It is a season of the year when celebrations and gatherings invite us to look back ot history, to remember the first European settlers of the North American continent, and to think that they were met by people already living on the land. It is also a time, these days, when the world looks at the music of the American Indian, the First Peoples, as Native American Music Month is marked.
Radmilla Cody and Tony Duncan are Native musicians whose lives and music draw on places, images, and history of the of their heritage, looking toward history and living as well fully in the present day.
Radmilla Cody was raised by her Navajo grandmother, and spent time herding sheep. The sheep, she says, were her first audience, when, as a child, she began to explore her joy in singing. She also began to learn the message and heart of the Dine, the Navajo. “As Dine, we have a special place, a responsibility, and bonding to the land,” Cody says. Growing up and as she became an adult, she faced her own challenges, as she blends two races in her life: he mother’s family is Navajo, and her father’s is African American. Though there were those who disapproved of her mixed racial background, Cody entered the competition to become Miss Navajo, a contest which among other things requires speaking fluent Navajo and working with sheep in traditional ways. Cody won the competition some years ago. She continues to honor her tribal background and has become one the best loved singers of Navajo music, reaching listeners beyond that culture as well. Her latest album is called Shi Keyah: Songs for the People. .On it, through songs written by Radmilla and her uncle Herman Cody, there are songs which talk of present day life in the tribe, treating subjects both serious and ones that provoke laughter, a song of how grandparents show their love for a child, a song honoring the courage Navajo warriors in past and present, love songs, songs of travel, and a song honoring the bluebird, which the Dine hold in high esteem as she sings to greet the dawn of each day.
Tony Duncan is of Apache, Arikara, Mandan and Hidatsa nations, holding background and heritage in both southwestern and northern plain cultures. He incorporates these into his work as a musician and a hoop dancer. As a dancer, he creates changing visual images of nature and sprit through his movements. Those are sources he draws on in his music as well, with his instrument being the Apache cane flute. On his album Earth Warrior: Light of Our Ancestorshe offers a meditative experience of traveling through time and place with original music including Zuni Sunrise, Battle for the Night, Grandmother Moon, and Elders Speak leading to Taos Round Dace, Ancient Stories, and Going Home. “ The instrument of the flute was passed on to me by my father when I was ten years old,” Duncan says. “I would watch him play with my eyes closed, as the music floated in the air and settled in my heart. He told me, ‘All of life dances in a circle, respect the sacred circle and every part of it.’.”
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