Interview with Steve Wood
SADDLE LAKE, Alberta - The Northern Cree Singers are one of the most
popular and honored pow wow drum groups on the continent. They are famous
for their live recordings that capture the spirit and atmosphere of the pow
wow. Canyon Records has recently released their newest album, "Rezonate."
The group was founded by the Wood brothers who took their name from a drum
they came across in Lapwai, Idaho. The brothers had competed in a stick
game tournament and lost all of their cash; the only way they could earn
gas money to get home was to sing at a pow wow. They borrowed the drum from
the local tribal museum and when they got to the car and unwrapped it, the
name "Northern Cree" was painted on it in flaking blue paint. Their
appearance was a success and when they got home they honored the drum by
taking its name as their own. Since then their music has been used in
various documentaries and they even had an on-screen appearance in the film
"Grey Owl." They have been nominated for two GRAMMY Awards and a Juno, and
they have won the NAMMY for Best Pow Wow Recording. "Rezonate" is their
The Woods are a very traditional family, which Steve Wood sees as an added
help in the group's career, but he believes singing is a God-given talent.
"My father and my uncles used to sing and all of my brothers sing, we grew
up with it," Wood told Indian Country Today. "My father used to have my
uncles come over, or different pow wow people would come by, they would
pull out the drum and they'd sing and we'd dance. I've sang with
individuals who don't come from singing backgrounds and they sang with us
for awhile, but they never could get the knack of it - I don't know why.
It's a skill, but it's also a talent. It can be learned, but to have the
right voice and the right sound for it, it's like any other type of music,
only certain people have that gift. There are other people who can play
guitar, but not like Jimi Hendrix. It's the same with pow wow singing."
While there are obvious benefits from the way pow wows and pow wow music
are marketed, like many people, Wood seems to miss the more innocent days
when they were small, local events. "When the drum group started up there
was never the thought of going to the GRAMMY Awards or anything like that,
it was just about going to the local pow wow, setting up the drum, singing
with the guys and having fun. Pow wows are bigger than they used to be, now
we have major competitions and the music is starting to be used like a
commodity, like many other types of music. Twenty years ago the thought of
producing huge amounts of cassettes of pow wow music was unheard of - there
weren't a lot of people driving around listening to pow wow music and there
were not even that many people who listened to it in their homes. Now you
go into people's vehicles and they have all of these CDs of pow wow groups.
"Being nominated for the GRAMMY, twice now, is a good experience; here in
our communities, our people couldn't really fathom going to the GRAMMYs. I
couldn't when I was growing up. It doesn't happen to everybody, so we are
really fortunate. As a teacher, I hope it inspires our youth to take up our
language and our traditional teachings. I find that a lot of our youth, not
only up here, but also throughout the reservations in the U.S. are
culturally mixed up. I guess they are looking for something to identify
with, and some of them are turning to rap music; even the way they dress is
something they get off of television ... By being nominated for a GRAMMY
this will show young people that they can aspire to such things through
their own traditional teachings, through their own culture, and through
learning their language and by keeping it alive."
Wood is looking forward to another GRAMMY nomination. "'Rezonate' has some
really good songs and has some different styles to it and all of the songs
are sung in our language. It's going to be a good album and I think we have
a good shot to be back at the GRAMMYs next year."
For more information, visit www.canyonrecords.com.