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No longer seen, barely heard

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LOS ANGELES ? At last year's Grammys, the Best Native American Music Album award was presented during the telecast portion of the show. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had just created the new category for Native music.

The Native American "genre", however, had not yet reached that magical benchmark that would catapult a Native performer to the stage to perform during the telecast of the program on prime time network TV. Elated that Native music was being recognized by such a prestigious institution, Native artists were hopeful.

The thought then was well, maybe next time.

Next time came and went, Feb. 27 at the renowned Staples Center here. The category recognizing the Best Native American Music Album took a step backwards. The award was presented during the pre-telecast portion of the show, when the venue was only beginning to fill up with audience members. It was hours away from the prime time telecast. This year the Native music category nominees and winner were 83rd of a pre-telecast nomination list of 91.

This new development appeared to cause little annoyance. The nominees were happy to be there and so were their record labels. They were happy just to be invited. As for the Native audience members they were, well, not there. At least, not in the numbers of last year, when a few Native faces showed up on national television screens, thanks to camera men looking for relevant shots of audience members.

There is talk of expanding the Native American music category to accommodate the more pure genres of Native music such as big drum (sub categories: northern, western, southwest and northeast styles), gourd rattle, hand drum, water drum, flute and so on. The contemporary musicians will have to compete in the contemporary genres already recognized by the Recording Academy, owners of the Grammy Award, just like all the other commercial and documentary artists. This isn't a bad thing either.

With over 100 categories to compete in, with an average of 500 plus nominees, our performers will be forced to finely hone their craft and become better managers of their talents. Assuming that Native artists will avoid the more mainstream entertainment brokers, this could mean the creation of some very influential jobs in Indian country.

Competing with the world's best musicians for worldwide recognition can do nothing but promote our artists and create new national and international markets for our art. Although, it may now seem we are once again relegated to a less than premium spot ? in this case at the Grammys ? the pre-telecast portion of the Awards show, in a category that so far only acknowledges the traditional style of Native music, we have opened a door a little further last week, a door that was once closed tight.

That door can lead us to a whole new world market that can only benefit from the Native American musical point of view of the world and in turn benefit us by helping us become understood a little bit better, and that is a good thing.