TONTO BASIN, Ariz. – Native Christians around the country have a new place to turn to for sharing their musical talents. The Jesus Broadcasting Network is an Internet radio station dedicated to showcasing the talents of potential Native role models who sing and write songs related to Christianity.
“We are the first-ever Internet radio station that features Native American gospel singers and songwriters,” said station founder Roger Martin, Cherokee and a former pastor. “These people are very talented.”
Martin’s idea for that station bloomed two years ago after having revelations that Natives in the country don’t have their own role models.
“One of the things I’ve noticed when I talk to our people is that when I ask them what they want to do when they grow up, they don’t know,” Martin explained. “I was at a graduation recently; it was a non-Indian graduation for kindergarteners. I noticed when they asked these kids at 5 years old what they wanted to be, all of them knew.”
Martin criticizes the media’s representation of Natives, which he said hasn’t evolved over time to represent the evolution of the culture.
“I started thinking about the media and the media does not reflect our people in a modern day, they project us as savages,” Martin said. “They want Hollywood Indians; they want us in tipis; they want our young guys half-naked. Our elders are always projected as someone looking up at the sky with a medallion, chanting something about the spirit world.”
The JBN, which launched Aug. 1, features 24-hour entertainment in the form of songs written and/or performed by Native Christians. Martin has an open callout to Natives around the country who have CDs, and so far he has been amazed by the talent he’s come across.
“A lot of the songs you’ll hear were written by the people,” he explained. “They sing about reservation life, they talk about the drugs, they talk about the heartache.”
“We’ve got singers and songwriters with CDs and for the first time they’ve got someone to publish their music and talk about them, and they deserve it. They’ve worked hard.”
At the JBN studio, located in an addition to Martin’s Tonto Basin home, a recording studio is in the works. Martin wants Natives, young and old, to be able to visit the studio and record their music at no cost, leaving with a few hundred copies of their record.
“And then we would showcase them on the Internet,” he said.
JBN is open to various forms of Christian music, but they are trying to keep it contemporary.
“It’s not traditional [Native] music,” Martin said. “No flutes or tom-toms, or things of that nature.”
On the topic of tradition, Martin said that the Web site and Internet station do not look down on the practices of traditional Native people, but the radio station is providing something different.
“We’re not against tradition,” Martin said. “We have great respect for the traditions, but we live in the now. There’s no future in the past; the future is ahead of us and we have to embrace the technology, but we have a great respect for the past.”
The technology of Internet radio allows JBN to broadcast Christian Native music around the globe at “CD quality.” Along with regular airplay of music they receive, the station also has a one-hour lunchtime interview segment planned, which will have both audio and video broadcasting available. “Live with Apostle Martin” is set to begin in the next few weeks and will feature interviews with Christian leaders and role models.
JBN has already received tremendous support through written words of acknowledgment and monetary donations from Christian groups. A Native church recently donated $17,000 to JBN to help them get off the ground.
While JBN is currently strictly music, Martin has big plans for the near future. The Web site will soon feature a broadcast page that will enable Christians to post their own videos and other information, which has the potential to be an incredible networking tool for Native Christians.
One of Martin’s specific target audiences is Native youth, and the station’s nighttime program, called “The Light at Night,” is directed toward them. Once the station’s resources are more compiled, the 11-hour broadcast will feature strictly youth music with “good Christian lyrics.”
“I want to show the young people that we’ve got some outstanding leaders, songwriters, and talented people, who don’t drink, don’t do drugs, that live good moral lives,” Martin said. “We’re going to give them a place to be heard.”
JBN is currently managed by Martin and his wife, Charlene, and they receive technological help from two volunteers.
CDs can be mailed to Roger Martin, P.O. Box 1010, Tonto Basin, AZ 85553. More information is at www.jbnlive.com or (877) 663-8788.