Sunday, August 31, 2014

Smoke Signals and My Indigenous Sister by Peter Reum

Last weekend I saw Smoke Signals for the second time, having viewed a delightful interview with Indigenous author and screenwriter Sherman Alexie by Bill Moyers earlier. It became apparent that Mr. Moyers was intrigued by Mr. Alexie's work, and as the interview progressed, it gave Mr. Alexie a chance to reflect on his work as an author and screenwriter, and how his history tied into the fiction he has created. It was fascinating to hear Mr. Alexie discuss his work with reference to his own inner conflicts and successes since he graduated from college and began writing. Mr. Alexie spoke a little about his personal history, and he said that when he first began writing,  his belief was that he was writing fiction, although many readers and literary critics believed the stories he wrote had strong autobiographical overtones.  Mr. Alexie, in looking back, said that he realizes now that his readers and reviewers were correct, that his early work did have strong autobiographical  strands woven into it.

Mr. Alexie  also confided to Mr. Moyers that he believed that he knew more about the White Man's world than Caucasians know about being Indigenous. He pointed out that Liberals love Indigenous people, and that it was a point of humor among many Indigenous people. I would agree, in that I am guilty of being liberal (progressive?) and have always been fond of Native Americans. My late sister, Susan, was of Picuris/San Ildefonso Pueblo heritage, and it sensitized me fairly quickly. Her daughter is my favorite niece. Growing up in the Southwest in New Mexico, I first had the experience of being a minority group member in the Espanola Valley Public Schools, and there were roughly three Anglos/Caucasians, at that time meaning Caucasians and African-Americans, for every 10 people of Latino or Indigenous ancestry. My father, an insightful man, had me learn Spanish from the age of 6, and my ability to speak it has been of lifelong help to me. I remember traveling through the South in the days of "Separate but Equal" with my mother, little sister, aged grandfather, and great aunt to Florida, and having to stay in motels catering to African American customers because my little sister, then just a baby, was very dark skinned. My parents, out of the kindness of their heart, had adopted both of us as babies. Those experiences, among others, gave me a lifelong sense of what it felt like to be different.

Growing up in my first 13 years in a multi-cultural community served me well throughout my career, especially in my counseling practice, because I was comfortable working with both Latinos and Indigenous clientele. In eighth grade, I went from a school system that was 80 percent Hispanic and Native American and 20 percent Anglo, to a school system that was 80 percent Anglo and 20 percent Hispanic and Indigenous. It took me a full year to acclimate, although the people of Los Alamos were very hospitable, and I made friends easily.

Which brings me back to Mr. Alexie, and his experience, which to some degree is the reverse of my sister's.  My sister grew up some 5 miles from where her birth parents lived, and some of the people who worked with my father in the National Laboratory knew both her birth family and our family. My sister was raised as Anglo, but never was able to deny her Indigenous appearance or heritage. She had a good social experience in both school systems, but, having dyslexia, she did not benefit from school or find it to have the same positive rewards that I did. She fell in love with my niece's father, a member of San Juan Pueblo, and went to live in that pueblo. My mother spent some time trying to help my sister, but she did not want college, and slowly fell into bouts of intoxication. She was accepted by her husband's family at San Juan, and it became apparent that her husband's family also knew my sister's birth family.

Slowly, my sister began to accept her Indigenous heritage, and she made up her mind to seek the consent of her birth family to be allowed to register as a tribal member at San Ildefonso Pueblo. She met a few brothers from her birth family, and found out that she was a granddaughter of Maria Martinez, the famous San Ildefonso Pueblo re-discoverer of black on black pottery. When my mother and sister went to meet her birth parents, they were kind and cordial, and said they would do what they could to help her register in that tribe. I think my sister visited them at least three more times, but there was no action to help her register. The rejection devastated her, and seemed to maroon her between the Caucasian world of her adopted family and the Indigenous world of her husband and daughter, who were tribally registered in San Juan Pueblo. There were visits that I made and that my mother made to see her, and much of what we heard and saw was similar to what Sherman Alexie shared in Smoke Signals. The first time I went to visit, some of her husband's friends asked me what tribe I was from. I told them "Clan Scott, they named the country after us, you know, Scotland!" They said it was the first time a white man had understood the question. I felt like had passed a hazing. They went on to talk with me, and we had a good visit.

My sister's alcohol dependence turned into chemical dependence. Her husband immolated himself in the family home, and died an agonizing death in the University of New Mexico Hospital Burn Unit. My niece was fatherless. My sister's husband's death seemed to take the wind from her sails. She stopped caring for herself, and it was as if the combination of rejection by her birth family and her husband's death severed her attachment to the Indigenous world. She slowly became more and more chemically dependent, and I had to remove my mother from her own home to keep her from being physically abused and financially exploited by my sister and her opioid dependent boyfriend. The mortgage was foreclosed on my mother's home, and my niece found a home with a family in the neighborhood until we could find a home for young unwed mothers to take her. My sister and her boyfriend spent a year on the streets of Albuquerque, and the next time I heard about her she was lying in an Albuquerque hospital ICU in a diabetic coma. It was strange, because I had had so many of those after midnight calls about predicaments my sister was in that I had come to believe she had nine lives. My sister had a seizure that would not end, and it was irreversible. The hospital told us that she would die if taken off the life support machines. My mother would not sign the legal paper to turn off the machines, so, as I had been the first in my family to hold her as an infant, I was the one who had to sign the order to turn off the machines, as my sister had a living will. She died 3 days later. I was asked to give a eulogy, and it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. My sister was a woman caught between two worlds. The world of her adopted family, and the world of her birth heritage.

When people ask me how I became so well attuned to working with Indigenous people in Chemical Dependency Counseling, I don't try to explain. The story is too long and too sad to tell. People in treatment need hope, not the bleak and unvarnished truth of my sister's end. We smudged, we allowed prayer songs, and we never presumed to know the experience of the Indigenous people in therapy. Their story is what they choose to share. Some of my former clients would call me, asking for help. While I practiced, I never turned them away. From my sister's experience, I never wanted them to end the way she did. We would find ways to help them if we could. But I can tell you, there is no greater honor than being asked to a Sun Dance, and being able to attend, and to see a man who was nearly dead pray to the Creator. To hear those prayers in their native language put chills down my spine and somehow soothed the pain of my sister's death.

Mr. Alexie said he struggled with alcohol, and that his father died from drinking alcohol. All I can say is that I was thrilled to hear of his recovery, and I want to say that every Native American or other person who needs treatment should be able to have treatment, preferably in a manner that is sensitive to Indigenous culture. Too many brilliant and creative men and women of Indigenous heritage have ended the way my sister did, and it is not only a tribal tragedy, it is a national tragedy.

