RAPID CITY, S.D. - The music of Indigenous has captured and wowed devoted fans and critics since 1997. Besides four studio albums and a live one to their credit, the band has performed with B.B. King, Carlos Santana, Joe Bonamossa, Bonnie Raitt, Doyle Bramhall and, recently, Los Lonely Boys.
After more than 10 years of performing, touring and recording together, the most well-known Native American band in the United States has undergone a major change in structure with a new look and a new sound.
The hard-driven blues band, composed of relatives from the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota, separated in late 2006 after their ''Chasing The Sun'' compact disc was released. Bassist Pte (Little Buffalo Man) and drummer Wanbdi (Good Eagle Woman) chose to leave and pursue other artistic interests. Eldest brother, lead vocalist/guitarist Mato Nanji (Standing Bear), was faced with the decision of what to do next.
Fortunately, Nanji chose to keep the Indigenous name and set out to find new members for the band.
Armed with his incendiary, powerful guitar style, blazing vocals and years of experience, Nanji is preparing to move forward and still deliver blazing blues/rock and sizzling live performances with the Indigenous name intact.
Nanji himself is becoming one of the hottest young blues rockers on the scene today. His talents and ability to combine the old with the new have elevated him past that frustrating level faced by many guitarists - being compared to past musical influences. Nanji understands the roots of blues and rock genres primarily because he was exposed to the music while very young under the guidance of his father, the late Greg Zephier.
''Everybody started to do their own thing,'' he explained. ''After years of being together, I think it gets into that situation - that happens. Everyone has their own vision.
''Wanbdi and Pte are doing their own projects and they're into their own music. My style of music was, essentially, Indigenous - I usually did the songwriting. A lot of fans liked the music we made, so I felt it was appropriate to keep the name.
The whole reason for Indigenous, for me, is the music. There are so many great musicians willing to bring their styles to the table, too. It's a good move for everybody. Everyone can breathe a little.''
Nanji's song compositions have always stood strongly on their own. He pays homage to the music of his idols from the past. He does it live, too, within his original songs and improvisations. It's not unusual to hear the signature riffs of Jimi Hendrix or that late Texas rocker he's often compared to, Stevie Ray Vaughan. Like a mosaic, these bits and pieces add color and spice to his live performances and never fail to thrill fans who suddenly recognize a familiar riff. His playing style has no boundaries: Nanji will be rocked up or downright bluesy.
He recently had time for an interview before entering the studio to work on demo tracks for an upcoming CD.
Indian Country Today: Who is in the new lineup?
Nanji: A couple guys from California; we picked Chaney Bryant, who's been playing bass with us for the past year.
We've been going through drummers; the latest one is Jesse Tate, although no final decisions have been made on drummers. It takes a while to find the right guy.
ICT: What's it like to perform without your family?
Nanji: I miss having them around; at the same time, it feels good to have the opportunity to play with new musicians.
We did our last tour with Pte and Wanbdi, which ended in December, after we released ''Chasing the Sun'' [Vanguard Records]. I'd like to add that we're thankful for all the fan support and encouragement. We wouldn't have got as far as we have if it weren't for people who believed in us.
ICT: Is there a tour in the works?
Nanji: We've been touring on and off since ''Chasing the Sun'' came out. We're gonna start touring before the CD comes out this summer. We have some dates scheduled in the meantime, too.
ICT: What makes a good guitar player?
Nanji: Someone who's tasteful with notes, able to channel his soul into what he's playing. I still feel like I'm learning and practicing. There's so many great guitarists I've heard, and to get to that level, it takes a lot of practice and rehearsing. I get ideas from other guitarists. Inspiration is important.
ICT: You sing so well. Do you try to balance your voice with your guitar abilities?
Nanji: Lately, I do. It's been guitar-driven, but at the same time, I never really had the opportunity to focus on vocals. I used a lot of vox on ''Chasing the Sun,'' and now with the new CD coming up I will be using my voice more.
The latest music demonstrates the way I write. It is a mixture of music; it varies from rock to blues to old rhythm and blues. It could surprise everyone, you never know. I like to experiment with different kinds of music.
ICT: Do you use a certain formula for setting up for live shows?
Nanji: I learned that if you crank the amp, you lose guitar tone if you crank it too much. I try to find the right guitar tone the amp will give. It depends. A live show is very different from a jukebox, and all venues are different.
ICT: Any new artists that you get into?
Nanji: Not too many: I'd say Los Lonely Boys, who we toured with last year; Big Head Todd; Joe Bonamossa. I wish some new bands would come out with a great sound; things are too pop-ish in the mainstream scene right now.
ICT: What can you tell us about the new CD?
Nanji: I'm getting ready to go in to the studio and work on demos. I wrote most of the songs, and there will be a few covers. It will be done this spring or early summer, and then it's up to our record label when it's released.
Nanji said he is looking forward to 2007, which will be a banner year for the band. He views it as a new experience to enjoy and learn from. ''I look at it like this,'' he said ''It's taken this long to arrive at this point and I'm eager to keep things moving, to see what can be achieved.''