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Interview with Shawn Scabby Robe

WHITE SWAN, Wash. - The Black Lodge Singers' "Brotherhood" (SOAR Records) was nominated for the Best Native American Album award at the 46th Annual GRAMMYs. The drum group is one of the most respected and popular voices in Native music today. They compose many new songs each year in their contemporary Northern style that are eagerly sought out by other singers and dancers everywhere they go.

Black Lodge has been host drum at some of the biggest pow wows in North America including the Ann Arbor, Dance for Mother Earth pow wows 1992 - 94; the Schemitzum, Festival of Green Corn 1993 - 95; the International Black Hills pow wows 1996 - 97; Gathering of Nations; Red Earth and many others. One of the most popular albums, "The Kids Tape," has songs for children, including "The Mighty Mouse Song," and "Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse & Pluto Too."

The group started recording in 1987. "Brotherhood" is their 28th album.

The name Black Lodge came from a Blackfeet warrior society whose members came from the Blackfeet Reservation near Browning, Mont. The aging society members decided to pass on the name Black Lodge to Kenny Scabby Robe, the founder of the group, who drew most of the singers from his 12 sons. Out of respect for the Black Lodge Society, all members of the group conduct themselves in a traditional way and observe strict etiquette while seated at the drum.

One of the 12 sons is Shawn Scabby Robe, who took time to talk with Indian Country Today about the popular group. "Black Lodge first came about in 1981," Scabby Robe said. "My father used to sing quite a bit with his father, Jim Weasel Tail, and we used to tag along with him at pow wows. Our first record came out in 1987, but we really started getting recognized around 1994 when we started hosting drums, and even more in 1998 when we toured internationally."

Black Lodge was a featured drum for the Pequot Dance Troupe at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and they have also performed in Macedonia, Lisbon and Morocco. "The first time people hear this music they love the sound of the drum," Scabby Robe said. "When that drum starts hitting, and we're signing and we get the energy going you can see these people bobbing their heads: they love it. They sit at the drum, ask what kind of hide it is, what the songs mean, just as in their culture we ask what their songs mean. We let them know that it's basically a heartbeat, mother earth, a prayer to make people feel good."

Black Lodge's popularity has soared not only in the Native community, but also in the world at large thanks to television. "Recently I just took a trip to Paris, we were over there performing, and we do panels on Indian issues and the Native Community; how we're dealing with 'Bush's America,' as they call it over there," Scabby Robe said. "After we were done a few people came up and asked us to sign our CD. They bought them over there. They see the GRAMMYs, so we are known throughout Europe. I called my dad to let him know that they have our CDs over there. That's what the GRAMMYs have done for us, it extended our name to places we never thought it would go."

Following the group's rise to popularity in the pow wow world Scabby Robe saw a lot of younger drum groups start up. While Black Lodge is famous for helping younger groups, they plan to take a new direction that, if everything works out, will be a bold new step for a group.

"We're going to record another album for SOAR at the end of this month," Scabby Robe said. "After that we are planning to start our own recording company. We believe our name is out there to where we can get a lot of people behind us. For the first few years we will just be putting out our own recordings to see how it goes. If we get ahead we could bring someone in. Part of our goal is to get the music out there not just to pave a way for ourselves, but for other drum groups too, the ones that are coming up. Once it does become mainstream, and I keep telling myself it will, people will recognize the music and understand it."

Scabby Robe said he's backing away from the pow wow circuit to work with children, but he still loves the road. "It's a lot of wear and tear on the vehicle, but we really enjoy the summer months, we look forward to seeing our friends and other groups, and just to be at a pow wow. We only go out four months out of the year because there are so many drum groups now that we don't have to go as far, or as much as we used to. Native music is going to stick around as long as we teach our young people. Now a days you see a lot of young people attending pow wows who want to dance and want to sing. As we get older we have other things we have to do, like work and raise children. I'm backing away from the pow wows right now so I can work with children and teach them to carry it on. I hope everyone else does the same as they get older, because it gets really hard to just jump in with your friends and go where you want to go, and head out. But I really do believe it's going to become a stronger culture."

For more information on Black Lodge, visit soundofamerica.com.