Copyright 2014 by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

Another Endangered College Mascot: The Wolverine by Peter Reum

After reviewing the list of species proposed for designation as endangered, the one that struck me as most sad is the wolverine. The wolverine is the mascot of the University of Michigan.  Like the endangered red wolf or lobo, mascot of the University of New Mexico, the wolverine is extinct in the state of Michigan, despite the status it is accorded in Ann Arbor. The Wolverine is also a character in the Marvel Comic Universe, and is the most maverick and hard to know of their array of mutants.

So, real wolverines are loners,very much known for their fearless and pugilistic way of life, and are thought to be a nuisance to ranchers, farmers, and outdoors lovers. While we don't currently have wolverine roundups, the literature on the wolverine reveals that they thrived until the Thirties, when they were summarily ejected from their habitat throughout the parts of the country they had previously occupied. Given their reputation as the real life incarnation of the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil, it is not surprising that they are misunderstood. Left to themselves, they are another predator at the upper end of the food chain.

Definitely not from Michigan

The advocates for various species believed to be endangered initiated legal action with The US Government to enable designation of the wolverine by The US Fish and Wildlife Service as being endangered. The thinking on the part of wolverine advocates is that global warming has compromised the snowy habitat of wolverines in the lower 48, leading to reduction of their number to less than 300. Given their isolative nature, it is difficult to see how they will survive, unless new habitat is found. Some advocates have proposed new habitat in the treeless world above 12,000 feet in Colorado, and such mountain ranges as The Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming, and the highest reaches of the Sierra Nevada.

According to a 2006 study done by the US Department of  Agriculture's National Forest Service, the wolverine habitat in the contiguous USA was never very high, but did extend to snowy areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as California, and the intermountain West until 1930. Habitat as of 2005 was only in very isolated parts of Western Wyoming, Oregon, Northern Washington, Northwest Montana, and parts of Idaho.  The US Fish and Wildlife service period for public comments on proposed endangered species designation for the wolverine ended May 4, 2013. This does not mean that the public cannot exercise influence in final decisions. Below, please find he information sheet published by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in February 2013.

US Fish and Wildlife Service-Fact Sheet - Wolverine

The wolverine is an iconic species of the American mountain west, inhabiting arctic, boreal, and alpine habitats in Alaska, western Canada, and the western contiguous United States. South of the Canadian border, wolverines are restricted to areas in high mountains, near the tree-line, where conditions are cold year-round and snow cover persists well into the month of May. Most wolverine habitat in the contiguous U.S. – more than 90 percent – is located on federally-owned land, with the remainder being state, private or tribally owned.

The wolverine is a resilient species, which was likely extirpated from the lower 48 states during the early 20th century and has re-established populations by moving down from Canada into the North Cascades Range of Washington and the Northern Rocky Mountains of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. In the past 50 years, the wolverine has made a remarkable recovery, with little human assistance. However, climate modeling indicates that Wolverines in the lower 48 States are threatened with extinction in the future due to the loss of snowpack in the wolverine’s snowy, high-elevation habitat.

Currently, wolverine populations occur within the North Cascades Range in Washington and the Northern Rockies of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and a small portion of Oregon (Wallowa Range). Populations once existed in the Sierra Nevada of California and the southern Rocky Mountains in the states of Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico. Only one individual wolverine is known to inhabit the Sierra Nevada and one in the southern Rocky Mountains. Both are thought to be recent migrants to these areas.

Deep, persistent spring snow is required for successful wolverine reproduction because female wolverines dig elaborate dens in the snow for their offspring. These den structures are thought to protect wolverine kits from predators as well as harsh alpine winters. The area is covered by deep persistent snow also defines wolverines’ year-round habitat, probably because they prefer the coldest areas they can find here in the southernmost part of their range

Scientific publications from multiple research groups predict a reduction of wolverine’s cold and snowy habitat and our best estimate is that wolverine habitat will be reduced by 31 percentby 2045 and 63 percent by 2085. As wolverine habitat is reduced, the Service expects the remaining habitat will become more fragmented, with distances growing between habitat “islands”. Evidence suggests this diminished and fragmented habitat will support fewer wolverines with reduced connectivity between populations.

What can we do to support this most majestic animal? Write your state's Fish and Wildlife Service if you live in the states mentioned in the fact sheet above, and let them know you support the protection of wolverine habitat. Second, contact your state's Congressional delegation and make your opinion count. Third, write the Governor of your state and share with him or her your concern for the wolverine, and for its long-term survival. This incredible animal deserves our advocacy and attention.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Robert Mirabal: Voices In Indigenous Music-Volume 3 by Peter Reum

My home state of New Mexico is complex culturally.  We New Mexicans are a blend of the very old and the very new, sometimes side by side. Anthropological work in the state has revealed evidence of human presence going back 12, 000 years. The science facilities in the state, Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, and White Sands Missle Range, are in the vanguard of what is at the cutting edge of both peaceful and defense related science in the world. The Indigenous Peoples of New Mexico, the 19 Pueblos, the Jicarilla and Mescalero Apaches, and the Di'neh (Navajo) tribes were on the land first, and have ancient sacred narratives and places that have been passed from parents to children from time immemorial. The music of these peoples emanates from instruments that are blessed and help the tribes dance and vocalize their prayers in their tribal tongues. Most prominent are the drum and the flute.

The Spanish first came in 1540 in Coronado's expedition and maimed and mutilated thousands of Pueblo people. Entire pueblos that had been established for centuries disappeared and their homes became ruins. Names like Abo, Pecos, and other Pueblos became only a memory. Coronado retreated and the Indigenous Pueblo People had about 60 years of peace before the Spanish returned in 1598 under Onate and established the most distant of the frontier colonies, New Mexico. Their interaction with the Pueblos was enslavement. Indigenous Peoples who had practiced their own spirituality for centuries were forced to accept  Catholicism, or be killed. The Pueblos had enemies before the Spanish, and they were tribes that lived in the mountains and plains surrounding the Rio Grande and Pecos Valleys. The Di'neh, the various Apaches, and even the Texas tribes were raiders that plundered the Pueblos. As a result, the Pueblos learned to fight to survive, and to hide their culture and sacred musical rituals and dances from outsiders.  The Spanish were merely the next in line.  The people living in various Pueblos became Catholics nominally, and secretly continued to practice their Indigenous beliefs secretly. The sacred languages....Tewa, Tiwa, Towa, and Keresan were the tongues in which the sacred music and dances were observed. In 1680, the Pueblos united and threw the Spanish completely out of New Mexico for 12 years in the only successful revolt any Indigenous People in the Americas ever staged. When the Spanish came back in 1692, under De Vargas, it was with their tails between their legs. There were to be no more slaves, no more forced Catholicism, and agreements were made to form a shotgun alliance to co-defend each other with the Spanish against the "marauding tribes" that plagued New Mexico.

