Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In review--Round n' Round We Go

Wayne Silas, Jr.
Round Dance Songs
Canyon Records

As the Rez Turns
Round Dance Songs
Canyon Records

Native American round dance songs hail from the tradition of gatherings of American Indians that take place during the winter months. Relatives, colleagues and friends who might not have seen each other for several months or for an entire year come together to dance, sing, drum, and party into the wee morning hours. The songs often supply humorous lyrics and in the case of Menominee/Oneida singer-song-maker Wayne Silas, Jr. on Unconditional, supply saucy ones(It’s On Tonight and Let’s Do the Math).

While pow-wows are generally open to the general public to watch American Indians sing, drum and dance in competition, round dances, as far as I know are by invitation only for friends and family to share and celebrate. Pow-wow drummers gather around a group drum whereas, round dance drummers play individual frame drums while participants join in a circle dance. Round dance lyrics are sung in English, Native American languages and vocables. Sometimes the singers tell stories and other times, they tell musical tongue and cheek jokes.

Northern Cree singer and song-maker Randy Wood is probably the champion of round dance songs, but some younger singers such as Wayne Silas, Jr. with his clear baritone vocals and attention-getting lyrics gives Wood some competition. Silas’ musical friends, Joe Syrette, Edmond Tate Nevaquaya, Jeremy Dearly, Nitanis “Kit” Landry and Arianne Sheka chip in hearty vocals. I imagine that their intended audience marvels at the vocal talent in the room and chuckles over some of the lyrical content--Wiley Coyote on the loose.

Pipestone must sport over a dozen singers and drummers and their live recording, As the Rez Turns (satire of the soap opera As The World Turns?) starts off with a big whooping sound. These Ojibwe and intertribal singers engage in power-drumming and send their wailing vocals up into the rafters. In fact, these rousing call & response vocals must have shaken the rafters and kept people dancing through the night. Judging from the round dance song titles, saucy humor plays a role on this round dance CD too.

I imagine that this rockin’ rez sound and cheeky lyrics appeals to the younger crowd. The songs feature lyrics about heartache, pickup lines and sex. While I respect other traditions and cultures, I can’t see myself listening to this recording outside of reviewing it. But if it keeps young people writing songs, performing, and finding meaning in their lives, then all power to Pipestone. Think of these singers and drummers as the Native American equivalent of the West African griot or African-American rappers. These types of round dance songs even draw comparisons with Mexican rancheros.   The singers tell tales of heartache, hanging out in the romantic trenches, and reservation life.

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