Native American Music

Recording Reviews by Brian Grosjean

Flutes of Peace, Drums of Conscience
Music of Native Americans - Part Two - Folk Rock and Ambient

"Song of the Race"
"Many people have gathered together
I am ready to start in the race
And the swallow with beating wings
Cools me in readiness for the word
For in the west stands the Black Mountain
Around which our racers ran at noon
Why is this man running for me?
The shadow of whose hands I see?

 - (song from the southwest from "Sacred Spirits")

The contemplative nature of Native American flute, percussion, and chanting has always lent itself to being combined with other instruments in an ambient setting. What sets this music apart is when a release evokes the powerful images inherent in the music. Native Americans drum and chant for a purpose, but it seems to me that most of the flute playing is for contemplation, or just plain fun. I remember well the movie The Black Robes, where a European missionary engages the Huron Indians in the 17th century. The Hurons are depicted as more than stoic individuals intent on courage and integrity. They are fun loving men and women in touch with their natural beings. It is from that place that the flute solos of R. Carlos Nakai and Robert Silverbird come from.

Robert Silverbird's album The Blessing Way on Celestial Harmonies is a classic of solo flute. He records beside flowing waters and whistling birds to give a background to the meditative pieces. The effect is soothing and focusing. Nakai's many albums include solo ventures on the independent Canyon Records like The Canyon Trilogy, and Journeys plus many joint projects with William Eaton, a TV soundtrack to "How The West Was Lost" and many other high quality projects. Coyote Oldman creates his own woodwind and percussion instruments for his self-produced albums. Look for him on his own Coyote Oldman Productions. Eagle Dances With The Wind is Calvin Standing Bear on cedar flute and James Tories on piano and keyboards. Melodies float among the southwest canyons on this fine release from Canyon Records and Indian Arts (4143 N. 16th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85016 tel 602.266. 4823)

Canyon also distributed my favorite Native American artists - Red Thunder, a four piece folk/rock band which stand for the best this genre has to offer. Using interludes of poetry and chanting from Richard Moves Camp and Curtis Milk, Red Thunder create vivid pictures of reservation life and forceful calls to action. Their album "Makoce Wakan" was rereleased on Koch Records with a few more songs and chants. In a similar vein is the Inuit band Kashtin who were discovered by Robbie Robertson for his TV soundtrack to the Native Americans. Kashtin's album Akua Tuta has influences from Tex-Mex and country music.

I can always expect listeners to call when I play "When The Earth Touches The Stars" by Ancient Brotherhood (Astomusic, P.O. Box 118, New York, NY 10033). This is a recording of flute, synthesizers, and percussion in Sedona, a place in Arizona sacred to the Native Americans. In a similar vein is Sacred Earth Drums, by David and Steve Gordon (Sequoia 619.942.7574). Native American flute with electronic rhythms and nature sounds.

Other Native American/Ambient crossovers include Little Wolf Band's "Dream Song (Triloka), an unusual sampler called "Sacred Spirits". Very little information is given about the artists, but a portion of the proceeds go to a Native American cause. Be wary, though, of nice paintings on the cover hiding fluff inside. Slow, dreamy synthesizers over a frame drum do not qualify as meditative music. The music of Soar Records is a case in point. I have yet to find a release not washed in synthesizers and coated in long breathy notes all in the same key. Remember, wanting it so does not make authenticity. Listne to one of their releases then check into a real Powwow and look for a Native American with backing himself up on drum machine.

So explore our American roots with these and other Native American offerings. Watch out for synthesizer wash over the true roots. This music is still in its infancy and it's a good time to explore and make your own mind up about how the music is true to its heritage.

- Brian Grosjean

Brian is the World Music Director at WWUH Radio and writes for their Program Guide under "Voices of The Village". He can be heard filling in for the folk shows 6-9AM, Monday-Friday playing "Folk Music From the Rest of the World" where your ears are tickled and your idea of folk music is expanded. Brian listens mostly these days to Anitas Livs from Scandanavia and to any acoustic music from Vietnam. In April 1996, WWUH produced a concert of music from local diverse ethnic sources called "The Sounds of Hartford". A 12 track CD of that memorable concert is available from WWUH at 860.768.4703 or wwuh@uhavax.hartford.edu

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