Of the surviving Pueblos, there were several that were quite conservative, and these peoples continued to practice their sacred dances and sang their songs. If the local missionary priest interfered, he was either killed or tossed out of the Pueblo. In some ways, the Latin and Spanish languages united the Pueblos due to their variety of Indigenous languages. Anthropologists became the new nosy priests, and they were usually told stories that had little to do with actual sacred practices. In extreme cases, they weren't killed, but they definitely were thrown out. The U.S. dominant culture then tried to kill the Pueblo cultures by sending the youth of each tribe to remote "Indian Schools." In present day Albuquerque, there is a prominent city street called Indian School Road. Another generation of Pueblo inhabitants had to fight their cultural beliefs and languages being destroyed.

One of the most conservative Pueblos was Taos. Their Pueblo is the most photogenic of all the Pueblos. It's buildings are a thousand years occupied, and they are the only tribe ever to have stolen land returned to them by the U.S. Government. Blue Lake, which is a jewel in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above Taos, is the place the Taos Puebloans believe  they emerged from the Underworld into the land they live on today.

Blue Lake-Sacred to the Taos People

One of the Taos Pueblo Adobe Buildings

The very rich culture of Taos Pueblo is the base of the music of Robert Mirabal. He combines music, theater, and a variety of dances and video media to present a concert that is at once modern and yet respectful of his heritage and the ancient beliefs. Mr. Mirabal was raised speaking the Tiwa Language of his Pueblo, and graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He migrated to New York, joining a band composed of members from Senegal, Haiti, and Cape Verde. Mr. Mirabal met Indigenous flute player R. Carlos Nakai, whose influence was significant in Mirabal learning to make and play his own flutes.

Robert Mirabal began his musical career with a self-funded album using money he borrowed from his grandmother. It all went up from there. The first album that was distributed nationally was Nomad, on which he was a guest artist. The album is difficult to find. The good news is that it is available as a digital download from Amazon. The album was issued under the group name Nomad in 1994, with the lead artist being Australian Indigenous Artist Adam Plack. The album is very much a creature of the Nineties, with the title track, Nomad rocking hard, with a great drum/bass bottom, along with an Australian didjeridu (in Aboriginal Language-Yidaki) which Mr. Plack learned to play after meeting and living with other Indigenous Australians. The chants sound like they derive from Australian Indigenous People. Mr. Mirabal was inspired by Di'neh flute player R. Carlos Nakai, and began making and playing his own flutes.  There is a didjeridu line that drones against Mr. Mirabal's flute, which sounds birdlike. The second track, Mountain Walk South, is clearly based in Australian Indigenous rhythms, with an ocarina imitating an owl in the background.  There is a didjeridu, and the Indigenous chants here sound as much Taos Puebloan as Australian. That would make sense, as Taos Pueblo has a centuries long history of sacred chants. The chants use counterpoint, and are positively chilling--in a good way.  River Crossing is the third track, and it has an African flavor to it. Water crossings historically were dangerous places to be in both New Mexico and Australia, as ambushes were highly successful with the water crosser being subject to being picked off by a crocodile or another tribe, depending where they might be stuck in water.

The Medicine Wheel-Four Sacred Directions

The fourth track, Gathering, begins with a droning didjeridu, then transitions into a cool Indigenous chant, done in a call and response style. The drumming sounds like Indian tabla drums, with that rich resonant sound they make.  The chants are rhythmic and percussive in their own right.   Bongos begin the next track, Wildlife, in which a didjeridu offers color. The track is very rhythmic, with what sounds like a bass harmonica, but is a didjeridu also adding texture to the basic track. Track 6, Mountain Walk East is ethereal, as befits a song which refers to a sacred direction emphasizing spirituality. Bongos and bells highlight a deep sounding vocal meditation, which then adds bells, Indigenous flute, counterpoint chants, and tabla drums. The track almost at times sounds like Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Music, and I don't think this is a coincidence. The track is eminently satisfying, and is a highlight of this album.

Cover Art Work for The Nomad Album (with Robert Mirabal)

The next selection, entitled Tracking, is of course, at once, a pun on the recording process, and also on hunting game. There are some wild vocal chants here that sound like backwards tapes from the Sixties at times. This track is the one on which Mirabal's influence is most deeply felt. The Hunting Dances are a long sacred tradition in Australia's Indigenous Peoples, and at Taos Pueblo, and bring back the idea that animals are sacred in the Australian Indigenous and Pueblo worlds, and the hunter must ask permission of the hunted animal before killing it, and give thanks for it after the killing has happened. The reader here is referred to author Frank Waters' novel, The Man Who Killed the Deer, for more information. Follow the Sun, the next selection, refers to the Sun being the center of Pueblo life, with the Pueblo peoples believing that they are responsible for the Sun continuing to rise and set daily through the prayers they offer.  The track begins with a lovely flute introduction from Robert Mirabal, with drums and prayer chants following. As they say here, "give your face to the sunshine, and you will not see the shadows..." The spoken prayer may be done by Mirabal, as the language spoken sounds like the Taos Tiwa Language. Trading Ground begins with didjeridu, and what sounds like a chant that is almost otherworldly. The polyrhythmic flavors of this track bring to a close this most unusual and satisfying album.  This album is a wonderful synthesis of Indigenous Music flavors from Taos, Australia, Africa, and India. It shouldn't be missed.

In 1995, Mr. Mirabal returned to a more Pueblo flavored style for his second album, entitled Land, and the first on a major label. Joined by Taos Pueblo drummer Reynaldo Lujan, and former Spirit member Mark Andes, as well as Andes' brother Matt Andes, the whole feel of this record is a different direction from Nomad. It was recorded live, and begins with the sacred drum beating as a heart would. An Indigenous flute, played by Mr. Mirabal,  comes in, haunting in it's tone. The song, entitled Isidro's Song, sounds like a tone poem one would hear at a memorial for a lost friend. The flute sounds like a bird, calling for a mate that has been killed. The drum maintains a steady, unchanging beat that counters the flute carrying the melody....then fades to silence. A shrill birdlike call bursts the silence as the next track, Yuta's Song, enters. The listener cannot help but be reminded of a bird in the Bush, singing so closely, yet not visible, and silent if seen. The song is a song for dawn, for a new day. It is a song that shouts for joy, daring the world to approach.  Eikos Shaman, the next track, brings back the drum, beating, thumping with a certainty that is unwavering. Over the drum, a chant is sung, the meaning known only to the heart of the man singing it.  The power here is in the listener's hands, if he gives in and surrenders. The beat quickens, with counter-drumming and rattles answering the main beat.  The Cacique, or Shaman, is the healer in Taos Indigenous Medicine. He is the leader of the Traditional Chants and Rituals. The fourth selection, Moonlight Song, is a song sung by Mirabal with no instrumentation. In Western Music, we would say it is sung acapella. It is a chant, with a feel of somber power.  

