Putumayo presents Native America, a collection of music by singer-songwriters and instrumentalists who draw inspiration from the traditions of their indigenous North American ancestors. A collage of styles, the songs on this album are united by the themes of connecting the old with the new and cultivating the continued evolution of music rooted in ancient traditions. With sounds ranging from atmospheric flute and drum to soulful acoustic songs by singer-songwriters, the collection provides listeners a glimpse into the diverse world of contemporary Native American music from what is now the U.S. and Canada.
The album opens with “Miam Maikan” and the intimate vocals of Florent Vollant, a member of the Innu tribe of eastern Canada, and a well-known singer-songwriter. On “Mani-Utenam,” Chloé Sainte-Marie throws open a window to the sun, with bright acoustic guitar rhythms and sweetly harmonious vocals sung in the native language of the Maliotenam Reserve. Then, the album starts soaring over the plateaus and canyons of the Southwest as the ethereal flute of Navajo-Ute R. Carlos Nakai glides above and through Will Clipman’s cascade of hand drumming.
With her song, “Shine for You,” Brianna Lea Pruett brings us back to the burgeoning singer-songwriter scene where the border between indigenous and western cultures begins to blur. In an ancient/modern hybrid, Andrew Vasquez combines Southern blues with traditional Native American flute melodies that seem to allude to legends of long ago. In Elisapie Isaac’s “Navvaatara,” the guitar’s punctuated up-strum lends a reggae flavor to the gently swaying rhythm, above which the Inuit singer-songwriter sings in her Inuktitut dialect. On the instrumental, “All My Blessings,” Jessica Martinez Maxey’stremulous flute melodies flow through guitar rhythms provided by her husband, Josh Maxey.
In “Assikuman-Tetapuakan,” Innu Claude McKenzie evokes the emotions of both mourning and hope. Then, Bill Miller, whose Mohican name is Fush-Ya Heay or Bird Song, carries the listener back into the past with the instrumental, “Wind Spirit,” in which his guitar dances darkly below a lone flute’s other-worldly reverberations. Lastly, with “Nendaa (Go Back),” Jerry Alfred & the Medicine Beat draws the album’s circle to a close, beautifully weaving together many of the themes explored by other artists onNative America. Now his tribe’s Song Keeper, Alfred writes songs like “Nendaa” to keep the fires of tradition burning in the hearts of the younger generation, reminding them that the old ways are still important.
Native America features a traditional recipe for Navajo wild sage bread. Sage, valued by the Navajo for its culinary and spiritual properties, provides this bread with a sweet, aromatic flavor.
A portion of the proceeds from this collection support Seva, a non-profit foundation that has been working for 35 years to provide vision care to at risk populations around the world. Seva’s American-Indian Sight Initiative includes vision screening and prescription glasses for students in Native Communities. The organization also supports vision technician training for Native Americans and vision care outreach and educational services in tribal communities.