Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Star Nayea (with Music Video)

Follow Star Nayea:
Star Nayea’s emotional and moving music is not baseless, nor is it produced by a disconnected music technician. She takes pride in her abilities as much as her audience enjoys the blues/pop/rock sound that is unmistakably Star Nayea. Her rough beginnings were undoubtedly challenging and potentially damaging, but Star rose above them. She poured her negative experiences into a positive outlet that has won her a Grammy and a NAMA (Native American Music Award).

When Star Nayea was only two months old, she was taken from her Native American family because of the 1950s-70s baby sweep perpetrated by the United States and Canada. Despite the good intentions of the Lutheran Social Services of Detroit, Michigan, she landed an extremely abusive adoptive family that did not share her heritage. After several years of pain and struggle, she escaped her adoptive family and began to reach for her dreams of musical freedom.

While the experience and circumstances that brought Star Nayea to Detroit were unfortunate, to say the least, the surrounding Motor City Rock and Roll scene and the raved-about MO-Town sound influenced and shaped her tastes as she grew into the young woman with the unique, soulful style. Star began her musical career in her hometown of Detroit, but it was not long before she was selling out shows in New York City, Los Angeles, and more.

Although Star Nayea is a solo artist, her long list of musical collaborations is very impressive. She has worked with many noteworthy Native American Artists such as Indigenous, Joanne Shenandoah, and Buffy St. Marie. One of Star’s most memorable experiences was singing along side Chuck Billy, the front man of the heavy metal band “Testament,” who shares her Native American culture. Star Nayea has also had the honor of opening for the infamous Willie Nelson and the 80’s rock band, Styx.

Star Nayea’s performance abilities are not limited to her blues/pop/rock sound. In 1997, she acted as a lead vocalist on the all Native American Broadway style production of “Tribe.” That same year, Star was discovered by Canadian playwright, Thomas Highway, who cast her in the Broadway style rendition of “Rose.” Star Nayea has also been invited to perform back up vocals for Robbie Robertson and held a few jam sessions with Tom Wolf.

Star Nayea’s emotion and strong will brought her out of such a despairing situation with her head held high and her dreams a reality. While she is thankful for her success and those that helped her on this journey, she still searches for her Native American birth family and prays that they will one day be reunited. Star remains active in the Native American community. She performs on Indian reservations and developed the “Healing Power of Music” program where she reaches out to underprivileged Indian youth that are in the positions she was in many years back.

If you're in the Pembroke, North Carolina area at the end of April, you can see Star Nayea LIVE at the River People Music and Culture Fest!

Monday, October 14, 2013

500 Nations (FULL VIDEO)

We, as Indigenous Peoples, must always remember our history, our culture, who we are, and where we came from so that we may pass it on to future generations. It is especially important on days like today on which our country celebrates a holiday that honors the man who paved the way to the genocide of Native People.

500 Nations is an eight-part documentary on the Native Americans of North and Central America. It documents from pre-Columbian to the end of the 19th century. Much of the information comes from text, eyewitnesses, pictorials, and computer graphics. The series was hosted by Kevin Costner, narrated by Gregory Harrison, and directed by Jack Leustig. It included the voice talents of Eric Schweig, Gordon Tootoosis, Wes Studi, Cástulo Guerra, Tony Plana, Edward James Olmos, Patrick Stewart, Gary Farmer, Tom Jackson, Tantoo Cardinal, Dante Basco, Sheldon Peters Wolfchild, Tim Bottoms, Michael Horse, Graham Greene, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Amy Madigan, Frank Salsedo, and Kurtwood Smith. The series was written by Jack Leustig, Roberta Grossman, Lee Miller (head of research), and W. T. Morgan, with Dr. John M. D. Pohl.
 "The truth is, we have a story worth talking about. We have a history worth celebrating. Long before the first Europeans arrived here, there were some 500 nations already in North America. They blanketed the continent from coast to coast, from Central America to the Arctic. There were tens of millions of people here, speaking over 300 languages. Many of them lived in beautiful cities, among the largest and most advanced in the world. In the coming hours, 500 Nations looks back on those ancient cultures, how they lived, and how many survived.... What you're about to see is what happened. It's not all that happened, and it's not always pleasant. We can't change that. We can't turn back the clock. But we can open our eyes and give the first nations of this land the recognition and respect they deserve: their rightful place in the history of the world." Kevin Costner


Want to add a copy of this video to your collection?

