specifically our own."
Mirabal doesn't worry about not being a purist. "Our culture is pure, our dances are pure, our ceremonies are pure," he said. "What I do is so minuscule to the whole aspect of what is considered traditional in my life."
"It makes no sense to play a corn dance in the middle of Hoboken, New Jersey," he said, so he concentrates on creating his own music. That music, though, "is a shadow of all the rituals I've inherited."
Both Boine and Mirabal don't want to hold onto anger about historic injustices, but neither do they want to turn from the past.
"I find myself with one foot in the old world and one in the modern world," said Boine. "That's the challenge for the whole world: do we have to leave the old to be modern? I think we can create the best things when we use the wisdom from the old world and find a meeting point with the modern."
- Article by Marty Lipp
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