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The University of Hartford

The Rough Guide to Native American Music
No Problem Productions, 201-433-3907
By Brian Grosjean

    As seen through the culture of the Zuni people of Arizona and New Mexico, the Sunrise is something to sing to, to pray to, and to rejoice in. This is plain in Chester Mahooty's "Zuni Sunrise Song" which starts off this collection of music from Native Americans. The best thing about this album is its choice of variety, breadth and substance. Modern currents in Native American music include the contributions of women, traditional uses of music, and the many crossovers. This album is a great starting point for a musical journey.
    Native American women have been making great music even before Buffy Sainte Marie. Included are fundamental cuts from to the far reaching trio Walela (Rita Coolidge, her sister Priscilla, and Priscilla's daughter Laura Satterfield), and folk renderings of Sharon Burch, Judy Trejo and Joanne Shenandoah (a personal favorite because of her rich voice and superb production).
    The producers seem to understand the importance of traditional songs to Native Americans. The listener will soon understand the difference in the different powwow songs and their use by the people. Primeaux and Mike's Healing Song is used in the Native American church. The Garcia Brothers, the Blackstone Singers, Cornel Pewewardy and the Black Lodge Singers sing powwow songs for certain dances, ceremonies, and even a kid's tribute to that Native American icon: Mickey Mouse!
    Modern influences have been captured by WithOut Rezervation who generate techno/funk outlets to their anger and pride. (See also the seminal album by Basslines and Ballistics: Dancing on John Wayne's Head). Jazz/traditional/ambient crossovers of R. Carlos Nakai, Robert Tree Cody and Burning Sky show a more serene use of the traditions. The producers have included excellent examples of these genre's and have avoided the many less than wonderful crossovers available.
    However, the Rough Guide makes one very European mistake, in my eyes, at least. Native Americans include the people of our present day Latin America and the Arctic people, whose music is lacking in this collection. A song of the Maya or Inuit peoples, though less developed, would better round out the collection. But this should not deter the listener from picking up this superb album - and several others while you're at it - and discovering the wide range of musical expression available to the rest of us from our elder brothers and sisters.

Copyright©WWUH: May/June Program Guide, 1999

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