Cheevers Toppah and Kevin Yazzie
First Light (Canyon Records, 2008)
Bombarded this week by an onslaught of lawnmowers, weed wackers, leaf blowers, annoying telemarketers and that freaky guy that drives through our neighborhood with the squealing brakes, I got an unexpected respite in the way of Cheevers Toppah’s and Kevin Yazzie’s First Light out on Canyon Records. This collection of harmonized peyote songs sung in Diné and Kiowa smoothed away the rough edges of life and offered a bit of a sanctuary in the ebb and flow of Toppah’s and Yazzie’s rich vocals.
Devotional in nature, peyote songs are sung to Father Peyote in the ritual practices surrounding the peyote cactus, a plant used for religious and medicinal purposes. Part of the tradition of the Native American Church, or Peyote Church, that traces its origins back to pre-Columbian Mexico, these songs extol the way of ‘right living’ and contemplation. Used as a sacrament, the religious ritual ingestion of the plant is a means to seek guidance and inspiration from Father Peyote.
With accompanying gourd rattle and the hypnotic water drum, the peyote songs of First Light are possessed by the intricately textured blend of the duo’s voices. Moving through Diné and Kiowa songs by Kevin Yazzie and Mr. Toppah, First Light ensnares the listener into a brightly colored tapestry of energized spirituality that shines through on every track. The rich treats like “Birthday Song,” “Happy Thoughts of My Daughter” and the inexpressively beautiful a capella songs that end the CD speak of the simple joy and celebration that Mr. Toppah and Mr. Yazzie bring to each of their songs.
First Light is a delightful exultation to Father Peyote from Mr. Toppah and Mr. Yazzie and precious gift to listeners.
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Author: TJ Nelson
TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.