Cover Artwork for Land Album (also released in 1997 as The Story of Land)

A White Buffalo-Sacred to Plains Indigenous Tribes

The fifth track, a reprise of Eikos Shaman, with Mr. Mirabal, The Andes Brothers, and Reynaldo Lujan combining to bring to life a powerful prayerlike chant that is at once lively and simple in beauty. The land in the Pueblo outlook is alive....full of spirits. The next selection, Extinction, is a meditation on the attempted elimination of North America's greatest animal. and the center of Plains Tribal Life, the bison. The drums recall the heavy thundering sound of thousands of bison running across the Plains, oblivious to all, except each other. Suddenly, what sounds like the sound of rifles firing enter the soundscape, and the drums sound less full, as if the herd is disappearing. More shots ring out, and the drums reflect the panicked awareness of the herd....but it is too late. White Buffalo, the next track, refers to the sacred Buffalo that brought life to the People. Sticks and rattles are heard, growing louder as she approaches. The Indigenous flute announces her coming, as prophesied by the ancient stories passed from generation to generation. Her return is anticipated by Plains Peoples in the manner than Christians look for the Second Coming. The album's last track, Masa-Yume, is a meditation of Indigenous flute and  Rattle, and offers a final challenge to the listener to appreciate the power and sacred quality of the Land to Indigenous Tribes. The drum, the flute, and the rattle are the connection here, and it is a powerful one. This album is very traditional. in that the drum is the central instrument, and the various songs are done traditionally without much modernization. If you love drum, you will love this album.

Song Carrier, Mr. Mirabal's third album, and second on a major label, begins immediately with Sagebrush Snow Winds, starring Indigenous flute, and the difference from Land is quite pronounced and dramatic. Here, the center of the music is the flute, with some synthesized wind and crow calls answering the flute. It is easy to picture the scene in my mind...the cold, frigid January North Wind, blowing through the high desert.  Then...suddenly, the drum begins, and Yellow Ram's Song, the second selection, comes into focus. The flute, solitary and haunting, reflects the loneliness. The tones are in a lower register, and are quiet. As the song fades, a bird's call, a sound of Spring's arrival appears. Rattles mimic the sound of a bird in the brush. In a lower register, another bird calls, with genuine bird calls behind it. The third selection, Taos Winter's Memory of Spring, is a call to the anticipation of life again coming after a hard winter.  In Taos Pueblo, as in all the Pueblos, corn is a traditional crop grown each summer for use through the winter. The importance of this crop cannot be understated. The rains that nourish the corn nourish the Pueblos. In some pueblos, the living peoples' ancestors are believed to be the senders of the rains that nourish the crops. Rainsong, the fourth selection, reflects this attachment to the rain. The rain sounds on this song are made by filling a hollow cactus that has been dried and sealed on both ends with seeds that fall from one end of the hollow tube to the other, sounding like falling rain. The drum, the sacred base of all prayer, is present here, along with the Indigenous flute. 

Cover Art Work for Song Carrier Album

The title track, Song Carrier, is a powerful Indigenous flute and drum combination, offering the flute proper honor as the instrument which brings sacred songs to its owner when played with a good heart. As most musicians will affirm, they do not know where their songs come from....only that they comeRio Lucero, the next track, is a meditation on the lifegiving power that water brings to all forms of life in Taos. An Indigenous flute plays a flowing melody with sounds of a creek flowing in the back ground. Birds call in the trees on the Rio's banks.  Track seven, The Price of Culture, starts with a high Indigenous flute bird sound, with drum entering shortly afterward. The sound of the bird almost sounds like a warning call, as if entrance into the Dominant Culture is dangerous, especially with the various diversions that it, drugs, and possessions. If Ghosts Could Dream, the next to last track, reflects on the world beyond the living, with the interpretation left to each listener. The high, almost mournful tone of the flute here is reminiscent of the regrets the dying have before they leave this world, knowing that change is beyond their capability in the next.  In the Dominant Culture, these thoughts might be called the "if only" thoughts. The last track, Taos Summer Nights, begins with a beautiful flute meditation played over the sounds of night....crickets, frogs, birds. The flute brings a peace to this album's end, offering the hope of a new day, a new beginning, a new outlook. This album is a fully realized song cycle, and perhaps it can give a new perspective on the seasons of love, of life, and of Taos Pueblo.

Cover Art Work for Warrior Magician Album

1996 brought on new music from Robert Mirabal, and a new album, Warrior Magician, which began a conscious shift from traditional Indigenous flute  and drum based music to music that had more of a dramatic overtone.  The use of synthesizer and rock style drums on some tracks may have surprised some of his listeners at the time. The album opener, Memoir Chaco, nods to the ancient ruins at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico, which are some of the most interesting and amazing ruins of The Old Ones, or in the Di'neh language, The Anazazi. The track incorporates both traditional and non-traditional instrumentation. The use of a tambourine is a first for Mr. Mirabal. Owl Song, the second selection, is a song which pays tribute to the bird which in many tribes represents the sign of oncoming death. Owls are sufficiently prominent in many tribes' oral traditions that the sudden appearance of the owl is thought to be a bad omen. Culturally, this is important for non-Indigenous people to understand.  Homage to Sand Creek is a selection that is Mr. Mirabal's nod to the horrible massacre of almost 150 Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribe members, mostly women, children, and elderly,  who were unarmed in one of the more heinous chapters of the genocide carried out by Europeans of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. The simple tap of a snare and a bugle give way to a gradually louder tone poem that recalls those screams and the suffering that day when the Colorado Militia murdered the Southern Cheyenne at Sand Creek.

Black Kettle-Man of Peace-Killed by Custer

A sound which resembles an Australian instrument, the Bullroarer, begins the next track, Running, along with a didjeridu, both of which Mr. Mirabal became familiar with while working on the Nomad album. The track rapidly develops, with a strong percussive base, synthesizer, and the Indigenous flute. The feel is one of a frantic dash. I can only surmise that this is a continuation of the Sand Creek motif. The feel is one of a scene of  death, with nothing but mutilated corpses there to bear witness to the tragic and foolish actions by the Colorado Militia. Song to the Mayan, the selection that follows, begins with Indigenous flute and synthesizers putting forth a feeling of deep grief and sorrow, a meditation on what one group will visit upon another in the name of progress. It is still happening, and the land grab hasn't ended, and no one but Taos has ever gotten their lands returned legally after being stolen for gold, oil, silver, or whatever purpose could be invented. Warrior Magician, the title track, is again a somber and grief filled piece that gradually morphs into a somewhat uptempo, more forward looking tempo. The slow tempo reprises, then again turns uptempo. Maybe this peace reflects the life of  Indigenous People, often is a cycle of hope followed by disappointment, only to have hope return.

