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Blackfire: Guthrie poems set to music

Blackfire is one of the most important music groups working today; their heavy punk/alternative sound backs up the stinging, eloquent, and logical protests that make up their lyrics. The Native American band is heavily into political activism; so much so that Nora Guthrie, daughter of the legendary folk singer Woody Guthrie, invited them to set some of her father's unpublished poems to music. The result is Blackfire's new eight minute "Woody Guthrie" single on Tacoho Records. The CD includes "Mean Things Happenin' in this World" and "Corn Song" (printed as "Indian Corn Song" with the word "Indian" crossed out).

The songs of the legendary Woody Guthrie (1912 - 1967) still serve as the voice for the poor and down trodden. The uncompromising Guthrie stated that he was against fascism, both abroad and here at home; the statement can be seen as a slap at the government that broke both labor movements and Indian treaties. Blackfire has the same spirit as Guthrie, and serve as a logical replacement for the singer's famous guitar (which sported a sticker that said "This Machine Kills Fascists!")

Blackfire is made up of two brothers, Clayson Benally on drums and vocals, and Klee Benally on guitar and vocals and their sister Jeneda Benally on bass and vocals. They are Din?, raised on Black Mesa in the Navajo Nation. Their style comprises traditional Native American, punk, ska and alternative music with strong socio-political messages about government oppression, the relocation of indigenous people, ecocide, genocide, domestic violence and human rights.

"Mean Things Happenin' in this World" is classic Blackfire. It begins as a mumble with soft guitars and builds to a thrashing scream, as if the band is getting angrier as they meditate on the situation. The song, most likely from the period where Guthrie was protesting World War II (which he later supported when it became a fight against fascism) deals with some the same issues that are brought up today, like wars being waged for the sake of money and the government chipping away at our rights in this "land of lease."

The equally intense "Corn Song" (1939) talks about political and big business corruption, the poor economy, and ends with a plea to feed the homeless and orphans. The song takes its name from a section that mentions the growing cycle; "Indians never waste a one" (changed to "We never waste a one" by the band).

The single is short, of course, but packs a real punch. It's very historic to have a Native group chosen to set music to the words of Woody Guthrie. When asked about the project, Klee Benally said that it was a great honor to be a part of the Guthrie family's project. "Nora Guthrie is doing outreach to various groups around the country who have that similar parallel in trying to bring about a change by addressing human rights issues through socially-conscious music," Klee said.

"The songs have a strong meaning to us, particularly now with the issues that are going on, the wars that are being waged. It's sad in some ways that the songs still have meaning today." For more information on Blackfire, visit www.blackfire.net.