☆Native American Heritage Month Playlist☆

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25 November, 2023

The KCSB-FM Music Department is celebrating Native American Heritage Month! As students living and learning on occupied Chumash land, it is especially important to celebrate and learn about the traditions and living legacy of Native Americans in the United States. We have put our heads together to bring you some of our favorite music made by Native American artists.  


As a preface to my song recommendations, I wanted to share some knowledge that I have gained in reading a bit of the book American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World by Gregory Stanton. In this book, the author surveys a wide variety of Native American and Latin American cultures in an effort to (1) dispel the notion that the land Columbus, Cortazar, Cortés, and the other colonizers came upon a “virgin land” in the late 15th and early 16th, and (2) to form an argument that the genocide of Native Americans was of much larger proportions than popular culture and cursory information would have one believe. 

The chapter “Before Columbus” in particular, is an eye opening and infuriating one, I will not be able to do it justice here. But, the two main takeaways for me were just how densely populated the land which is now the United States was (estimates say 18,000,000 before Columbus), as well as how many diverse, distinct, and complex societies inhabited. In every single state and region of the United States, one could find culturally distinct societies with complex trade routes, with incredible architectural and technical ability- resulting in pyramids, multi-story buildings, and burial complexes, and aqueducts. Some of these cultures, like the Hohokam of New Mexico, were egalitarian. Others, like those which constituted the Iroquis confederacy, were matriarchal and yielded children so independent and well-educated that it shocked the European invaders. Some of the Native American societies exemplified principles of justice which Europeans would not even begin to dream of until the 17th century Enlightenment period. 

It is important to remember that the incredible technological and societal achievements Stanton describes in this chapter were occurring at precisely at the same time as Europe was still reeling from the Bubonic Plague, when Europeans were largely uneducated and ruled by egomaniacal and bloodthirsty, power hungry rulers. In a subsequent chapter, titled “Pestilence and Genocide,” Stanton reminds us that these incredible societies were swiftly destroyed by European disease and one of the most violent program of human eradication the world has ever seen. Like I said earlier, I cannot do justice to the detail in which Stanton describes these different societies, nor can I share with you now the wide variety of mind-blowing facts he describes regarding the violence and cruelty of the European invaders. I do, however, hope that with this information (as minute as it seems in the grand scheme of things), you might be inspired to read more about the land in which you currently stand- and the people to whom it truly belongs. 

  • “Indians Never Die” by Black Belt Eagle Scout

This song is beautifully composed, by Katherine Paul, an Swinomish/Iñupiaq musician. It is a song which remains gentle throughout, but also builds slowly into a beautiful crescendo by the end. It employs empathy of the bravest kind in order to beckon the listener to consider all that surrounds them, the land which Paul warns is being “wasted.” Simultaneously, Paul acknowledges that the history of this land and its people has been “all bright, wrapped up for you.” As such, this song serves as a powerful reminder that the real history of the land on which we stand has been largely erased from the public’s memory. I highly recommend reading Katherine Paul’s website, where she speaks about her efforts to reconnect with her ancestors through the land from which her and her family have been separated. 

  • “LANDBACK” by Kristi Lane Sinclair

This song tells the story of the conquest, of the stealing of land. The song alternates between two speakers, beginning first with the ominous perspective of the colonizer, and moving to the optimistic and empathetic voice of the Native people. In the first part of the song, the instrumentation and vocals are mean, angry, and heavy. Meanwhile, in the second part of the song, the vocals turn into a harmony, and the heavy guitar is combined with an acoustic guitar and string section. One of the most striking set of lyrics from the first section of this song is “forget their ties//they’re outnumbered//we built our castle//behold our power,” which refers to the practice of colonizers all over the Americas to destroy Native structures and build churches on top in order to assert their dominance and erase their culture. In the second section of this song, Sinclair employs a wide variety of naturalistic metaphors, to symbolize the Native Americans’ ties to the land. Meanwhile, this speaker is very clearly continuing to approach the invaders with empathy, never stooping to their level. 