Lullaby, the next track, is a lovely piece, possibly written for one of Mr. Mirabal's children, or his nieces or nephews. It is a game changer on this album, and the somber and sad feelings of the middle of this album are replaced  by what can only be described as a composer's piece written to take his little ones into dreamland.  Again, synthesizer is used tastefully as background color for the flute.  The ninth selection, Corn Dance, is a piece that underscores the importance of corn to the Pueblo Culture, and it is interesting that a gourd rattle is played in the background, because gourds are of importance to the Pueblo people as well. It would be worth noting that reverb is used here on the flute, and makes the sound more intimate, as if the instrument was being played in an acoustically perfect room just for the listener's ears. The track Running is reprised, with the Bull Roarer and didjeridu taking center stage. The purpose of the reprise is unknown, but running is central to tribes all over the Southwest and Northwestern Mexico. Running is done to keep the sun in the sky, so it will return tomorrow, and warm the land. The Pueblos believe that if they don't run, the world will grow dark.  This album is clearly a step forward in Mr. Mirabal's oeurve, and is an important piece of his recorded artistry.

Robert Mirabal also recorded an album with Indigenous Guitarist Bill Miller in 1996. The album is a departure for both men from their usual method of writing and recording. The album is fairly unique in Mr. Mirabal's catalog, and is often overlooked. Both men began their recording careers at about the same time. The resulting album, Native Suite, is a powerful example of the synergy of two Indigenous artists pooling their talent and coming up with an album that is unlike their solo recordings. The album was recorded live in the studio directly on to two track with the expectation that it would not be mixed post studio recording sessions. Producer Richard Bennett notes in his contribution in notes to the album that no overdubs were made to the recordings. This led a to a fresh sound that sparkles and has an immediacy that is much like the old field recordings that Alan Lomax did without the loss of fidelity that field recordings often have. The album's selections are credited to Bill Miller, Robert Mirabal, Sam Bacco, and David Hoffner. 

Cover Art Work for The Native Suite Album

The album begins with a spine tingling composition entitled Into the Twilight. The instrumentation here includes two Indigenous flutes, a large drum, percussion, and keyboards. A group called the Smokey Town Singers add vocals, making the selection sound like a tribal ceremonial ritual. The second segment of the Suite is entitled Embrace and Betrayal. This section begins with an Indigenous flute playing in a low register. After a brief interlude from rainstick, drum, and keyboard, the flute returns with a second flute playing a counter-melody. Portions of the section approach a freeform jazz approach. Chanters then add a segment that sounds a bit like Into the Twilight, with the drums keeping a steady beat alternating between 3/4 time and what sounds like 9/8 time. Fingerpops and Robert Mirabal scat singing then emerge to the segment's conclusion. Dreams of Our Fathers/Dance of the Dead, part 3 of the suite, begins with the steady beat of the Taos Drum. Chanting, possibly in Tiwa, may be heard weaving in and out of the sinuous beat of the drum. This is a composition which then moves into a percussive theme with a Tibetan gong, Taos Drum, and Robert Mirabal's haunting Indigenous flute weaving and out of the gong and drum's alternating beat. The interplay between the flute, gong, and drum resembles some of the sounds from the jazz world. Mirabal speaks in Tiwa and a subtle string synthesizer plays in the background, with the flute sounding like it was first played conventionally, then was run backwords and overdubbed. The song then returns to the steady, sad beat of the Taos drum, with Tiwa chorus in the background. The drum and voices build to a peak, then just...stop. The brief concluding segment of the Native Suite, entitled Home, is a haunting Indigenous flute duet between Bill Miller and Robert Mirabal. It goes by more quickly than the listener wishes, and the whole album is a beautiful updating of Indigenous ceremonial music. 

Native Suite for a listener not used to ceremonial music is a challenging listen. Repeated listens will reveal subtle shades of tones that are a pleasure to acquaint one's self with. The album is out of print, but may be obtained very reasonably at Amazon or on eBay. 

Cover Art Work for Mirabal Album

1997 brought an urge to rock to Robert Mirabal. His alignment with Mark Andes continued, with some resulting songwriting bringing a rocking edge to his music that has continued intermittently to the present day. Kenny Aronoff contributed drums and songwriting to this album as well. Some of the artists from past albums also make appearances. This album illustrates Mirabal's ability to fuse rock to traditional rhythms and thoughts with ease. Mirabal met Mark Andes through Andes' partner, Eliza Gilkyson. The album's ten songs were built on the relationship between Mirabal, Andes, and traditional drummer Reynaldo Lujan. It was produced by Michael Wanchic, who had previously produced John Mellencamp.  As to Mirabal being a departure from his flute albums, Mr, Mirabal cited some cultural influences based on coming from Indigenous culture. With regard to this, he stated in a 1997 article, Singing the Truththat coming from a minority, and being able to stand outside the dominant culture, also contributes to his sound, especially on this new record. "My first language is Taos, and even though I write lyrics in English, I use the language differently, and structure things in a metaphorical manner that's closer to the way my people use language. That and Mark's pop sense, and the interest we both have in world music, created what you hear on MirabalWhat I create comes out of my body and soul, in a desire to take care of the spirits of the earthI wanted to make an album that explores all of the things people experience, love, hate, fear, confusion, and especially the loneliness that seems to be so pervasive in modern society. And I wanted it to have a rock'n'roll edge."

The lead track, Hope, introduces a rock theme and tempo to Mirabal, with Mark Andes playing guitar and Kenny Aronoff drumming. The tune begins what appears to be an illustration of the traditional qualities in Indigenous life that are admirable, presented in a rock sensibility. The lyrics are a comment on the dichotomous life many Indigenous people live to cross the gulf between the Caucasian and Indigenous lifestyles. The Dance, a song that has appeared on several Mirabal albums, here is a prayer, offered in a manner similar to the Sermon on the Mount's Beatitudes.  What makes this tune special is the seamless fusion of the traditional tribal drum with rock instrumentation and Tiwa Prayer on the song's bridge. Tiwa, the language of Taos Pueblo, has been in existence longer than nearly any language in the Americas. Track 3, Medicine Man, is a meditation paying homage to a traditional cacique (Medicine Man) from an unnamed Pueblo tribe. It is clear that the life of a cacique is a life of service, as is the life of many spiritual leaders from traditions worldwide. The song is poignant, in that the cacique who Mirabal sings about never married, sacrificing his personal family life for the spiritual life of the tribe. Indigenous flute makes it's first appearance on this song.

