Native musicians find fresh ways to reach fans
Sandra Hale Schulman
Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today
Joanne Shenandoah was looking forward to being back on tour this spring and had a full schedule of concerts planned — until they all got postponed or canceled.
“Initially, it was very strange to do a concert without the live feedback, but once you see hearts flying upwards on the screen, it is very heartwarming to know that there are those out there who still appreciate and love the music we've been offering up for 30 years,” the Oneida musician said by email.
Shenandoah is among a number of well-known Native musicians who are finding new ways to connect with listeners amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Some have turned to the internet, and others the airwaves. They're sharing music videos, YouTube messages, live performances and interviews, and some are even coming out with new tunes.
Shenandoah has recorded more than 14 albums, toured internationally and won a multitude of awards for her sweet musical mixture, which blends traditional and contemporary instrumentation.
She recently released a single called "Your Legacy" in honor of the late Wilma Mankiller, who served as chief of the Cherokee Nation.
She also released a collection of songs she wrote 30 years ago called "Shenandoah Country."
“I have another 40 songs sitting on my shelf which I plan to release as well,” she said.
Besides continuing to make and perform music, Shenandoah in April posted an Earth Day message on YouTube.
“We are very blessed to continue to have our traditional teachings,” said the Oneida, New York-based artist. “Our mother, the Earth, should have legal standing in the courts, in the constitution and around the world.”
Keith Secola hosts Native Americana Audio Cafe
Award-winning singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and producer Keith Secola calls his music Native Americana, as he pulls deeply from powwow chants and classic rock stylings, as well as reggae, jazz and blues.
As a member of the Native Music Hall of Fame, his music has been featured in films, documentaries and multiple records.
For several years, Secola has been recording Native musicians and artists as he travels the country.
He says he has about 60 interviews in his archives.
When the pandemic shut down live concerts, he was contacted by George Strong at 89.9 FM Bois Forte Tribal Community Radio in Minnesota, where Secola is from.
Strong proposed holding an online Zoom talk show with Secola as the host. Guests would talk about their current experience and display some of their art or perform their songs.
“I don’t know if Keith sees himself as a talk show host,” Strong said by phone, “but he’s a natural. We’re now doing this twice a week to great response. People want to hear the story of how this is all impacting musicians.”
The interviews last about 30 minutes, Secola explained from lockdown in Tempe, Arizona.
“I ask artists about their thoughts on this situation. It has a different sophistication level,” Secola said.
One particularly moving interview was with three-time Grammy winner Bill Miller.
“He really opened up about his son’s death four years ago, the back-to-back destructive tornadoes that hit Nashville the week before the shutdown and how his spirituality is helping him through this,” he said.
Other guests have included Cody Thomas Blackbird, Freddy Trujillo and Jeremy Ylvisaker.
“We’d like to establish a database for all this, open to collections to use,” Secola said. “It’s a slow rollout now. We’ll see how it goes.”
Spencer and Doc Battiest: ‘The Storm’ at Home
The Battiest brothers, Spencer Battiest and Doc Native, have been making music from the Seminole Reservation in Hollywood, Florida, for years.
The artists, who perform a mix of rap and pop, have toured nationally and been part of Taboo’s MTV Award-winning videos.
Nine years ago, inspired by their unconquered tribe’s perseverance and prosperity, they recorded a song called “The Storm.”
They decided to update it this month as a virtual rendition to serve as a reminder of survival during challenging times.
“We can overcome. We can get through this together. I dedicate this to all my Native people. Stay strong and we will weather the storm,” Doc states at the start of “The Storm: Live From Home” video.
“There is healing in music, so we wanted to give our people some good medicine through our music and show our support with this performance. We are stronger together,” Doc said.
On May 12, their new performance of “The Storm” – with the brothers recording vocals from their separate homes in Hollywood, Kazumi Shimokawa (piano) in Culver City, California, Joshua Daubin (percussion) in Seal Beach, California, and Matt Beach (guitar) in Canton, Ohio – debuted on the Native American Music Awards YouTube channel.
“Both Doc and I have been inspired the past few weeks by all artists who have not let this virus stop their creativity or keep them down,” Spencer said. “We wanted to perform for our community and show that even in quarantine, we are all in this together.”
He said he hopes the song and its message of the Seminole’s history “inspires hope and reminds us that although we are going through a difficult time right now, we will all be together again soon.”
Spencer was supposed to perform this spring in the musical “Distant Thunder” at Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City, but the pandemic has pushed it to next year. The show will now run from March 31 to April 18.
Doc has enjoyed success with his new single “Instagram,” which was No. 1 for two weeks in a row on the Indigenous Angels Radio Deadly 10 countdown.
Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and has produced three films on Native musicians.