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Monday, September 9, 2013

For Native Americans the Guitar is like the Horse - Part 1

It was the late 90's and it was a music event that I believe to be the Aboriginal Voices music festival although I'm not entirely sure. I was talking to Keith Secola about guitar players as it seemed like there was something happening with a lot of young guitarists beginning to make a noise in the scene. Secola said "For Native Americans the guitar is like the horse. Once we got it we started doing things with it that no one else ever did before."

I thought, "That it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard". I loved the poetry of it. I didn't know if it was true or not, but it sounded true enough. And it was cool as shit. No doubt.

At that time Derek Miller was causing waves in the Toronto scene with an absolute electric live show with his band Universal Light. Miller would later join Secola as a member of the Band of Indians for one fantastic album, Finger Monkey which was released in 1999. Miller also toured with the legendary Buffy Ste. Marie in this period and released EP's and albums including Samples and Universal Light with Montee Sinquah.

Miller's tireless commitment to his craft not only as a player but a storyteller is seeded alone in his room, fired in live shows and flavoured with experimentation and collaboration until finally captured in studio with Music is the Medicine in 2002. In 2006, he released Dirty Looks and in 2010 he released Derek Miller with Double Trouble, an album recorded with the late Stevie Ray Vaughn's band, Double Trouble. The album would include Damned if You Do, a duet with a man known as one of the great guitar pickers in Nashville, Willie Nelson.

At the same time Miller was shaking things up in Toronto in the early 1990's, a family band from the Yankton Sioux reservation in South Dakota was turning heads in the American midwest. In 1996, Indigenous had a track on The Honour the Earth CD that stood out alongside tracks by Alternative stars of the day, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Matthew Sweet, Luka Bloom and Soul Asylum. It was also worthy to stand with Native American heavyweights, John Trudell, Joy Harjo and Ulali as well as environmental heavyweights like Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Cockburn and The Indigo Girls. In an album promoting the defense of Mother Earth, the lyrics to their contribution explain the reality, as well, if not better than the the iconic songwriters on the record.

Benearth her lonely soul
her heart has turned to stone
because of the things we do
and we don't want to
change the things we do


In 1998, Indigenous released Things We Do. The year before, I  saw them play a show at the ballroom in Sioux Falls, SD that had the most dangerous mix of drunk bikers and drunk Native Americans that I had ever seen in my whole life.  My mood shifted completely when the band hit the stage. It was all about the music. Mato Nanji turned his guitar into a electric lover literally licking licks from the instrument. He played behind his back, behind his head and between his legs and I am sure if it was possible to pull out lighter fluid and set the guitar ablaze he would have done that as well.
When the band found the groove in the title track, Mato was lifted with his brother Pte on Bass and sister Wanbdi on Drums. They took us all along.

It is a glorious thing to feel. All together we are raised higher by the power of music and the power of the guitar to open up the gateway to the other side.

(Part 2 - Link Wray invents the power chord and Micki Free keeps Jimi Hendrix alive.)

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