The next track, Witch Hunt, was co-written with Reynaldo Lujan and Kenny Aronoff. The drums here transcend the song. Indigenous flute here offers color to the powerful drumming and chanting that is present. This track is the best fusion of traditional drumming and rock drumming this listener has heard. The vocals as quoted from Singing the Truth at are according to Mirabal "built on three different vocal samples. One is a drone, one is making percussive sounds, and one is a high falsetto. The rhythm is from a Celtic song and the vocal rhythms are 4/4, 3/4 and 6/7. I tried to make the breath audible too, to sound like it was a person being chased. It originally had lyrics about the killing of women during the witch hunts in Europe in the Middle Ages. The chorus said 'Have we evolved or are we still involved?'" It is magnificent. There is a hint of a didjeridu in the first minute or so of the track. The next track, Sundance Love, is a tune co-written with Mark Andes and Reynaldo Lujan. The track is acoustic, and describes love as a Sundance. Sundance in the Plains tribal tradition is one of the highest expression of the Indigenous person's relationship to life and the world. It is a vision seeking experience, and is dancing as prayer. The track is beautiful in a sparse way, and brings a focus to this important expression of  spirituality. 

The centerpiece of this exquisite album is Tony and Allison, composed and written by Mirabal on his own. Imagine an Indigenous narrative that duplicates the feeling of the best Peckinpah movies. Two young Indigenous people go on a spree through the Southwest, robbing and shooting innocent people in a wanton and careless manner. The backstory on this tune, again quoting Singing the Truth, is that Wanchic asked Mirabal what else he had in mind. Mirabal....."I had my keyboard with me, so I brought it in and played 'Tony and Allison,' a song I started writing years before, while hitch hiking through Utah. I saw a newspaper blowing down the road and it had a story in it about an old Indian man who'd found a skeleton. There was a picture of the old man standing in a desolate landscape; under the picture he was quoted - 'You could die out here and never be found.' That phrase haunted me. I wrote a short story about the death of that skeleton, and put it to this hip-hop rhythm I'd come up with." The poem, set to music is an allegory for the senseless violence that plagues so many Indigenous families and tribes. The girl in this narrative is herself a victim, taken without conscience from the home she loved. The track fades before their fate is disclosed, as they disappear into a place, where (to quote the lyrics) "you could die out here and never be found." Little Indians, the seventh track is another song which has been presented on more than one Mirabal album. The track is acoustic, with a sweet feeling that belies the sadness and loss of innocence that Indigenous children feel as they enter school and lose touch with their culture. The pull of the Dominant Culture does battle with tribal culture too quickly and painfully. Many tribes are now educating their children in their own languages to ameliorate this cultural clash.   Track 8, The Dream, is a chant over traditional drums, played most likely by Reynaldo Lujan, the co-writer of the song. Tiwa chants occur in counterpoint to the drumming, and the song pulsates with a throbbing feel that offers another small look into the prayers of the Taos People. An Kah Na, the next to last track, is an acapella chant that is performed in Tiwa. Again from Singing the Truth, Mirabal: "'An Kah Na' means 'My Mother,'" Mirabal explained. "It's based on a moonlight song, just a simple melodic vocal line that lets people hear the beauty and complexity of my Native language. If you live a traditional life you see things differently, spiritually and musically. It was an unexpected song." An Kah Na is prayer-like, and presumably is included for that reason on Mirabal. The final track, Cyberspace Warrior, is a complete departure from anything else on Mirabal. It is a dance track based on African rhythm patterns. The lyrics are somewhat surreal, and the track is based upon a dream that Mirabal had which he used as inspiration for the track. The track is also a plea for cultural respect instead of assimilation, asking listeners to leave the world's cultures in better shape than we found them. Mirabal had a family broken by assimilation.... "I grew up with my grandparents and mom, an all woman family mostly. That was the classic thing in the '70s, a lot of relocation, children being taken from their homes by government and economics, marriages breaking up. I didn't have much connection with my father." Mirabal: "Cyberspace Warrior" is a flat out rocker that features some tasty Senegalese-style electric guitar by Andy York. "I wanted something that was fun," Mirabal said. "It's a bit of world, some rock, some alternative stuff, but it's all me. On a Sunday afternoon, if I take a ride in my car, I listen to the Native station, then dial over to some jazz, rock, oldies, rap, whatever. I don't know if I'm a rocker, but I love music and don't like the American tendency to categorize it. This album touches on all the music I've heard as I've traveled around the world."

In 1998, Robert Mirabal participated in the album Native American Lullabies: Under the Green Corn Moon. The album brings several Indigenous artists and elders together to sing songs that at once otherworldly and soothing. Like Sacred Ground from 2005, many of these artists composed songs especially for this album, or performed songs from their tribal backgrounds. The music here is beautifully recorded, gently performed, and for any age listener. The lullabies are presented in the names of their various tribes.

Cover Art Work for Native American Lullabies: Under the Green Corn Moon

The album's seventeen selections begin with Lorain Fox performing Tu Tu Teshcote-Aztec, a gentle tune sung in her tribal language. The song is quite simple and charming. A laid back feeling is a perfect way to begin this album. The background is an autoharp/zither, organ, percussion,  and Indigenous flute. Kiowa, done by Dorothy White Horse follows. The lullaby begins with an Indigenous flute and drum, and the song moves in a cycle that is charming. Later in the song, a keyboard and percussion join the flute. Taos Pueblo, done by Robert Mirabal in his native Tiwa language, and sung without instruments, goes back to  the Pueblo's oral tradition, and his child may be heard responding to the song.   Shii' Na-Sha-Navajo, a lullaby of the Di'neh Nation is done by Julia Begaye in a round, as other tribes' lullabies are done here on this album.  Gentle  drum, flute, and maracas make this song a wonderful addition here.  Micki Pratt of the Cheyenne Nation presents her selection, Cheyenne, in her tribe's language, accompanied by drum, a haunting Indigenous flute, keyboard, and rattles. Joanne Shenandoah presents Oneida Iriquois, with this song being very beautiful, perhaps one of the most pretty in an album full of lovely and gentle songs. This selection is a bit more ornately presented than some of the lullabies, with drum, maraca, acoustic guitar, zither, and overdubbed vocals in the last verse illuminating the beauty of this ancient song.

Chippewa Mother and Child-Early 1900s

The chant performed by tribal elder Alph Sekacucu, Hopi, is done with drum, rattle, and is sung in his tribal tongue, most likely Tewa. Like Taos Pueblo, the Hopi (Hopituh-Shi-nu-mu) Nation are a Pueblo people, and live in roughly six communities in Northeastern Arizona. Mary Philbrook, a resident of Canada, next presents Mic Mac, a pretty lullaby with keyboard, percussion, cricket whistle, and Indigenous flute. This charming tune takes a call and response approach between vocal and flute. Montana's Tzo Kam offers Salish (Lillooet), a quaint and pretty lullaby which has beautiful backing vocals, a simple but elegant melody, and soothing tone. Tribal elder Dorothy Hunting Horse Gray offers next a second Kiowa lullaby. It is comforting, with a drum being the main accompaniment. There is subtle percussion, probably rattle.  Tom Wasinger, a member of the Pawnee Nation, presents a cool instrumental lullaby. Pawnee, with Indigenous flute, a stringed banjo type of instrument, and percussion. It is fairly unique here, being without vocals.

