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Celebrate by Native Roots.

Celebrate by Native Roots: Celebrate CD: Celebrate. 2007. Firedrum/Ire Music (ASCAP). $17.95


Native Americans are cultural sycretists. We have to be. At about 2% of the population (on account of the whole exile-genocide-cultural-suppression sort of thing, you know) we have always walked in multiple worlds and blended our music, art, cultures, with influences from those surrounding us, while retaining our essence. So an album like Celebrate by an Indigenous reggae-roots rock band like Native Roots should be less surprising than it might be. Founded in 1997 by Santa Ana Pueblo singer/songwriter Emmet "Shkeme" Garcia and Sisseton-Whapeton Sioux musician John L. Williams remind us of reggae's origins as music of celebratory, energetic, social protest and commentary, not merely music to chill by; though it is that too.

Celebrate opens with "Celebrate our Lives", details the challenges, past "Lakota land was stolen for golden/ Big Foot's band murdered in the cold" and current challenges, including, but not limited to drugs, alcohol, and the divisive nature of sudden (Casino) wealth in the wrong hands....& how by remembering that history, that we have survived relocation, reeducation and removal, misidentification (" The Spanish gave us the name Pueblo") and by thinking of ourselves as united we shall remain.

"Say Fay" is a boy loses girl and tries to get her back song; it being a reggae song, is a bit more energetic, rhythmic, maybe even cheerful than the subject might suggest; like most of the tunes on Celebrate, it blends the relaxation rhythm most folks associate with its genre, with an vigor, the joy endemic to Native music of all flavors. Some of the songs are a bit faster, a bit slower, & "Na stop" opens with a fine Rain Stick, and "Sing it to me", has a jaunty Calypso feel, but there's a clear continuity to all of them.

"We Pray". Actually, this song is about how we don't always, but, especially, when things are rough, we should. Because, as the song says, "Blessings always come back", When we've lost, as Mr. Garcia sings, our car, wife, our dignity, God will see us through, allow us to see we're always blessed, we don't always know it though.

Another love song: "Sweet Lucy" is about an attempted reconciliation with an estranged lover....can't tell from the song. But we who are listeners hope it worked out.

We all have our inspirations. "Gotta know" celebrates the legacy of multiracial reggae pioneer Bob Marley, how the mixed blood Jamaican singer used music to spread a message of hope, peace, & unity from the Caribbean to Hopiland & beyond.

Native Roots again reminds us Turtle Islanders work towards harmony: "Deep down inside/you gotta feel that Native Pride", "Feel no strife /if you love everything in life".

Bob Marley did indeed, die a long time ago, but we all should know "That the world's in a better place cause of he".

The theme of Native solidarity is continued in "Form a Circle"; it exhorts us that there is joy in togetherness, camaraderie isn't just for struggle. We can "love now /we can smile now/we can bond now/Form a circle and be together." As we do in our ceremonies & Powwows.

Indigenous Americans serve in the military at per capita rates higher than almost any other ethnicity, so "Blackgold Fight", a song encouraging protest to our current wars in the Middle East, Central Asia, so no more of our warriors will be sacrificed for oil. Fortunately those wars have reached or are nearing their ends.

"Sing it to me", featuring call-and-response style vocals is about an on/off relationship & sounds a bit more breezy Calypso (think the music of another Jamaican mixed-blood, Harry Belafonte) than reggae per se.

Dancing is important. For our spirituality, to tell our history, to rejoicing, to go to war, for romance, everything is a "Time to dance", the name of the next track, in Indian country. It feels light, airy, the feel one gets from a lot of Native American flute music. Though it is 100% flute free. It reference dances as a means of camaraderie, escape ("forget about your 9 to 5"), and also resistance ("warn the people that it's time to dance"), indeed one could say the song encourages us to gain power by keeping them guessing exactly why we're dancing.

Celebrate appropriately ends with "Na Stop". It returns to the theme of right livelihood, strong character as a form of liberation, and "We need a war with words and educate/We need a war with love", a "War with honor and dignity", then "The tables will turn our way". If we do those things, organize, unify, keep the movement ("a war of love, not of muscle") moving we cannot be moved.

Native Root's Celebrate is an excellent, slightly unexpected album with a timely message, and another example of the ingenuity of and within contemporary Native music.

By Gil L Pettigrew, MS (Creek/Cherokee)

Miami, Florida
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Author:Pettigrew, Gil L.
Publication:Whispering Wind
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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