SANTA MONICA, Calif. – When the final nominee list for the 51st annual Grammy awards were announced by the Recording Academy Dec. 3, mainstream artists Lil’ Wayne, Coldplay and Jay-Z – to name a few – made headlines with their multiple nominations.
With all the buzz surrounding the mainstream, it may be easy to forget that there are 110 possible award categories, including Best Native American Music Album.
Canyon Records artists snagged three spots, with nods going to Black Lodge, Northern Cree and Kevin Yazzie. The two remaining nominations went to Silver Wave Records producer Tom Wasinger, and SOAR Corporation’s Bryan Akipa.
To date, none of the artists have been asked to perform during this year’s live telecast at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Feb. 8.
Akipa said his nomination for “Songs From The Black Hills” came as a surprise, as it was released close to the submission deadline in September. He could hardly wait to spread the news to those closest to him.
“It’s exciting because I get to tell my family and friends, and everybody is happy about it.”
This accomplished Native flutist and former schoolteacher lives and works on the Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation in South Dakota, worlds apart from Hollywood glamour. But in relation to glamour, his music has a beauty all of its own, and reverberates the songs of his ancestors.
His goal with the album was to take traditional Lakota songs and play them on the flute. “I wanted to be able to do it so all people could appreciate it.”
Akipa said that he took an interest in playing the flute in 1976. Today, he performs using his own hand carved flutes, sculpted in the shape of animals from the northern plains.
But earning an income in an area sparse with jobs has taught him the importance of being resourceful. So, when he is not making flutes, he taps into his other artistic talents. Currently, he is carving a horse staff for an exhibit on horses at the National Museum of American Indian in Washington, D.C.
Could the eighth nomination be a charm for the drum group Black Lodge?
No matter the outcome, the Scabby Robe family will be all right. Kenny Scabby Robe and his 12 sons started their drum group back in 1982, and have grown stronger with each passing year.
“It has been an honor and we enjoy going down there,” he said about the annual trek to Los Angeles.
Fame and recognition were not at the forefront of the Scabby Robe’s family goal when they started playing. Their goal back in the past, and in the present, is to play at powwows, and carry on the traditions of their Blackfeet and Yakama ancestors.
The album title “Spo’Mo’Kin’Nan” means asking Creator for help in the Blackfeet language. “We use it for praying and when we are in a sweat,” he said.
They recorded the album live in White Swan, Wash. on the Yakama Indian Reservation and home to Scabby Robe.
Black Lodge has won numerous awards for their music, and Scabby Robe has picked up his share of accolades as a traditional dancer.
Similar to Black Lodge, Northern Cree has a long history in both the powwow circuit and recording world. Their nominated album “Red Rock” was recorded live at a powwow on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Washington state.
Members of this 10 plus ensemble are scattered along the Treaty 6 area of Alberta. This is the fourth nod, and leader Steve Wood said they are excited about it, he knows all too well from past experiences not to travel to Los Angeles with high expectations.
“It’s always nice to be recognized for something you like to do,” he said. “Every time we go we meet someone new.”
The group formed by happenchance in the early 1980s. When Wood and his brother lost all their money at a stick game tournament in Idaho, they borrowed a drum from a museum so they could sing and drum at a powwow to earn their way back home.
In a twist of irony, the drum had the words Northern Cree written on the bottom, and they needed a name to tell the arena director, so as the story goes, the rest is history.
“Powwow music is really intense, the same type of intensity as rock ‘n’ roll,” he said. “The more intensity at a powwow, the harder they are going to dance.”
When Wood was questioned about what the album meant, he gave no definitive answer, instead wants listeners to interpret what it means to them. “‘Red Rock’ can be the pink and red face on the cover, but it could also be the background, a city skyline,” he said. “You can draw a lot of conclusions from the cover.”
Producer Tom Wasinger is no stranger to the Grammy awards, and has picked up two golden statues for his production work. When an artist wins, so does the producer.
This year, he was honored as the nominee for his production work on “Come To Me Great Mystery–Native American Healing Songs,” featuring indigenous artists Thirza Dafoe, Doug Foote, Lorain Fox, Allen Mose and Dorothy Tsatoke.
On compilations, the Recording Academy exclusively nominates and awards the producer. The artists are recognized as winners, just absent of statue.
He credits his wife for the inspiration to create an album of Native healing songs. And he was already aware that Silver Wave would react favorably to the high marketability of a compilation album. He had no problem selecting the artists, as he has worked with all of them in the past, except for Mose.
Even as the producer, Wasinger was hands on during the entire recording, and played subtle, yet obscure, instruments in the background. “I tried to avoid sounds that are blatantly European,” he said. “For instance, I would never use a guitar, piano or violin.”
Instead, he used resonating stones that ring like bells when clashed together, and percussion instruments such as the African shekere and the South American ocarina.
Wasinger lives with his wife in Boulder, Colo. and has a long history of producing music from countless genres of music.
As a relative newcomer to Canyon Records, Kevin Yazzie’s peyote songs are in a class of their own. On his nominated album “Faith,” the songs are long, and are actually a collection of four harmonized peyote songs, nearing 10 minutes in length – with the exception of the title song, lasting slightly over four minutes.
Yazzie, Diné, was born in Teetso, Ariz. and started singing at age six. At 13, he joined the Native American Church, which inspired him to write and sing his own songs. The inspiration for his first solo album is drawn from his family and friends, and dedicated to those in need of a spiritual boost and inspiration.