Round n’ Round We Go: Native American Round Dance Recordings

by Patty-Lynne Herlevi

Northern Cree and Friends –

Long Winter Nights
(Round Dance
Live!) Volume 5

Randy Wood with Will Clipman –
My Heart and Soul

Glen Ahhaitty –

True Lies From The Road

(Oklahoma Round Dance Songs)

All recordings on Canyon Records

Have you ever wondered what First Nation people of Canada do during those long
cold winter months? The Northern Cree Singers of Alberta Canada throw a big
party filled with humor, good cheer, call & response vocals, drumming and
dancing. Held at the Louis Bull Reserve in Alberta, Canada, this annual event is
captured on

Long Winter Nights
, Volume 5 (in a series of Northern Cree Singers
live Round Dance recordings). Meaning, if this is the first of the series you
have heard about, then you will have to play catch-up.

Unlike Pow-Wows which are public events, Round Dances are by invitation only.
You won’t find feathers or regalia, you won’t find competitive drumming and
dancing, but you will find a cooperative spirit of good friends sharing their
talent. While the drum rhythms and vocals are somewhat similar to what you would
hear at a traditional Pow-Wow, at least on the surface, the musicians play hand
drums instead of collectively playing a floor drum of the Pow-Wow tradition.

The call & response vocals are as spirited as ever as they hover above the thunk,
thunk, thunk of the hand drums. Meanwhile, other participants make their way
down to the dance floor where they form a circle. “Dancers stand shoulder to
shoulder and hold hands as they dance in a clockwise motion. They side-step in
rhythm with the beat of the drums, swinging their joined hands as they go.”
(liner notes)

People of all ages join the dance while the host and guest vocalists and
drummers take turns sharing their Round Dance songs with a room crowded with
friends, some of which they haven’t seen for awhile.

The guests on this recording include, Whitefish Jr’s, Big River Cree, Bear
Creek, Ken Pooyak, Jack Bull, Perfect Storm and Arnold Pete who have all come to
share their original songs. Powerful vocals, steady drumming and a dash of humor
best describe this traditional recording.

Round Dance songs are also performed by solo artists in intimate studio settings
as is the case with the GRAMMY nominee Randy Wood’s fifth recording, “My Heart
and Soul” and Glen Ahhaitty’s, (Bad Medicine and Rose Hill drum groups), “True
Lies From The Road.” You will find solo vocals accompanied by the traditional
hand drum on these two recordings, as well as, personal lyrics mostly revolving
around relationships.

However, Randy Wood, a former member of the Northern Cree Singers who now makes
his home in the US, collaborates with master percussionist Will Clipman on “My
Heart and Soul.” You will still find Wood’s signature vocals which travel from
baritone to tenor with ease and his heartfelt songs about family life, nature
and Native American topics, but now infused with a collection of Clipman’s
collection of global percussion.

These 2 Canyon Record artists work well together. Clipman’s sensibility lends
itself to working with multi-ethnic musicians. He adds the right rhythmic and
tonal touch to Wood’s delicate songs, even given the songs a fresh sound and
extra bite. Wood’s optimism and tendency to slip into sentimentality are balance
with intriguing musical texture. Certainly I appreciate Wood’s sunny disposition
given that there is too much negativity in the world, but I had often thought
that his music needed more of an edge. He has found that edge on this recording,
moving away from the new age-easy-listening genre and heading into the global
music genre. It takes courage to explore new avenues and Wood deserves some
applause here.

Hailing from the Kiowa, Commanche and Cherokee tribes of Oklahoma, Glen Ahhaitty
also possesses vocal and songwriting talent. “Having traveled for decades with
the most renowned Southern Plains-style drum groups, his round Round Dance songs
express the people, experiences and feelings that inhabit life on the long and
winding road of the Pow-Wow singer
.” (liner notes)

Ahhaitty’s life on the road conjures up images of Jack Kerouac. He
shares tales of X-wives, loneliness, problems with “the bottle,” flirtations and
travel tales on

True Lies From The Road
. He’s the coyote who never learns and keeps
setting his tail on fire. And while he’s away, the cats do play, (his wives
leave him for other men). He sings in a passionate tenor-baritone voice backed
by the lonesome beat of his hand drum. His bittersweet songs sometimes rise to
hopefulness, but overall this recording is melancholic in the same vein as
country-western and the blues. Ahhaitty wears his worn out heart on his sleeve
and listeners cannot help but feel sympathy. We can only hope that the singer
will overcome his existential woes and for others who experience life in a
similar fashion to Ahhaitty, the songs act as a cathartic balm.

In a strange way, Ahhaitty’s melancholy and Wood’s eternal optimism create a
balance. In life, we have both sunshine and shade. We have gloomy days and
blissful ones. Some people marry and stay with the same person for life and
experience familial happiness, while others stretch out their souls from one
trying experience to the next. Perhaps Round Dances are the dances of life, our
ups and downs, our round n’ rounds, here we go on the merry-go-round. It’s the
people we keep running into, although wearing different masks and those karmic
experiences that keep repeating themselves on the Wheel of Life. Grab each
other’s hands and dance the night away.

Buy the CDs:

True Lies From The Road

Long Winter Nights