Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In review--Now, now pow-wow...

Cree Confederation
Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live at Twenty-Nine Palms
Canyon Records

Bear Creek
Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live at San Manuel
Canyon Records

Attending an actual pow-wow provides the best way to experience pow-wow drumming and singing. Recordings, even live recordings remove listeners too far away from the context and the dynamics of the drumming and singing, although present on recordings, acts as a poor cousin to watching the singers and drummers performing, sometimes under pressure of a competitive environment.

Having said that, pow-wow song recordings provide musical teaching tools for singers and drummers, as well as, providing archival material for ethnomusicologists. These recordings provide souvenirs for those folks who were unable to attend the pow-wow. Both Cree Federation’s and Bear Creeks’ live recordings feature DVD footage of songs performed in electrically-charged pow-wow environments. You hear the master of ceremony in the background, see relatives and friends of the drummers and singers filming them with their digital devices, and you witness the intensity of the singers and drummers. It’s ingenious to include this documentary or music video footage with the CDs. Now the musicians can share their techniques visually and people interested in Native American cultures can fully immerse themselves in the experience.

And what I’ve learned over the years listening to pow-wow song recordings is that each group has its own style and voice. I might not understand the nuances or get the NA humor (it flies right over my head most of the time), but I can appreciate the pride the musicians and Native American communities attach to these ceremonies, and musical gatherings. The competitions and pow-wow trail keeps a lot of young people out of trouble, by giving them expressive outlets, and respect of their peers. The older performers are given the opportunity to pass on their skills and knowledge as dancers, singers, drummers, and craftspeople. All around we can see how this provides a healing environment, even if listening to pow-wow songs doesn’t bode well with say a migraine or nervous disorder.

Both Cree Confederation and Bear Creek offer live in the moment documentary footage and a dozen or more pow-wow songs. Due to time constraints (I have a pile of CDs waiting for reviews), I prefer watching the videos to give me an idea of the singers’ and drummers’ style. Although I prefer not to draw comparisons between the two pow-wow groups, I will say that Bear Creek and Cree Confederation provide two different approaches. Bear Creek gives their all to the drums with passionate call & response vocals and the thump-thump heartbeat of the mother earth group drum. Cree Confederation employs a range of intensity in both drumming and singing, alternating quieter moments with more fiery ones and segueing smoothly between lead singers.

I’m pleased that Canyon Records has provided the DVD feature with the recordings. Makoche (record label) has been offering multimedia with its Native American recordings for several years. I enjoy this immersion approach since I lean towards a closet anthropology approach to life and especially towards music. And for all of you out there who have never attended a pow-wow or listened to pow-wow drumming and singing, not to mention watching the dancers dressed in their beautiful regalia now have an opportunity to witness musicians on the pow-wow trail.

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