A 468-page book by the same name, published in 1994, containing far more detailed information, is based upon the documentary:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Sharel Cassity (with Music Videos)

Jazz Sax in a Native Key
Sharel Cassity, a Juilliard-trained musician who is Cherokee and Comanche, 
gains a following with her distinctive talent and sound.

New York—Cherokee saxophone player and bandleader Sharel Cassity has a trademark lick. It sounds like the wavering falsetto that starts a powwow song.

Photo by Michelle Watt
Sharel Cassity plays the alto saxophone in front of a mural
of jazz greats. The Cherokee musician recently performed at the
Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
“I believe that jazz comes from the powwow drum,” said Cassity, who lives in New York. “There are elements from Africa. The harmonic consistency comes from Europe. But you don’t get that thump, that boom, boom, boom in the bass and drums without the powwow.”

Jade Synstelien, the first bandleader to hire Cassity, says she brings a Native sensibility to all her work, including her new CD, “Relentless.”

Cassity performed with the Tony Lujan Septet at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian last spring. The concert introduced Cassity to bebop pioneer Oscar Pettiford, who was Choctaw and Cherokee. The concert also paid tribute to Pettiford’s friend Dizzy Gillespie.

Pettiford, who led a New York band with Gillespie as bebop was emerging in 1943, redefined the importance of the bass to jazz. He told the magazine Jazz Times that jazz was attempting to render American Indian rhythm.

Cassity’s family is musical on her Cherokee father’s side. Her father is a music therapist, her grandfather a harmonica player and her aunt a concert pianist. She recalls being “surrounded by music” during the time she spent with her father. “But I lived with my mom, who worked at a federal prison,” said Cassity, who spent much of her adolescence in the Oklahoma City area. “I would close myself in my room and practice all the time.”

Those long hours won her scholarships, ultimately to the Juilliard Institute of Jazz Studies, where she earned a master’s degree. Synstelien remembers meeting Cassity nine years ago at Smalls Jazz Club in New York City.

“She would be in the very back room by herself, practicing long notes, long tones on the saxophone, while she was putting herself through music school,” Synstelien said. “She has a work ethic greater than any musician I have ever met and she is growing into a better musician moment by moment.”

Synstelien recruited her to play in his Fat Cat Big Band. Since then, Cassity has become a member of a handful of bands of regional and national repute. Two years ago, Sherrie Maricle asked Cassity to join the Diva Jazz Orchestra, and last year the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band also added her to its lineup.

Maricle’s website describes Cassity as being able to draw “upon the polish and discipline of her conservatory training to augment what Jazziz Magazine called her ‘beautiful, highly-personal tone… this altoist’s flights are positively Bird-like.’”

As a student and later a professional musician in New York’s jazz scene, Cassity is often the only American Indian in the room. Yet she longs for the connectedness she recently felt when she met a Navajo trombone player, or learned about Pettiford’s Choctaw and Cherokee roots.

Synstelien says Cassity brings her own uniqueness to the international language of jazz, but also her talent, which allows her to play with the big cats. She can play “the fat sound of Cannonball Adderley,” he said. “She can play any style of jazz.”

“All the things people love from all time, from different jazz records,” Synstelien said. “She can do it right, with all the required soul and passion.”
{Article Courtesy of Kara Briggs, American Indian News Service}

Hear Cassity on soprano saxophone with the Diva Jazz Orchestra.

Sharel Cassity at the UCO Jazz Jab

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Miss North Carolina, Johna Edmonds, Proudly Showcases Her Native American Heritage.

With a high of 90 degrees, the smell of hot dogs, hamburgers and funnel cakes filling the air, and being welcomed home and congratulated by the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, this weekend was truly spectacular! I am so proud to come from such a rich and diverse history that has been integral to the shaping of the woman that I am today. I sincerely enjoyed celebrating my culture and being a part of Lumbee homecoming. Congratulations to our newest ambassadors, Kennedy, Mahlea, Genna, Alexis. Each of you will have a fun-filled year that you'll remember for a lifetime. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who have always supported and believed in me. I couldn't have been happier to be back home... in my beautiful little corner of this great state! 
~Johna Edmonds (Lumbee), Miss North Carolina.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Ulali (with MUSIC VIDEO)