Great Plains Tribe Mother and Child

Myra Aitson from the Comanche Nation presents Comanche Lullaby, sung in a beautiful alto voice with zither, maracas, and drums. It is certainly a highlight of this lovely collection.  Jerry Garrett of the Oglala Nation presents a haunting lullaby from his tribe, Oglala Sioux. A zither plays a simple scale, with drum and rattle in the background. These lullabies, so simple in their presentation, are quite unusual in their ability to still the mind and the heart.  Mashantucket Pequot Nation member Laughing Woman presents her tribe's lullaby, here simply called by the tribe's name, Mashantucket. The melody is very spellbinding, with drums, zither, bass, and Indigenous flute behind her  gorgeous vocal. Ann Shadlow, an elder of the Cheyenne Nation, presents an unusual lullaby with water sounds, rattle, and vibes in the background. The lullaby, again just named after the tribe, Cheyenne, is quite unusual with its use of natural sounds behind the vocal.

Modern Indigenous Mother and Child-Arizona

Montana's Salish Nation offers a second lullaby, simply named Salish, sung by Kelly White. The song is quite unusual, as it changes time signatures and keys within the tune. Most of the song is sung without instruments. Drums, zither, and vibes join near the middle of the lullaby. Ms. White performs a pretty bird call at the end.  Dorothy White Horse, Kiowa Nation elder, sings the album's very brief final selection, a reprise of her earlier song. Again the title is simply the tribe's name. She explains the selection's meaning briefly and the album closes.

If you enjoy a quiet and peaceful time during your day, this album could be a wonderful companion. It offers a set of relaxing and refreshing collection of Indigenous performances, all performed in the various tribes' mother tongues. If you are a parent of  little ones, like myself, it may be an answer to help relax your little folks before bedtime. This album is a treasure, simply because it preserves a number of traditional songs in a time when various tribes are struggling to hold on to their languages, beliefs, dances, and songs.   

Cover Art Work for Taos Tales Album 

After a hard year of touring in support of the Mirabal album, Robert Mirabal entered the studio in late 1998 and early 1999 to record an album based in the colorful history of his New Mexico home region, Taos. The album that ensued, Taos Tales, is somewhat of a concept album, however the album's individual songs stand on their own quite satisfactorily. The album is a return to Indigenous flute, combined with tasteful use of his band to add flavor. Drummer Reynaldo Lujan, Mirabal's cousin, returns on this album, and the moods here are turbulent but subtle. 

The album opens with the first recording of the song Painted Cave. Throughout the world, Indigenous peoples have expressed their stories, narratives, and spiritual expression on caves using colors born from the earth and mixed by traditional and time honored methods.  Painted Cave is a song which leads the listener to reflect on his or her own connectedness to the Earth, or distance as well. As time has passed, tribes have had to literally and legally fight for the right to their lands, their culture, and their languages. Perhaps in recognition of this fact, Mr. Mirabal speaks his native Tiwa language throughout Taos tales, beginning with Painted Cave.

Example of Cave Art from New Mexico

Friends, Taos Tales' second track, begins with Reynaldo Lujan drumming, followed by a chime. The cellos on Friends offer a solemn emotional color to the tune. The guitar here is recorded acoustically with eloquent reverb added. Mr. Mirabal sings again in his native Tiwa language. The feel here again is solemn, as if Mr. Mirabal wants to impart the starkness of his home, with the incredible contrasts between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the high sagebrush plain through which the Rio Grande River has cut a deep canyon, known to locals as "The Box."  The third track, Po'pay Runner, makes a veiled reference to the Oke'eh Owinge Pueblo member who orchestrated the only successful revolt against European powers in the Americas by Indigenous peoples while living in Taos Pueblo. The Indigenous flute and cellos again add a solemnity to the music which to this listener communicates the suffering and yet the relief that New Mexico Pueblos must have felt when they realized what they had accomplished despite speaking six different languages.  The Hunting Party, track 4, is an important reminder of the view that New Mexico tribes and other Indigenous people hold toward hunting. as a rule, most of the Pueblos see the animals that surround them as equal members of The Creator's world. Prayer before, during, and after hunts is central to the ideal....that tribal members take only what they need for their families, thanking the spirit of the animal for giving up it's life. In a similar manner, the tribes prayed for the crops they planted to grow tall and nourish their people.

 Oquwa/J.D. Roybal, San Ildefonso Pueblo, 1922-1978, Pueblo Corn Dance, 1968, Acrylic on paper

Track 5, Skinwalker's Moon, is sung in English. The oral history of many of the Southwestern Indigenous tribes make reference to a group of shamans, who through evil actions and breaking of Tribal Laws have developed the ability to take animal form at will and to control the actions of innocent victims. In many ways, the descriptions of skinwalkers parallel the oral traditions of Haitians who practice Voodoo. In this most unusual recording, Mr. Mirabal gives voice to the fears that Pueblos have had for generations, especially from the Di'neh. An eerie cry that sounds wolf-like may be heard at the track's beginning. The tone of Mirabal's vocal conveys an urgency that only fear can produce. The drums and cellos keep a rapid heartbeat, echoing the vocal. A violin solo offers picture of a frightened person running frantically across the land trying unsuccessfully to escape.

February 2014 image photographed near Dulce, New Mexico-Thought to be Skinwalker

Onate, the album's sixth track, begins with a string solo that reminds this listener of ancient Jewish melodies. It would be hard to tell if this was conscious on the composer's part or not. The Indigenous flute appears soon after, and the track morphs into a more contemplative feel. The picture this listeners sees is a long train of Spanish soldiers, colonists, and animals snaking up the Rio Grande toward what would eventually be Santa Fe. The next track, Bataan Death March, refers implicitly to the barbaric march United States and Filipino soldiers had to endure after the Japanese Imperial Army invaded The Phillipines in World War II, leading to the deaths of  nearly 1000 members of The New Mexico National Guard who were deployed to The Phillipines in September 1941. The soldiers, both American and Filipino, bravely held off the Japanese for nearly six months before being overcome and forced to march 65 miles to Bataan without food or water. Those who tried to sneak a drink or a bite of food were killed on the spot by the Japanese.  Mirabal's track begins with a single drumbeat, with mournful strings entering later. The vocals here are in Tiwa, and resonate as grief filled and beyond comfort. Midway through the song, a frantic section perhaps illustrates the hopelessness those warriors must have felt while fighting, knowing they were facing near certain imprisonment or death. The track then peels back to the drum to fade. Taos Pueblo was represented by Battery H of the New Mexico National Guard, and lives were certainly lost during and after the March.

