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Sandra Hale Schulman
Special to Indian Country Today

The latest: A brand new score for a classic Broadway show by an indigenous musician is earning raves in Manhattan’s theater district; while over in Chelsea a new show of work by an Alaskan artist tackles colonization and extinction. And a language spoken only by 10 people gets the flashy sing-a-long treatment in a debut powwow group video.

THEATER: Native touch in Broadway musical

Award-winning musician Martha Redbone, of Choctaw and African-American descent, and her partner/husband Aaron Whitby have composed new music for the Booth Theater’s 2022 production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf,” a revival/re-imagining of the 1976 classic “choreopoem” by the late Ntozake Shange.

The “choreopoem” is Shange’s masterwork, acclaimed as a theater classic and acknowledged as a new genre in the history of theater. Written in 1975, it combines the spoken word with poetry, music, and dance.

Award-winning musician Martha Redbone, of Choctaw and African-American descent, and her partner/husband Aaron Whitby, have composed new music for the Booth Theater’s 2022 production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/ When the Rainbow is Enuf,” a revival of the 1976 classic “choreopoem” by the late Ntozake Shange. (Photo by Molly Magnusson, courtesy of Martha Redbone)

Reviews have been impressive.

“We’re the NY Times Critics pick! Congratulations and blessings for this production,” a thrilled Redbone said. “Honored to compose, orchestrate and arrange original music with my partner Aaron Whitby to celebrate and highlight Ntozake Shange’s powerful words through this stunning choreopoem. We set out to honor the words, we were mindful of composing music that was a bed for the text.”

Redbone is an American blues and soul singer who has won awards for her contemporary mix of rhythm and blues and soul, fused with elements of traditional Native American music.

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Redbone and her long-term collaborator/husband, composer/pianist/producer Whitby have grassroots beginnings at powwows across Indian Country and in the clubs of New York City where they have built a loyal fan base.

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“Forty years later the struggles depicted in the story still ring true,” Redbone said. “This new production allows a younger generation to see and hear a contemporary version. Huge thanks to the producers who see and make a way for Black and Brown stories to be celebrated on Broadway.”

Redbone and Whitby joined the women-of-color creative team celebrating Shange’s historical work and legacy and have received rave reviews for the original compositions and score. The New York Daily News described it as “supreme music…brilliant.”

The show is running now through Aug. 14.

ART: New Galanin exhibition highlights Lenape territory

Nicholas Galanin, whose "Never Forget" art installation spelling out "Indian Land" at Desert X last year in Palm Springs, California, was a major draw, is exhibiting new work in Lenape territory at the Peter Blum Gallery in New York City.

The exhibition, “It Flows Through,” is the artist’s second solo exhibition with the gallery. It runs through July 22.

Galanin, Tlingit and Unangax̂, is a multimedia artist who works at the intersection of conceptual and material practice, rooted in his Sitka, Alaskan culture.

Of the new show, the artist said, “The exhibition speaks to persistence. The persistence of our connections to land and culture through continuum and memory, flowing through us, embedded in our bodies, our languages, and our art. These connections flow like water in varied ways, from gentle imperceptible movements to sudden forces, each capable of moving, shaping, and wearing down stone.”

Nicholas Galanin, Tlingit and Unangax̂, whose INDIAN LAND sign art at Desert X last year in Palm Springs, California, was a major draw, is exhibiting new work in Lenape territory at the Peter Blum Gallery in New York City. The exhibition, “It Flows Through," includes this work, “White Flag,” a symbol of Alaska Native defiance. (Photo courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery)

An Indigenous presence in the works spark conversations. “White Flag,” a term usually meaning surrender or truce, is made from a pole and a polar bear hide, and becomes a powerful symbol of Alaska Native defiance as well as warning of the bears’ endangered status.

In “World Clock,” a monotype depiction of The New York Times reports on the return of Manhattan to the Lenape, there is continued rejection, visualized below the monotype with a growing accumulation of newspapers added daily that pile on a continuous stream of other news.

A set of copper lock-picking tools, “Purchase,” and a painted deer hide, “Architecture of return, escape (The British Museum),” together present what Galanin says is the continued theft, containment, occupation, and erasure of Indigenous objects and culture. The piece suggests alternative actions and endings.

Galanin earned a bachelor’s in fine arts at London Guildhall University and a master’s at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand, and has apprenticed with master carvers and jewelers. He lives and works with his family in Sitka, Alaska, where he carves canoes, hunts seals, and makes music for his band Ya Tseen. His work is in permanent collections including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

MUSIC: Reviving language in song

The Medicine Singers – a collective formed as an offshoot of the powwow group, Eastern Medicine Singers – has released a video single, “Daybreak,” sung in a vanishing Algonquin language.

The release comes ahead of the release of their self-titled debut album.

“I took the words from the Algonquin Massachusetts dialect,” said bandleader Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson and a clan chief of the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation.

“Right now there’s less than 10 people in the world who speak it,” he said. “It was approved by our teacher, Donald Three Bears Fisher, who passed away after the song was finished. I got to play it for him. Three Bears was a traditional guy, but he really liked it. That stayed in my head, because Three Bears is a great man, and knowing that he approved was all I needed.”

“Daybreak” is a fast-paced track, using flashing psychedelic word visuals as a tool to preserve the Indigenous language.

“The people of the Pokanoket are the people of the first light - we see the light first - we are the guardians of the first gates,” he said. “It's a tradition for us to do these prayers in the morning to thank the Creator for life. It's a very important song, and I gave it to my tribe, the Pocasset Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation. It's important to keep these songs and pass them down to the generations - that's why we want to show the words, to help people know that this language is still out there and some people are still speaking it.”

The album is rounded out by contributions from Ryan Olson of Gayngs, who co-produced “Daybreak”; rising jazz trumpet star Jaimie Branch, who also did the album artwork; Thor Harris and Christopher Pravdica of Swans; no wave icon Ikue Mori; and ambient music pioneer Laraaji. It is set for release July 1 by Stone Tapes, a sub-label of Joyful Noise Recordings.

Jamieson’s passion for preserving the culture and language of the Pocasset Wampanoag is the driving force behind his music. He studied the Massachusett dialect of Algonquin with the late Clinton Wixon, a venerated tribal leader who was known as one of the last fluent speakers of the Wampanoag language.

“This is experimental art. We're showing people experimental art from the Eastern Algonquin side of the world, a completely new realm of music,” Jamieson said.

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