Red Earth is one of the most experimental bands in Indian country. Their kitchen sink-style is a mix of reggae, rock, funk, punk, rockabilly, soul, jazz, ska, and Native rhythms all jumbled together in what they call "Tribal Stew." In the hands of lesser musicians, this concoction would probably be closer to a "tribal mess," but through the frantic exuberance and endless creativity of the 10-piece band, they pull off their unique sound seamlessly. Red Earth just released their second independently released album, "Zia Soul," and it's filled with as much intensity as you can get onto a five-inch disc.
"Zia Soul" includes tributes to their heroes, like James Brown, George Clinton, and Cheech and Chong in short comedy pieces that link the songs together. The CD also contains such gems as the metal reggae anthem to world beat, "Fly to the Sun," their slow, suggestive R&B ode to Indian women, "Red Delicious," the jazz-fusion funk of "Pouring Down," and their rockabilly hot rod song (by way of Kingston) "Rez Rocket."
The founding members of the 10-piece band started performing together in the mid-1990s when they met in Albuquerque. In 2000 they won a Nammy for "Debut Artist of the Year" at the Native American Music Awards. They also created the annual "Electric 49" concert, which takes place every April in Albuquerque.
Singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Ira Wilson, and percussionist, drummer, and occasional co-writer, Jeff Duneman, talked with Indian Country Today about the band and their Zia souls. "We started as a weekend garage kind of thing; we did a bunch of cover tunes," Wilson said. "Charlie Raab, our bass player knew a drummer named Jeff Duneman, and it was a matter of us all being in the same place as the same time."
When asked about the size of the band, which contains a horn section, Wilson said "It's basically a search for a sound that we have bouncing around in our heads. We could do the usual four-piece thing, but our vision is bigger than that, so we have to incorporate a lot of different people with a lot of different talents that they bring to the table."
"Some of us have just really been into 'big' music," Duneman added, "funk, jazz, reggae, and ska, stuff that has a lot of elements, not just the stuff that has two guitars, a bass, and a drum. I'm into percussion too, maybe more than other people in the band are, but I always wanted to add horns and percussion. I think all of us, individually, have so many influences that when you put that together collectively it's just a big sound; it's a lot of straight-up metal and hard rock all the way to smooth jazz influences coming together in one room."
The reggae and ska influences come from Duneman who, like the rest of the band, is a devotee to the funk/punk/ska masters, Fishbone. Wilson noted that people are surprised at their style when they roll into a reservation town. "Obviously there are Native people on the stage, and they're used to country and western, metal, or rock," Wilson said. "Then when our first songs hit full-throttle, people are like 'Holy crap!' We're bustin' funk, hip-hop, we're doing some ragamuffin stuff, some Brazilian stuff, metal, and punk; we do as many forms of music as we can drop on people. This is music that we enjoy, and the styles of music that we dig, but a lot of kids on the rez don't have a chance to listen to New Orleans jazz or swing, they're listening to George Strait on the radio or Superjoint Ritual, whatever they can get their hands on. We're diverse enough that we bring a lot of different styles with our music. I know a lot of reservation kids think jazz isn't heavy, but Red Earth will prove them wrong and say 'Listen, there's something heavy going on here.'"
One of the highlights on "Zia Soul" is the flute-backed satire "Santa Fake." An old Indian man's voice (as if it were performed by Cheech Marin) begins "in the old days, when the buffalos roamed the earth and the rivers ran clear ..." and slowly turns into a pitch for spiritual cleansing for $49.95. "It's time for people to tap into the true heart of Native music," Wilson said, "and it's not new age! That's the thing that's being pushed the hardest, flutes, drums, and chants. I work at a place here in Albuquerque that sells Native music; we have one of the biggest selections in the country. Some of that is what people buy, the mainstream market, what tourists will take home, and I think the stigma is that Natives play flutes, drums, and chant and that's all they do. There is a big conglomeration of different styles of music out there that's itching to get out; we've just got to break down the barriers of that particular stereotype of Native music."
"I might be off base," Duneman said, "but I think underlining some of the stereotypes is the racism that people in this country still aren't dealing with, and they want to hear Indians playing flutes and drum, and they want to see Indians looking a certain way. It's just straight out racism that obviously it goes all the way to the music business, but those flute players are getting paid."
"You take a band like Red Earth; we're starving over here!" Wilson laughed. "You get an artist who is doing new age, who will remain nameless, and they're raking in the bucks. They need to put us on a cruise line too!" For more information about Red Earth or to download some of their music, visit tribalstew.com.