Bringing together three diverse artists, Ulali has claimed a unique space in contemporary American music. Often described as a Native American musical group, Ulali's work also bears strong elements of bluegrass, jazz, soul, and folk. Demonstrating its versatility, the group has worked with Robbie Robertson, the Indigo Girls, and Rita Coolidge, in addition to providing vocals for the soundtrack to the television documentary, The Native Americans, and tracks to the movie, Smoke Signals. Its live shows include appearances at the revived Woodstock Music Festival in 1994, the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games in 1996, and the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games in 2002. In between, Ulali has made numerous international appearances and has crossed North America doing shows at Native American cultural centers, commercial theaters, and college campuses. Through it all, pride in Native American traditions and their impact on American culture has been a recurring theme. As founder Pura Fé explained on Heartbeat: Voices of First Nations Women when introducing her song, Going Home: "Back a long time ago, back in those days when the settlers came in, they lived among the [Native American] peoples. They brought other peoples back. We worked together in the fields. Some of us left. Some of us ran and hid in swamplands and the hills. Many peoples were amongst us. We weren't only one kind. We sang when we worked together. And that's the birth of the blues."

Music was a dominant influence on Pura Fé's family, which had ties to legendary jazz musician Thelonius Monk. "Singing's our family tradition," she told the Toronto Sun. "We have several generations of singers on my mom's side. Each generation sang different styles of music. My grandma sang a lot of gospel and blues, but she also sang a lot of rattle songs. And my mom and her sisters sang opera." Despite the family tradition, Pura Fé did not initially pursue a career in music; instead, she studied dance and choreography at the American Ballet Theater and with the Martha Graham Dance Troupe. She later won numerous prizes in Native American dance competitions held by the Mohawk, Tuscarora, and Mashantucket Pequot tribes.

After appearing as a singer with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, Pura Fé brought together a group of Native American women to perform traditional and original compositions of Native music with contemporary influences. One member of the new group, Soni Moreno, would follow Pura Fé into Ulali in 1987. Moreno—with roots in the Aztec, Maya, and Yaqui nations—came from a theater background. After training at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in the 1970s, Moreno appeared in the musical Hair, and also made stage appearances on Broadway and throughout Europe while taking up a side career as a singer of commercials and with various country-and-western groups.

When Pura Fé and Moreno decided to form Ulali,  they recruited Pura Fé's cousin, Jennifer Elizabeth Kreisberg, as its third member. Like Pura Fé, Kreisberg traced her ancestry to the Tuscarora nation. At the time she joined Ulali,  she was studying music at a Connecticut women's college and performing with the Full Circle Drum Society of Quinnentucket. The group chose the name Ulali from the Tutelo word that referred to the wood thrush, a song bird; the name was also bestowed on a woman with a beautiful voice in the Tuscarora culture. The group presents itself as a "First Nations" rather than Native American group. As members explain on their website: "We do not call ourselves 'Native American' because our blood and people were here long before this land was called the Americas. We are older than America can ever be and do not know the borders. Our Brothers and Sisters run North to South and into and under the waters for miles and years back."

The formation of Ulali marked an upswing in interest in indigenous folk music in the Americas. The group appeared on the soundtrack for the Turner Network Television's The Native Americans, in 1994, joining Robbie Robertson, a former member of the Band and a Mohawk descendant himself. The popular series and Robertson's soundtrack marked a turning point for the genre. As Native American Music Association president, Eileen Bello, told the Orange County Register, "No one knew about [Robertson's] Indian heritage until that recording. He was pivotal in launching the movement. While a lot of artists were doing the same kind of work at the same time, Robertson had more mainstream success." Indeed, between 1994 and 2000, the number of Native American releases grew by almost three times its previous level, and in 2001 a new category made its Grammy Awards debut: Best Native American Music Album.

In 1995 and 1996 Ulali contributed tracks to two collections of Native American music; in 1997 it released its own full-length album, Mahk Jchi, on Thrush Records. The album is a hard-to-categorize mix of traditional Indian styles and contemporary influences from the fields of jazz, blues, bluegrass, soul, and country and western. The group heightened its popular-culture profile when it appeared on the soundtrack for the critically acclaimed 1998 comedy film Smoke Signals. Capping off a productive period, Ulali's vocals featured prominently on the Indigo Girls' 1997 album Shaming the Sun, and provided background vocals for 1997's Lessons from the Animal People, an album recorded by Lakota and Kiowa Apache story teller Dovie Thomason.