  • “Mehcinut (Death Chant)” by Jeremy Dutcher

Jeremy Dutcher is an artist hailing from Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick. In his album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, his aim is to fuse traditional Wolastoqiyik melodies with Western instrumentation, in order to keep his language alive. In the beginning of the song, Durcher sings the Mehcinut accompanied only by a piano. Slowly, the song begins to build and upon itself, adding a cello and a more complex piano melody. Eventually, Dutcher introduces a recording of an older man, presumably a member of the Tobique First Nation, singing the Mehcinut, or Death Chant alongside Dutcher. The combination of the two recordings is a powerful symbol for the efforts Jeremy Dutcher is undergoing in order to keep the language and the culture alive in the face of a world that simply wants to forget. When looked upon through this lens, one can only describe a song and album like this one as heroic and brave. 

  • “Odana” by Mali Obomsawin

Mali Obomsawin combines jazz elements with traditional Wabanaki songs in order to form what she calls “her first authentic statement” (NPR). After being disheartened by the limitations of the folk-rock genre as an outlet for the stories she was interested in telling, she decided to create a genre of her own. The stories she tells in this album deal with the history of Missisquoi nation. The album as a whole is well-worth listening to, it is a powerful and incredibly composed work. I also highly recommend reading more about Mali Obomsawin, a Dartmouth graduate, whose perspective on ancestral lineage and its connection to music is extremely enlightening. 

    • “Head Of The Lake” by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

    The lyrics of this song- delivered in spoken-word style- are a beautiful synthesis between the ancestral traditions and the contemporary circumstances of Native Americans. The lyrics repeat one specific phrase “we made a circle///and it helped//the smoke did the things//we couldn’t//singing broke open hearts//I hold your hand//without touching it.” This set of lyrics, as well as those which precede and follow it, beckon images of the traditions of the Alderville First Nation, to which Simpson belongs. This song is poetic, complex, and overall it achieves a sense of optimism that is both revolutionary and admirable. 


    • “Indomitable (feat. Northern Cree Singers)” by DJ Shub, Northern Cree Singers

    DJ Shub, a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, is considered the grandfather of PowwowStep, a subgenre of electronic music that combines elements from Native American and First Nations traditional sounds with dance electronica. This song has won numerous awards and was used by Shasha Baron Cohen on one of his television series. The Northern Cree Singers is a group that’s been around since 1982 that have released over 50 albums and have won multiple grammys. This song is a much more interesting take on standard club music while retaining the energy and danceability of the genre.

    • “Bloomsday” by Samantha Crain

    Samantha Crain’s dreamy folk sound is the perfect backdrop for her lyrics which are pulled from short stories she has written. She grew up in Shawnee, Oklahoma in a Choctaw heritage family and competed in powerlifting as a kid. Crain taught herself to play guitar the summer of her senior year of high school and began touring when she was 19. The list of artists she has toured with is incredibly impressive including Neutral Milk Hotel, the Mountain Goats, Buffy Saint Marie, and the Averett Brothers.

    • “Local county sheriff” by Hataalii

    Hataalii’s sound is a mix of electronica, western, jazz, and surf rock. He grew up in the capital of Navajo Nation in Window Rock, AZ and, fittingly, his artist name is a Navajo term that means “to sing.” Over these instrumentals, he ruminates in a witty yet sleazy way, reminiscent of Lou Reed. The lyrics mirror ideas of many beat poets and writers, speaking of the open road and growing up in the desert

    • “ka utapanashkutshet” by Shauit, Yves Lambert

    Shauit blends traditional First Nations sounds with pop-rock and reggae. This song is more folk dance than the rest of his discography and features Yves Lambert’s accordion playing.

    • “Indigetronic” by Tomahawk Bang

    Tomahawk Bang developed his relationship to music through traditional ceremonies and puts his spirituality into his music. This song’s got a really great instrumental electronic sound that seamlessly implements traditional native percussion.

