Saturday, May 3, 2008

In review--Dance 'til You're Sore

Northern Cree and Friends Vol. 7
Dancin' 'Til Sunrise

Canyon Records

Cheever Toppah and Kevin Yazzie
First Light
(Harmonized Peyote Songs in Dinè and Kiowa)

Canyon Records

Verdell Primeaux with Terry Hanks

Stories Told

(Harmonized Peyote Songs)
Canyon Records

Elk Soldier
The Elk Way

(pow-wow songs recorded live at Green Bay)

Canyon Records

Thee Express
Express Yourself
(Chicken Scratch)
Canyon Records

Canyon Records just released a slew of recordings. Since it would take too long to review each CD individually, I am reviewing the CDs in a group. And there are some recordings that have not been included. So I encourage you to visit Canyon Records' web site to see for yourself what is available.

Northern Cree have joined their First Nation friends to dance another night away. The pounding drums and hearty vocals appear to be in rhythm with the driving and relentless rain outside my window. It's as if the rain is using my roof as its own drum!

Dancin' 'Til Sunrise features Northern Cree, Red Bull, Gordon McGilvery, Jack Bull, Whitefish Jr.'s, Eya-Hey-Nakoda, Wild Horse, Young Spirit and Gabe Gaudet giving their all time best. However, unlike pow-wow's which find the drummers & singer groups in competition, the round dance atmosphere is more about partying with one's good friends and fellow musicians. I just wonder where these guys get so much energy at 2 in the morning…

The rain is still pouring out of the sky, but I have switched gears. Cheever Toppah (Kiowa/Navajo) and Kevin Yazzie (Dinè) bring us some energetic harmonized peyote songs on their recording, First Light--in fact, this CD rocks. And for those listeners unfamiliar with peyote songs, descriptive liner notes have been included.

Harmonized (harmonies) vocals sail over water drum beats and a shaking of a rattle. The effect can be dizzying as in the case with the first set of straight songs, led by Cheevers. Kevin slows it down just a bit on the second set of straight and traditional songs. The duo performs Old Kiowa songs, Straight Dinè Morning songs and a cappella peyote songs (sans the percussion).

I have heard more than a handful of harmonized song recordings and so far, this is the most accessible recording that I have heard and also the least psychedelic.

Verdell Primeaux (Lakota) and Terry Hanks (Dinè) brings us 48 minutes of harmonized peyote songs on their recording, Stories Told. Again, these songs are played to a quick tempo, but the rise and fall of the water drum timbre gives these songs a psychedelic sensibility. The songs are listed in generic terms, "four harmonized peyote songs--set one.." Although if you listen closely you will hear English lyrics. On the first set, the vocalists sing, "my little boy, my little boy, Daddy loves you…."

When accompanied with group prayer, the peyote church rituals, and intention, peyote or harmonized songs have the potential to heal health and other concerns. However, I doubt just putting the CD in a player and giving it a good listen, has any healing effects, at least I have never noticed any for myself. What recordings like this one do is to open a dialogue between alternative healing modalities and spiritual traditions. It also builds a bridge between cultures through sharing of the songs to Natives and non-Natives. (And I have noticed quite a few Europeans visiting my article on The Native American church and peyote songs).

And now for an upbeat pounding surf experience---Elk Soldier (Intertribal) hits the pow-wow trail with their live CD, The Elk Way. This recording starts off with a prayer (spoken word), with Anthony Wakeman's flute in the background then the drums and singing comes in full force. And of course, as this recording progresses the rain falls down even harder on my roof. Perhaps we need a song that starts with, "oh, great cleanser rain…"

Led by Gary Drapeau, Elk Soldier's thundering drums and vocal gusto are new to my ears. Similar to other pow-wow groups, the song titles have a sense of humor and leave me wondering about one song in particular, "The Raven Strut." The lyrics are sung in Nakoda, Plains Cree, Ho-cak and vocables. English interpretations are provided along with some photographs of this live event.

I almost forgot to review Thee Express' Express Yourself. This recording includes 14 rousing instrumental chicken scratch dance tunes. For those of you not familiar with chicken scratch, it is the Southwest Native American equivalent of Tex-Mex. The song titles are all in Spanish and similar instruments that you would hear in Tex-Mex, plus the same dance rhythms all apply here. In fact, there is a broad Latin American influence and not just from Mexico.

Founded by Ricardo Vavages in 1978, Thee Express represents the Tohono O'odham culture expressing itself in a multicultural environment. While pow-wow dance features individual dancers and round dance features a group of dancers in a circle, chicken scratch is for couples. Dance rhythms included on this CD include Cumbia, Waila, Chote and Paco'ola. Saxophones, accordion, drums and bass round out the dance band on this recording. The end result will remind listeners about the multiethnicity of the American Southwest, and the musical exchange between cultures. BAILA!

Well, that is my spring round up of Native American recordings.

*Dinè is the proper name for what others call Navajo. However, some of the musicians call themselves Dinè while others call themselves Navajo. I try to show respect to that decision where ever possible. I go with what the musicians call themselves.


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