Ulali's genre-mixing goes beyond blending contemporary and traditional musical styles. Building on its members' diverse ancestral ties, the group invokes Native American forms from tribes throughout the Americas. Some songs feature dance rhythms from the Cherokee and Tuscarora of the southeastern United States, while others draw on vocal patterns of the Plains tribes from the north-central part of the country. Still others invoke African and Spanish influences. Pura Fé believes it especially important to stress the musical continuities in different musical forms. "If you listen to extremely early blues and gospel recordings, you'll hear Indian music," she told the Toronto Sun. "We've contributed a lot to those genres." She added, "If you look at the background of people who call themselves African Americans, you'll find they have Indian roots. They carry a lot of Native history with them."

In addition to their performing duties, the three members of Ulali have remained active as educators. Kreisberg helped to found a Native American Scholarship Fund at Virginia's Lynchburg College. Moreno has been a longtime board member of New York City's American Indian Community House and assisted with the planning for the Smithsonian Institute's National Museum of the American Indian. Pura Fé has continued to work as an instructor at Toronto's Native Theatre School while doing workshops all around North America as a solo artist and with Ulali.  The group was honored with the Eagle Spirit Award at the 25th Annual American Indian Film Festival in 2000, and its video, Follow Your Heart's Desire, won an award for Best Video at the event.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Artist Spotlight: Dark Water Rising (with MUSIC VIDEO)

Being a semi-finalist on Idol is a huge accomplishment, but where does an artist go from there? For many, post-Idol fame hasn't been much of a reality. So how does an artist bounce back after all the fame and attention? For some, like the gifted Charly Lowry, you must continue to have faith in your abilities, be willing to start from scratch, and grind your way back to the top. Being a successful artist/band in this business is no easy task—not only do you need to be talented musically, but you also need the motivation and mindset.

Today, Charly Lowry is the lead singer in the band, Dark Water Rising—a band she helped form back in 2008. The band has certainly come a long way from their humble beginnings. "Humble" in this sense isn't an understatement. The other members in the band basically picked up and learned how to play their chosen instruments as soon as the idea of forming a band became a reality. And just a few short years later, they all now play multiple instruments and have become even more confident in their abilities as musicians. There is always more room to improve as a band. It's what motivates you to become better as an artist.

The band's name, Dark Water Rising  originates from the home of its members, tapping into their Lumbee identity. The dark waters of the swamps are teeming with sounds of nature and original, beautiful music—music deftly captured in the sounds of this award-winning, Native American group hailing from Robeson County, in Southeastern North Carolina. The group—comprised of Charly Lowry (lead singer/rhythm guitar), Aaron Locklear (keys/guitar/bass), Corey Locklear (lead guitar), Shay Jones (drums), and Tony Murnahan (bass)—continues to grow and amaze audiences each time they perform. They are constantly developing their sound, song writing, and instrumentation. This is a band that possesses the talent, motivation, and mindsets to be major players in an industry over-saturated with wanna-be performers.

Lyrically, Dark Water Rising explores all themes of life, whether it is love, heartbreak, sacrifice, celebration, despair, or pain; all the while expressing their sentiment on issues affecting Native American communities. Dark Water Rising coined the genre of their music as "Rocky Soul,” which is about as original as the songs that they masterfully create.

DWR's most recent album, Grace & Grit: Chapter I, is just as engaging and intimate as watching one of their live performances. Dark Water Rising has garnered considerable radio airplay on college radio and stations throughout Indian country, appeared on both NPR's "The Story with Dick Gordon" and "The State of Things," and has earned a Native American Music Award for "Debut Duo or Group of the Year" in 2010. In 2011 they gained two nominations in the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award,  Single of the Year for their song, Hooked, and Best Folk/Acoustic CD for their eponymously-titled debut album, Dark Water Rising.

They are currently nominated for an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award, once again.  Grace & Grit: Chapter I is one of five up for the Award for Best Rock CD.  Don't forget to vote for them before July 26th—it takes less than a minute, and you can do so by visiting

In the meantime, enjoy an awesome video of My Fun, one of the tracks featured on Grace & Grit: Chapter I.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

VOTE NOW—Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards

For us at Native Pulse, it's Music and Entertainment—and what better way to showcase Native Talent than an Award Show.  The Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards, which will air on Sunday, August 18th on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, showcases top Aboriginal Artists from both Canada and the United States.

Similar to the Grammys, Artists are nominated for awards in several categories ranging from contemporary to traditional, rock to gospel, and everything in between.  Voting is currently still open, and they've just extended the poll-closing date to July 26th!

To make your voting easier, below you'll find a list of the Artists, separated into the categories for which they are nominated...