Buffy Sainte-Marie, Up Where We Belong, 1996, EMI
With a whirlwind of interviews and photo ops at the Native Friendship Centre Buffy St. Marie came to Montreal to promote her new album. Her latest has proven she is embracing technology and pushing its limits. Her latest album is nothing short of technophile heaven, available of course on CD.
The album was made at home, using a computer as a recording instrument. She played most of the parts herself. When it was finished she sent the music via modem to her co-producer in London, England. It bounced off a satellite from her home in Hawai’i and went onto tape in London. She also has her own World Wide Web site.
A lot of you will remember songs you heard long ago redone with a new spirit. Then there’ll be the surpises like Buffy’s Academy Award-winning song “Up Where We Belong” from the film “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
A different sort of music from the days when broadcasters received letters from U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and the White House that her music “deserved to be suppressed.” She became a target of White House blacklisting along with others.
Today, most people still think of her as a protest song singer first, but her financial successes were her love songs, “Until It’s Time for You to Go” and “Up Where We Belong” in particular. She had a string of country hits as well, including “The Piney Wood Hills,” “I’m Gonna Be a Country Girl Again” and “He’s an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo.” “He’s an Indian Cowboy in the Rodeo” has some nice chanting at the end on her latest work. You won’t hear the Country Girl song but “Piney Wood Hills” is sweet.
The few real folk songs she performed were chosen for their uniqueness. I’m sure one and all remember “Universal Soldier,” one of the anthems of the ’60s peace movement.
Remembering back, she says in her bio, “The early Sixties were a rare time for students and minorities. The coffee houses that were strung across the college towns of America and Canada provided a safe, hip, wired atmosphere of caffeine-heads, homemade music and ideas. Everybody and his sister played the guitar, and writing songs was as common as driving a car. It was an adventure for an amateur kid just out of college, who had never met a lawyer and knew nobody who’d ever been in the music business. I’d travel on the bus usually, show up for a weekend booking, get held over for a few weeks, playing three or four shows a night to people who just loved to listen. In my off-time, I’d be off at the nearest reservation, doing benefits with the American Indian Movement, ducking bullets from time to time, but mostly just trying to make things better in my own way, like everybody else.”
By the middle Sixties, business interests saw dollar signs and took control of the folk music scene, and the coffee houses started disappearing. Those that survived did so by reopening with liquor licenses. “Alcohol is a different scene from coffee; so is the music, so are the words, and so is the crowd. “The ‘Mamas & the Papas days’ were not the same as the ‘Phil Ochs days,”‘ said Buffy.
Buffy had a unique career outside of the U.S. when she went to Europe, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. She wrote music for movies, established a scholarship foundation to fund Native American study, spent time with indigenous people in other countries, received a medal from Queen Elizabeth II and won an Academy Award.
Since those early days, her songs have been performed by hundreds of artists including Janis Joplin, Donovan, The Highwaymen, Barbara Streisand, Elvis Presley, Roberta Flack, Neil Diamond (no relation – Ed.), Tracy Chapman, The Boston Pops Orchestra.
Some of you may remember Buffy from Sesame Street. Unfortunately, if Buffy ever returns to it we’ll never know having to suffer through Sesame Park—the “Canadian” content version. But I digress.
Buffy’s always techno-quicksilver, easily grasping the new technologies. She made the first totally electronic vocal album ever. She used the early Roland MIDI guitar. She was multi-tracking mouthbows in film. By the late ’70s, she was working a Fairlight and a Synclavier. When computers and music got together, Buffy was at the head of the line.
Today, her digital home studio is as personal and hands-on for her as a guitar was in the ’60s. She lectures at colleges and civic venues on a wide variety of topics. In 1993, she was chosen by the United Nations Department of Public Information as a representative for the UN’s International Year of Indigenous People. Her activism in Native politics shows no sign of slowing down.