A checklist for success

This article is reprinted from Aboriginal Voices magazine.

There is nothing more fulfilling in life than being a Native American musician. You fly with eagle wings when you’re onstage at the Native American outdoor music festival, strumming that guitar and belting out a tune straight from your aorta. You are medicine for the soul, the hope of your future generations and a spokesman for half a millennium of survival. But to get to that point you have to make sure you have checked off the list of things a Native musician must have to make it and be accepted.

First, you will need a name. It must be Native-oriented. Henry Radquist will not do, even if the Radquist name is the most common name on your reservation and has been since Columbus was in daycare. Call yourself Sonny Lightfeather, Johnny Two Bulls, Lisa Snakewater, or something exotic like that. If you are a group, call yourself Medicine Fire or Sacred Arrow. If your name does not immediately evoke a Native theme or image, you will never make it and you will end up in the dust bin of music history, right alongside Bachman Turner Overdrive and Chicago.

You will need to get your instruments straight. Acoustic guitar is a must, but electric will do as long as it is painted in the same gaudy colours as those cattle skulls people with no taste have hanging in their living rooms. A Native flute is a must as well. You will want to have your flute player following you around at all times, because no non-Native will take you seriously as a Native if they don’t hear the flute playing in the distance when you are around.

You will need to dress properly. This means denim, denim and more denim. A wide-brimmed black hat will come in handy, too. Liberally sprinkle turquoise and silver jewelry and don’t forget your beaded choker. To complete the effect wear silver sunglasses to show that even though you are wearing “Indianized” white people clothing, driving “Indianized” white people cars and playing “Indianized” white people music, you are still a straight-out-of-the-woods Indian whose soul can’t be stolen by having someone look directly into your eyes.

You will need to write your own lyrics in a specific Native American style. All this means is you will have to add one or more of the following words to your song: sacred, spirit, wisdom, Creator, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother. Earth, trees, Moon, rain, wind, buffalo, raven, warrior, blanket and eagle. Do not use these particular words in this particular combination because this has already been done by Joanne Shenandoah and is copyrighted.

Finally, the music. Stick to three or four chords. Anything beyond that and you are a pretentious sell-out. If Mozart had been bom an Indian, he would have done all of his symphonies in four chords, and out of tune at that.

Once you have these things, you will soon be on your way to success in the Native music world. Soon you will be asked to make guest appearances on albums by mainstream artists like Neil Young and Yanni. You may even get to appear in a major motion picture with the likes of Val Kilmer and Lou Diamond Philips. You will be asked to comment on weighty topics like the misappropriation of sacred traditional music, but stay as far away from the pros and cons of casino gambling on Indian reservations. Chances are, your management has lined up 10 or 11 casino gigs for you already.