    • “Braid” by Turqouiz Noiz

    Turqouiz Noiz is a San Francisco based indigenous punk band that has only two albums released. They’ve got a very cool sound and incorporate lyrics about their queer indigenous identity.


    • “Sanctuary” by Medicine Singers

    Medicine Singers blend together genres like psychedelic rock, jazz and traditional powwow music in an amazingly unique and captivating way.  The song comes off the collaboration album between East Algonquin powwow group and guitarist Yonatan Gat. The artists’ use of electronics, guitar and trumpets lead to a fresh sound that fade in and out to give space to the presence of the powwow drum and the vocalists. Pitchfork reviewer Matthew Richardson put it well stating, “Medicine Singers feel not like the sound of pop music creeping in but of powwow spreading out”.  Lyrics within the album are delivered in the Massachusett dialect of the Algonquin language, along with Lakota, Ojibwe, and Wapishana, performed by Jamieson and the Eastern Medicine Singers alongside featured vocalists Joe Rainey and Ian Wapichana

    • “Yon A Ho” by Jim Pepper

    Jim Pepper was a Native American jazz saxophonist and composer of Kaw and Creek descent from Salem, Oregon. Renowned for blending his Native heritage with jazz, he notably infused peyote song traditions into his music. His influential work includes the jazz standard “Witchi Tai To,” showcasing his innovative fusion of Native American and jazz elements. Yon A Ho is an incredibly good track, it has everything you can ask for from trumpets, to a guitar solo. However, what adds the most to the track is Pepper’s lyrics in Comanche.

    • “Macmillan River Love Song” by Jerry Alfred and the Medicine Beat

    Macmillan River Love Song is a beautiful track coming off an incredibly acclaimed 1994 album Etsi Shon: Grandfather Song. Jerry Alfred, a Northern Tutchone musician, received the Juno Award in 1996 for his recording of Etsi Shon: Grandfather Song in the category of Aboriginal Recording of the Year. His music was also included as part of a Native American photo exhibit at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. This song’s lyrics are told like a story, switching between English and Northern Tutchone, with the instrumentation serving as the perfect backdrop.

    • “d.m.ii” By Joey Rainey

    Joey Rainey, a singer and Ojibwe member of the Red Lake Band in Northern Minnesota, blends powwow with electronic crafting a string and evocative atmosphere. His voice fades in and out over the instrumental to create some powerful moments. Very cool track. 


    • “Bloodlust” by Six Million Dead

    Six Million Dead is a blackened death metal band from southern Arizona. Bloodlust is a gut wrenching track about the destruction of indigenous sacred sites, and how these actions are a continuation of a long history of colonial greed and genocide. Rob Reyes’ intense growling includes heavy lyrics such as “Our culture will always be ‘fantasy’ through your ignorant minds. Desecrating the sacred. Ripped apart like an open wound.”

    • “American Rivers” by Red Cloud Revival

    Red Cloud Revival was an alternative rock band located in Maine that was active during the mid 90s to 2000s. “American Rivers”” features lyrics about theft and industrialization of Native American land, corruption, and the hypocrisy of the Declaration of Independence. 

    • “ changing landscapes” by Bobby Sanchez

    Bobby Sanchez is a trans and two-spirit indigenous artist who uses her art to speak up for indigenous and lgbtq+ rights. “changing landscapes” is a melancholy hip hop song about the intersection of indigenous oppression and transphobia, and their relationship to capitalism and colonialism. 

      • “Time to Go” I Dont Konform

      I Dont Konform is a black metal band from the Navajo reservation in Arizona. They were featured in a Revolver documentary on the reservation metal scene (check out the documentary) and released their debut album, Sagebrush Rejects, a few years later. “Time to Go”, one of the more mellow tracks on the album, opens with a beautiful spacey guitar riff and slowly builds up to a heavy and vulnerable chorus where the lead singer Kyle Felter writes about his experience with depression. 

