Native American Music Fest Celebrates First Peoples’ Music
by Hudson Hornick
Oftentimes we forget what it means to say we’re “local.” Sure, we’ve got our claims to this neighborhood, that bar, or some surf break, but fundamentally we’re all transplants from somewhere. And while we see many a rock band claiming to be homegrown, it’s rare that we’re presented with a chance to see the original locals play their traditional music.
Well, the Santa Ynez band of Chumash Indians seek to change that, so they’re sponsoring an event this Sunday, July 16, in the Fleischmann Auditorium at the Santa Barbara Natural History museum to remind us what the first American musicians sound like. Spawned from a desire to remind humans of their interconnectivity with nature, the Chumash have booked more than 15 different Native American performers of music, dancing, and the like to celebrate what they’re calling The Three Levels of the World: Sky Eagle, Coyote, and Lizard. Moderating them all will be Chumash storyteller Alan Salazar, who will help narrate us through this musical journey with stories and anecdotes from the peoples who first called Santa Barbara home.
One of the featured performers is Bill Neal, a k a Elkwhistle, a Cherokee who plays the plains-style cedar flutes of the Lakota, Kiowa, and Comanche Nations and the river-cane flute of the Choctaw and Cherokee lands. Elkwhistle performs more than 300 times per year at various powwows, schools, libraries, and special events of all types. For his rich, soulful flute, he was recently honored with the name Mah-na-che-a-shun, which means “He Sings with His Heart” in the Tongva language.
Another regular on the powwow circuit making a stop up at the museum are the Wild Horse Singers, a multi-generational big-drum group that claims Saskatchewan as home. Their 2001 album Let It Ride — full of their heavy bass percussion and melodic baritone voices — was nominated for a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award. Like Elkwhistle, their expertise is in the music of the Great Plains.
Also playing on Sunday is Carlos Reynosa, whose album For the People was nominated for best Native American album for 2005 after hitting Billboard’s Top 10 for new age music. Known for his contemporary flute music, Reynosa is also adept at vocals and the guitar. Employing long, dramatic pauses amid his instrumentals, Reynosa provides a soothing sense of space, perfect for the museum’s oak tree-lined setting.
But like music, dance is an integral part of Native American life, too. The Hale family, under the direction of Benjamin Hale, is slated to perform as the Eagle Spirit Dancers. Representing the Southwest, Northwest, and Great Plains areas of the United States, the dancing group interprets distinct cultures through dance, but they also utilize storytelling and song. The Hale family will do its best to show what many heritages looked like before the intrusion of Columbus and the ensuing 500 years of injustice. Not many of us have a chance to get in touch with our roots. America has always been known as a melting pot and because of it we all hail from varying backgrounds. But we come from somewhere, our people are somewhere, and for those of us “locals” who claim this area as sacred, let’s remember that original inhabitants thought so first. Now we get a chance to not only be a part of that culture, but to support it as well. Come support the music of the land we all love so much and remind yourself that you’re not just part of the City of Santa Barbara, you’re also part of the Santa Barbara land too.
4-1-1 The Three Levels of the World: Sky Eagle, Coyote, and Lizard is an afternoon of Native American music that happens this Sunday, July 16, at 2 p.m. in the Fleischmann Auditorium at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Call 682-4711 or see sbnature.org for more info.