Louie Gonnie – ‘Songs of the Sacred Circle, Peyote Songs of the Native American Church’

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Louie Gonnie, Diné/Navajo, has recently released “Songs of the Sacred Circle, Peyote Songs of the Native American Church” from Canyon Records. From the start, Gonnie’s album hits deep with melodies and harmonies that instill a sense a well-being and contemplation unparalleled by much else in his genre.

Gonnie was born in Antelope Springs in the Diné Nation. Receiving early guidance from his father and uncles, he has been singing since the age of five. Gonnie writes on his album, “I was taught to respect my elders and the healing ways of my people. A major influence in my life is my grandfather, Haastiin Gonnie, a noted medicine man, for his devotion to humanity. It is his teachings that guide me on this journey through life.”

Perhaps “journey” is an appropriate word, for during the course of Gonnie’s music; a journey definitely takes place. A listener is transported to a place of solitude and peacefulness. It is easy to gain appreciation for life and what surrounds us listening to “Songs of the Sacred Circle.”

But the completion of “Songs of the Sacred Circle” was a subject of discourse to Gonnie at first. He was concerned that the production or recording of sacred music would cause conflict among his community.

Earlier in his life Gonnie had taped simple recordings of his music and handed out copies to his family and friends. After some time, Gonnie’s recordings had fallen into the wrong hands and bootleg copies were made and sold at Pow wows and other native gatherings. To his dismay, Gonnie’s bootleg music was a hot seller.

“I did not realize how much these songs were moving around from person to person. When I recorded these songs, it was for family and friends. It was meant to stay within the boundaries of my circle and not for profitable gains.”

Gonnie decided to become pro-active. Since bootleg copies of his music were being sold to such a large extent, making legitimate music for distribution to the native community was not a hard decision to make.

“I had no intention of going commercial with these songs for a lot of years, but people selling my music are what led me to this project. I had to preserve myself. This recording came out of circumstance.”

He teamed with drummer Branson Gorman, Canyon Records and producer Stephen Butler to create “Songs of the Sacred Circle, Peyote Songs of the Native American Church” which was released April 22.

Gonnie has created a compilation of 32 songs that date back as early as 2000 and end all the way into the present. The arrangements and melodies are all Gonnie’s creation. And all of his songs are in his native Diné language.

“It’s been a spiritual journey for me.”

But in the midst of his spiritual quest, Gonnie still maintains a light-hearted approach to his life. “I don’t consider myself some sort of spiritual guru, or a total fanatic. The way I compose my music, with bending the melodies or even the way I use the words in my songs really differs from other composers.”

I love my first song “Dreamscapes” and I love “Beauty in Music.” Those are the highlights for me, says Gonnie. “Soldiers Lament” is also really cool, at a really loud volume,” he added with a laugh.

Gonnie’s dedication to the spiritual foundation of these songs is apparent. He is a gentle advocate of The Native American Church and partakes in peyote ceremonies. “You can use these songs at any time during ceremonies. If you learn the four songs in the set, you can express yourself in a peyote meeting. We go to these meetings and sing these songs live. People know these songs now.”

Gonnie mentions on his CD, “It’s been 12 years now since I first dabbled with creating my own melodies. There were many live rehearsal sessions with family and friends throughout the years. ... Carving a sound and maintaining it, sticking to it and not changing it for anybody is how I compose. ... As a third generation singer, with traditional values kept in mind, music has a profound impact on my daily existence. Singing is who I am.”

And in response, if Louie Gonnie said that singing is who he is, one can only be inclined to agree. And thanks to Gonnie’s hard work and dedication, “Songs of the Sacred Circle” is a complete treasure.

“Songs of the Sacred Circle, Peyote Songs of the Native American Church,” is now available at canyonrecords.com or amazon.com.

What is a Bootleg?

A bootleg is any unauthorized duplication of music that was originally made by a record company and a musician or vocal artist for the use of the person purchasing the product.

With the advent of technology, the music industry and artists are taking a hit.

So what’s the harm in making a copy for a friend or buying a copy of a CD at the swap meet or recent pow wow?

“A lot,” according to Kristen Butler, licensing director at Canyon Records, a producer of American Indian music since 1951. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that a lot of artists aren’t rich. Many artists have day time jobs and really can feel the effects resulting from pirated music.

Stolen music can be as obvious as a CD in a plastic bag with the title written in black marker. A lot of times there is only a color copy of the album cover placed inside of a CD case. Stolen music hurts the native community; profits made from these pirated items are not transferred to the artists.”

Kathy Norris, promotions director at Canyon Records has experienced much in the way of illegal and pirated music. “We’ve gotten many anonymous e-mails telling us about people selling illegal music. We’ve even had products returned from overseas where they have really gone to elaborate lengths to look authentic. They’ve even gone as far to recreate the album cover and just changed the contact information.”

What can be done?:

Refuse to purchase bootleg music – every time you do, money is taken away from the artist that has created it.

Don’t make copies for friends and family – for the same reason as above.

Keep in mind many of these albums contain sacred indigenous music – and should be treated with respect and honor.

If someone is selling bootleg music, mention to them that it is a dishonor and don’t buy it from them.