It is harvest time in the northern hemisphere. With Canadian Thanksgiving just past and Thanksgiving in the United States coming up, thoughts often turn toward Native Americans, and to first encounters and later ones. The music of Native America in the twenty first century is vibrant and varied, continuing tradition, commenting on history, and working with new ideas and collaborations.
If you’ve been intrigued by short snippets of chant and drum that often turn up in documentaries, news reports, or film, Gerald Primeaux Senior’s Into the Future is an album which explores that sound. What he presents ais music based on harmonized songs of the Native American Church. With gourd shakers, water drum, and voice, he connects to a singing legacy generations long.
Joanne Shenandoah, who is of the Oneida Iroquois people, and Michael Bucher, who is Cherokee, do that in a different way, through contemporary song, both their own compositions and those of writers including Peter LaFarge and Johnny Cash on their album Bitter Tears Sacred Ground. It is likley you’ll emerge from listening to this one — to any the recordings here, actually — with a different view of Native America than when you began.
Canyon Records has been collecting Native music and sharing it with Native peoples and the wider world since 1951. In recent years they’ve begun a series called Voices Across the Canyon, well thought out albums which each offer a dozen or so tracks from across the range of genres and styles Canyon represents. Volume Five in the series, for example, includes Encuentro, from Robert Tree Cody, Ruben Romero, and Tony Redhouse, a consideration through music of those first meetings of southwestern peoples and those from Spain, as well as a traditional dance song from the Black Lodge Singers. Sharon Burch, whose voice has been compared to that of Joan Baez, offers the song We Are Here, and award winning flute player and composer R. Carlos Nakai adds Song for the Morning Star.
Bill Miller of the Menomonee people of Wisconsin lives in Nashville these days. He speaks through his words and his flutes of Native history, social justice, faith, and contemporary life. Ghostdance is a good place to meet his work, as is the retrospective album Spirit Songs.
There may very likely be Native music celebrations and concerts going near you this autumn. Take a look around. Whatever path you follow in the music of Native America, it is sure to be an interesting journey.
Intrigued by the music of North America’s First Peoples? Here is another story you may enjoy: Music from the American Southwest.
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