A tribute to Native American voices: your November Press-Playlist

Jaeden Pinder, Arts Editor

While full of excitement from the upcoming holiday season, November is also National Native American and Indigenous Heritage Month, with this, The Pace Press wants to celebrate the Native musicians of America and their allies.

Native American and Indigenous history is often erased from our cultural memory and excluded from integral conversations. Just this month, Indigenous activists were omitted from climate negotiations at the COP26 conference. Native reservations have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The University is built on sacred Lenape land and this still isn’t acknowledged in a way that promotes action beyond brief recognition. We hope that in creating a tapestry of these inspiring musicians, we can continue to uplift Native voices and include them in the narrative of American history every month of the year.

Buffy Saint-Marie – God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot

Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Neil Young are all accredited as being the pioneers behind the ‘60s folk scene in Greenwich Village, but an individual often excluded from this narrative is Cree singer Buffy Sainte-Marie. Now 80 and still active, Sainte-Marie has been making music focused on Indigenous issues since the early ‘60s and should, but isn’t, credited with influencing many modern music techniques. Unfortunately, she was also blacklisted from radio stations under the Nixon Administration. Sainte-Marie’s 1969 album “Illuminations” is the first-ever album recorded in quadraphonic audio (an early form of surround sound). She also used synthesizers in her folk sound, which has influenced electronic music as a whole. If you aren’t already stunned by this brief impression of Sainte-Marie, look towards “God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot,” a folk song with lyrics pulled from a novel by Leonard Cohen. The intro and outro bookend the song with experimental vocal effects and, when put into perspective that the song was released 52 years ago, is incredible, to say the least. 

Lana Del Rey – Beautiful

Following the 2020 release of her poetry collection “Violets Bent Backwards over the Grass,” Lana Del Rey revealed she donated $350,000 of her earnings to the Navajo Nation (the largest Native reservation in the country) to assist them in retrieving clean water during the height of the pandemic. In her second album of 2021, titled “Blue Banisters,” Lana expanded her explorations of genres, spawning a collection of jazz and folk-influenced songs. “Beautiful” is a delicate display of Del Rey’s vocal ability in a ballad that resembles the final movement of “Ave Maria” from the 1940 film “Fantasia;” beauty birthed from weariness.

Keith Secola – NDN Kars

Ojibwe musician Keith Secola fuses traditional Native musical elements with a country twang and expansive rock n’ roll landscapes throughout his work, but “NDN Kars” is the quintessential exhibition of this. From his 1992 album “Circle,” the shining moment of the song is the guitar solo at the midpoint and the final seconds where Secola chants along with the guitar motif throughout. “NDN Kars” summons up the dusty roads and a facsimile of reckless youth.

Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze

There’s not much that can be said about Jimi Hendrix that hasn’t already been noted by critics, as he had already secured status as a rock legend before his untimely death. Hendrix, a rock star with Cherokee heritage, helped to propel the popularity of psychedelic rock and funk and influenced guitarists like John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Purple Haze” is the first track of the album “Are You Experienced,” and in simplest terms, is kaleidoscopic. The cryptic lyrics are disjointed but still astute with Hendrix once saying they represented love, even with the overtones of a hallucinatory drug experience. 

Patrick Sky – Many A Mile

A close friend of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s and a well-respected musician within the ‘60s Greenwich folk scene, Patrick Sky’s “Many A Mile” depicts a wandering spirit, tired but still hopeful. While a gloomy song already, it also echoes the struggles of Native Americans’ lack of permanence geographically, due to the plundering committed by white colonizers. Lyrics that appear cheeky when not paying close attention have an ominous undertone when put in this context (“The only home I ever known/ Was a suitcase and the open road”). Sky died earlier this year, but his music is still revered by a handful of melophiles today.

Indigo Girls – Galileo

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls are the founders of the nonprofit Honor the Earth, alongside Winona LaDuke which seeks to educate and advocate about and for native environmental issues. This folk duo is well-known among Gen X music fans due to their prominence in the ‘90s, and in “Galileo,” they sing of the astronomer, referring to him as the “king of night vision, king of insight,” while meditating on the mind and body, and our place in the world. 

Sky Ferreira – 24 Hours

Sky Ferreira could have easily been the next big pop star of our generation, but just like this song’s title, her time in the pop sphere felt as brief as lightning striking a tree, here one day and gone in the next. Thankfully, plans have been confirmed for the Chippewa Cree singer’s long-awaited solo return in 2022 with the album “Masochism.” While this final song of this playlist diverges from the folk and rock genres of its acquaintances, it functions to show the future of Native American music isn’t bound to one category or genre.