Native Intensity: From Native American Flute to Pow-Wow Songs

Reviews By Patty-Lynne Herlevi

Peter Phippen
Shadows of Dawn (Canyon Records, 2006)

Gerald Primeaux Sr.
Voice of Dakota, Harmonized Healing Songs (Canyon Records, 2006)

Pima Express
Time Waits for No One (Canyon Records, 2006)

Northern Cree
Stay Red, Pow-Wow Songs Recorded Live At Pullman (Canyon Records, 2006)

What is authentic Native American music or do we need to even concern ourselves with such a question? Yet a package of “Native American music” arrived at my mailbox that begs to ask that question. The package contained a CD by veteran Canyon Recording artist, Peter Phippen who is not of Native American origin, but plays Native American flutes which include the wood recorder that most of us see around these days and an Anasazi flute, (Anasazi of course is the name that archeologists have called the ancient ancestors of the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest). Peter also plays traditional flutes from other cultures. And he does know his way around these instruments almost as if he has been playing them all his lives.Phippen’s CD,
Shadows of Dawn
with its soothing tones can calm any foul mood. The
CD falls under the new age category and possess little if any tension, meaning
it scores low on the intensity scale, making this a perfect recording for spas,
massage therapist and other healers. It’s perfect for those that suffer from
nervous tension or over-sensitivity to the world around them. With song titles
such as Safe Passage and a Silent Place, I think you know where this one is
heading. It might even be a wonderful balm for when you are stuck in rush-hour

As we move up the intensity scale we land on authentic harmonized healing songs
which could also be called relaxing. Yankton Dakota musician, Gerald Primeaux
Sr. sings both harmonized healing songs (a cappella vocals) and Peyote songs
(vocals supported by gourd and water drum) on
Voice of Dakota
. But even this recording bears some
marks of assimilation since some of the healing songs are sung in English. The
remainder are sung in Dakota. However, if anyone has any doubts about Native
American traditions being preserved for the next generation, they can take a
listen to the last track which features 4 Peyote songs sung with gourd and water
drum accompaniment. And of course, the cover of the CD is 100 % naturally

As we increase the level of intensity from relaxing flute and harmonized healing
songs, we work our way to Pima Express’ blend of country-western, chicken
scratch, cumbia and early rock n ‘ roll, (think early Beatles, which the group
cites as an influence). The recording,
Time Waits for No One
tends to look back
in time to a musical sound of the past, but the past of popular culture, whether
that includes the Latin cumbia or the twang of early country-western music and
certainly there is a bit of Roy Orbison thrown in for good measure.

You won’t find any flutes or Native drums here, but you will find electric
guitar and accordion, kit drum, and electric bass. The musicians led by Lloyd
Brown (who handles lead vocals, lead guitar and accordion), aim to get their
friends, families and colleagues to dance the night away. In other words, this
is party music. The band’s philosophy cite that “people with dreams need to
focus on the present rather than always looking to the future.” And if you need
a song to help you do that, the chicken scratch tune, Dance Around Tonight
should help you along your way.

If you seek Native American drums & polyphonic vocals, then slip Northern Cree’s
latest live recording,

Stay Red
into the CD player. No doubt the power drumming
and soaring vocals which climb right through the roof of my intensity scale,
will beg you to dance around your home. The songs are authentic Native American
obviously being performed by authentic Native Americans, or First Nation people,
since these musicians hail from the Canadian Cree nation.

The vocalists and drummers in this large and hearty group seem to enjoy sharing
their pow-wow songs with us. Similar to Pima Express’ repertoire, Northern Cree
promises to shake its listeners out of complacency. Also there is nothing like a
live recording to rally musicians to give their all-time best, pounding out
thundering heartbeats and singing at full-lung capacity. Yeah!

And of course, you can always lower the intensity by choosing the recording to
suit your mood. Will it be relaxing ethnic flute music or the pounding surf of
pow-wow songs? The point I am trying to make is to not take Native American
music for granted because this music resides in a vast terrain of genres and
styles, ranging from 100% traditional to Native American pop, but even the
assimilated music bears a Native American signature. It’s the work of musicians
that walk between two worlds. (And then there are non-Natives such as Peter
Phippen who also walks between these worlds).