      • “Escape the Pain” by Suspended

      Suspended is an all-women heavy metal band from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The combine elements of melodic, death, and thrash metal.“Escape the Pain”, a track off their 2015 Hollowed Minds EP, features lead singer and guitarist Amanda Castillo’s powerful scream vocals and plenty of heavy riffs.

      • “Mother” by Elexa Dawson, Stanley Hotel

      Elixa Dawson blends elements of americana, jazz, and folk in “Mother”, an intimate, warm, and yet melancholic song. Kansas-based Oklahoma native (from the Potawatomi nation) Dawson has a new album, “Wanderlust”, a collaboration with Stanley Hotel coming out on February 2, 2024.

      • “Aorta” by Tanya Tagaq

      Tanya Tagaq is an avant-garde composer from Ikaluktutiak whose work explores environmentalism, human rights, and political change. Her track “Aorta”, off her 2016 album “Retribution”, seamlessly blends incredibly detailed modern textural elements and with traditional throat singing to create a beautifully swirling, rhythmic, and intensely dark track. 

      LIAM’S RECS 

      • “jr. flip” by Joe Rainey

      Released in 2022, Joe Rainey’s album “Niineta” presents a wholly unique fusion of pow-wow singing and field recordings with industrial and orchestral instrumentation. Having participated in the pow-wow community for years, both as a recorder and a singer himself, Rainey came into this album with years of recordings and ideas, and enlisted the help of Andrew Broder of the band Fog to produce and shape the presentation. The result is an album unlike anything else, which deals with the grief of mass incarceration, the joy of the pow-wow, and the harsh edges of the modern world. I’ve chosen the song “jr. flip” to highlight because I think it represents all of these contrasting parts well, but I also highly recommend the entire album.

      • “Unnuaq – Bad” by Silla and Rise

      Silla and Rise blend traditional Inuit Throat Singing and modern electronic grooves. Inuit Throat Singing is often practiced in the context of traditional vocal games, and many recordings feature the joy of play that comes along with it. The song “Unnuaq – Bad” off of their 2016 debut prominently features their vocal interplay alongside a pounding kick drum and terse synths, but ends with a laughing fit characteristic of the tradition.

      • “Piukuvet” by John Angaiak

      John Angaiak was born in Nightmute, Alaska in 1941. After serving in the Vietnam War, he returned home and became a passionate advocate for the preservation of his native language (the Yup’ik language). This album, I’m Lost in the City, is his only full studio album, full of beautiful and moving folk ballads. I’ve chosen to highlight the song “Piukuvet” off of Side A of this album, which is written entirely in the Yup’ik language. 

      • “001-Slulums ta S7isun (Paddle Song)” by Unknown 

      I wanted to highlight the music of the people of the Pacific Northwest, but unfortunately very little of it exists in officially recorded contexts. I discovered this stunning recording on SoundCloud, where many Native American gatherings, songs, and powwows are stored. In fact, Joe Rainey keeps an active and thriving Soundcloud page of powwow recordings, some of which made it on his previously discussed debut. While I can’t find almost any specifics about who recorded this piece, it’s well worth a listen, as it highlights the unique and moving musical traditions of the Salish Coast.

      • “Song Sung After Raising the Sacred Pole” by Spencer Little Owl (for the Densmore Repatriation Project) 

      The Densmore Repatration Project is something I’m super happy to spotlight here. Based on the recordings made in the early 1900’s by the anthropologist Frances Densmore, the project seeks to revive this long-forgotten traditional music which has long sat deep in storage. These songs have been rerecorded by modern Native American singers, many of them being sung for the first time in over 100 years.

      • “Spring 1” by Laura Ortman

      Laura Ortman is one of the most prominent contemporary Native American musicians. Her collaborations are far-reaching, and her work blends elements of visual and sonic art. This song, included in a tribute compilation for the late Bruce Langhorne, blends traditional Appalachian folk fiddle with noise and noise rock textures, creating a beautiful soundscape that evokes the past, present, and future of this nation.

