One Nation Under (Tacoho Records/Canyon Records, 2002)
What is the true definition of world music? For instance, the Navajo Dine trio Blackfire, born in the Black Mesa/Navajo Nation perform octane driven punk. It’s the sort of music that is more at home in an alternative rock venue rather than world music festivals, yet the Native American group of two brothers Clayson (drums/voice) and Klee Benally (voice/guitar) with their sister Jeneda on bass/voice attempt to bridge the gap between alternative rock and folk roots.
Both punk veteran Joey Ramone and their more traditional father, Jones Benally appear as guests on One Nation Under. And last January, Blackfire shared the stage with Malian musicians Tinariwen, Ensemble Tartit, Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure and the French group Lo’Jo as well as, fellow rocker Robert Plant at the Festival in the Desert (Mali Sahara Desert). According to an article on the Afro-Pop site, the Tuaregs, gave a rare enthusiastic response to Blackfire’s performance.However, 90% of the music that appears on Blackfire’s first full-length CD, One Nation Under falls into the punk category. The songs recall punk classics such as the Dead Kennedy’s, DOA, Sex Pistols and Nirvana, not only with its heavy driven guitar and angst ridden vocals, but also in its socio-political messages shouted out by disenfranchised youth.
Blackfire isn’t just influenced by punk, they have cause to express themselves through abrasive music. After all, whether anyone wants to admit it or not, indigenous people worldwide are under attack and have been for centuries. That’s not the sort of thing that bodes well with anyone and its in everyone’s best interests that their pain and frustration are communicated through music rather than bullets even if the lyrics here could never lead to world peace.
Blackfire joins other Native American alternative rock acts such as Without Rezervation, Clan/destine and Medicine Dream in reaching a new audience. While these groups explore and express themselves through alternative musical genres, they also feature traditional Native American chants and instruments in their repertoire. Traditional Navajo chant performed by Jones Benally appears on the tracks Exile and What Do You See. And Blackfire performs the Dine Gourd Dance as well as, adding Navajo chant style vocals on Downfall. The trio offers an outlet for a younger audience while speaking out against human injustice. I admire this group’s passion and dedication yet, their music would be more intriguing if they added more traditional instrumentation to their songs and evolved past their heavily charged lyrics. After all, there are many compassionate people in the world such as myself that also believe in human rights and do not wished to be barraged by angry words. Gentle spirits can evoke change too. The Dalai Lhama is just one example.
(Originally published on Cranky Crow World Music).