      • “americana” by Raven Chacon

      Raven Chacon is the name in modern Native American music, having won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his work on 2021’s Voiceless Mass. He works in the harsh noise/drone discipline, and his work evokes powerful feelings of decay and dread. This cut, the closer of his 2010 debut record, should be more approachable to those who don’t regularly enjoy noise music, with his solo guitar peeking through layers of white noise and synthesizers.


      • “I Need Your Lovin” – The Chieftones  

      • “We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee” by Redbone 

      • “Everyone’s Wrong But Me” by Mildred Bailey 

      TED COE (“The Freak Power Ticket)’s RECS:

      1. “The Virus” by The Halluci Nation, with guest Saul Williams on lead vocals.

      This song is a powerful indictment of the virus-like nature of genocide and ethnic hatred… when a lust for exploitable “resources” (from animals to minerals to human life) or when an unbending belief in ideology, supersedes everything else, and on a massive scale. Saul Wiliams, the visionary Slam Poet and musician, provides the insightful and damning vocals in this track.

      The virus took on many shapes / The bear, the elk, the antelope, the elephant, the deer / The mineral, the iron, the copper, the coltan, the rubber / The coffee, the cotton, the sugar / The people / The people…”

      The Halluci Nation, from Ottowa, Ontario, Canada, formerly known as A Tribe Called Red, are an electronic / hip-hop & dub influenced duo: Tim “2oolman” Hill (Mohawk, of the Six Nations of the Grand River), and Ehren “Bear Witness” Thomas (Cayuga First Nation). One of their songs is prominently featured in the trailer for the new / acclaimed Scorsese film The Killers of the Flower Moon.

      1. “Shawnee” by Link Wray

      Anyone who hasn’t seen the rockumentary film, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Catherine Bainbridge, 2017), but is interested in this overall topic of Indigenous Americans in popular music, should rush right now to watch it. The name Rumble comes from the great 1958 rock’n’roll single of the same name, by Link Wray & The Wraymen. Well known for its featured inclusion in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, “Rumble” is the only instrumental track ever banned by US radio stations because of its name’s association with street-gang violence, “juvenile delinquency,” and for its “rough sound.”

      By the early 1970s, the rise of the American Indian Movement and “Red Power” activism encouraged Wray to share his own Shawnee background in a more and more public way. Tribal references had been part of his music throughout, but there was no mistaking his origins when gazing at the striking profile photo that comprises the cover of a 1971 self-titled LP, replete with long hair, dark skin, and colorful garb. 

      You might also notice the swagger and pride that permeates this reverb-drenched late 1980s track, “Shawnee,” which presents Link Wray’s heritage in a titular fashion, but also, as the Rumble doc suggests, through rhythmic sounds that owe as much to Indigenous traditions as to the other racial and cultural elements that define American Roots music. 

      • “Black Snakes” by Mariee Siou

      This song, by Nevada City, California-based artist Mariee Siou, is lyrically chanted in “peyote medicine language,” and was written just before a journey to join the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota. “Siou describes the tune as a ‘channeling’ of a ‘sonic prayer’ for water” (Bandcamp Daily, 6/6/2019).

      Siou’s lineage includes Eastern European, Mexican, and Indigenous ancestry, but it’s all somewhat murky for her, which is a sad theme explored on the 2019 album that this track is a standout on: Grief in Exile. She’s associated with the “Freak Folk” tradition of fellow hometown heroine Joanna Newsom, and Siou herself recorded with the iconic indie-folk legend Bonnie “Prince” Billy over a decade ago. 

      In “Black Snakes,” Mariee Siou’s lyrics are broadly mystical, as they make reference to Native American motifs, but also to the Medusa creature of ancient Greek myth. Listening to this track, there’s no mistaking its references to the controversial, snake-like Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL), which transports crude oil that threatens the water safety of Sioux tribes in the Great Plains region of the U.S., and desecrates sacred land. 

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