Ee-You-Oo, the next selection is sung in Tiwa by Mirabal, and the strident tempo and vocals are reminiscent of a war dance. Perhaps a chant was sung by the Taos Pueblo people when the Bataan survivors returned. The track conveys artillery booming in the background with a violent and sharp Indigenous flute overlay perhaps replicating the sounds of bullets flying. The ninth track, Flute Song, seems to convey a wailing that comes when a deep feeling of grief or loss is experienced. That something is considered missing is implied here in both the tone and manner in which the flute expresses the feelings that Mirabal imparts through it. The single drumbeat returns in Courtship of Starboy, the next selection. The oral history of the Star Boy, the son of the Morning Star and an Indigenous woman, has been deeply imbeded in Taos and other Pueblos for many generations. The woman is said to have disobeyed the Morning Star's request to not dig up a sacred item from the ground. The resulting consequences were that the mother and her only son, Star Boy were banished from the Sky and returned to Earth. After many years, Star Boy wandered throughout the countryside, eventually being orphaned. Because he was part Sky people,  he was allowed to return to the Sky. His presence is important in healing dances and the Sun Dance of the Blackfoot Nation. 

Acid Rain Dance is a chant put to music which has a driving beat, and perhaps it is a play on words. Certainly the closest any Caucasian has come to replicating the vision seeking of the Indigenous people is the unusual visions produced by dropping pure LSD.  The track is overdubbed with water sounds. But the other and equally plausible interpretation is the ruining of the water sources of many tribes through the practice of dumping pesticides and the release of toxic chemicals into the air which then fall back on the Earth, killing plants and animals alike.  Track 12, Day of the Dead, touches on the multi-cultural nature of New Mexico's Pueblos, as most of them observe the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) along with the Chicano people of New Mexico. The track begins with what could be heard as the moaning of the deceased souls, followed quickly by a syncopated drumbeat with the cellos groaning over it.  There is an ethereal synthesizer section which offers a different timbre, perhaps the sounds of the grieving family members. Animal sounds emerge then disappear. This could be considered a prime skinwalker time to visit. 

Hopi Pueblo Rain Dance in Late 19th  Century-Walpi, Arizona

Taos Tales closes with a gorgeous reflection on Winter, entitled The Quiet Season. The heartbeat of the drum is steady and true, with Tiwa language chanting in the background. The feeling of snow, cold winds, and coyotes howling accompany the starkness of the music herein.  The most heartfelt of Mr. Mirabal's albums, Taos Tales is an expression of love from Mr. Mirabal to the people and land that he adores.  From this perspective, it could be interpolated that this album was as much intended for the ears of the Taos Pueblo people as the world as a whole. This is an album not to be missed, and it is uncompromising in it's vision, and the most deserving of a close listen of all Robert Mirabal's musical album expressions. 

Cover Art Work for the Music From a Painted Cave Album and DVD

In 2001, marooned in Montana after the deaths of my wife from polyarteritis nodosa and my sister from diabetes, missing New Mexico desperately, I was lucky to get a ticket to catch Robert Mirabal and The Rare Tribal Mob perform the show they had put together that was the breathtaking Music From a Painted Cave. In Billings, we have a beautiful performing arts venue called The Alberta Bair Theater. Knowing that Mr. Mirabal and the ensemble were in Billings and were from Taos Pueblo made it a special experience direct from my home state.  The show was everything I expected and more. Having attended Pueblo Dances from the time I was 5 years old, this was what I must have needed to break out of a deep state of grief and melancholy. Music From A Painted Cave in a live performance I count among the ten best live performances I have experienced, and there must be hundreds of shows by my count from which I am selecting those ten. By heritage, as well as by tradition, Mr. Mirabal is not allowed to disclose the traditional beliefs of his Pueblo, but the show shared a powerful visual and auditory sampling of the folklore and traditions of the Pueblo people. Fortunately, a show was recorded at a Connecticut tribe's theater, and some selections from the resulting dvd may be viewed on Youtube. Here is Stiltwalker from the dvd: Robert Mirabal - Stiltwalker  

Because Music From a Painted Cave is a theatrical performance, approaching it as a compact disc is inadequate to really convey the feelings and the subject matter of the live performance. For this reason, it seems better to share selections from the dvd performance to give the reader a better picture of the work. This selection, Medicine Man, is about a relationship that Mr. Mirabal was blessed to develop as a young man with  a traditional cacique (medicine man) from Central New Mexico. Here is the link to the video: Robert Mirabal - Medicine Man   When dancing comes up in the area where I grew up in New Mexico, the Pueblos' Dances are usually the first thing discussed. My family took my Indigenous sister and myself to dances throughout the Northern Pueblos beginning when I was 5 and she was 2. There was a feeling of witnessing something ancient, something holy. The Dance is the highest expression of Indigenous Beliefs, and as such, it must be respected. Robert Mirabal - The Dance

The Indigenous tribes of the US Southwest have not always been friendly with each other. The agrarian Pueblos and the roving Di'neh and Apache have not always embraced peaceful co-existence. There was a natural tension due to the relative abundance that some Pueblos had with respect to crops and domestic animals. The roving tribes historically raided the Pueblos, especially the outlying ones, like Mr. Mirabal's Taos Pueblo for grain and meat. Here is a dramatic depiction from Music From a Painted Cave that illustrates the the tension that these tribes lived under: Robert Mirabal - The Shield Dance   The unification of Pueblo men and women is also deeply steeped in tradition, and many Pueblos are matrilineal, that is, the children take the name and belong to the clan and moiety of their mother. Property is passed from mother to daughter, or was until recently, and the judgement of a partner is such that the man usually defers to the woman. Here is a song that Mr. Mirabal composed to illustrate the relationship's crucial beginning:  Robert Mirabal - The Courtship Song

If this sampling of selections from Music From a Painted Cave has grabbed your interest, you may want to see the full performance on dvd, or grab the cd. This is a theatrical piece of work that gives a small glimpse into the complex nature of Pueblo society. Amazon and other outlets have both, and many selections from the dvd may be previewed on Youtube.

After the extensive touring and performing that Music From a Painted Cave demanded, Mr. Mirabal returned to Taos Pueblo and began work on a new album. The resulting album, Indians Indians, was released in 2003. The album revealed a strong commitment to continuing to writing about the Taos Pueblo people and their complex and opaque lifestyle. This album is a transition for Mr. Mirabal, with him writing all of the album's twelve selections.  Reynaldo Lujan and Elan Trujillo do the Tiwa vocals on the album, with the musicians being limited to a small group compared with earlier efforts.

Cover Art Work for Indians Indians Album

Indians Indians opens with a song entitled Governor Bent's Song. The  song commemorates the 1847 uprising of the Taos Pueblo against the US occupation. After the Mexican War began, Don Fernando de Taos resident and newly appointed Governor of New Mexico, Charles Bent, was killed by an alliance of Taos Pueblo people and Mexicans called the Taos Revolt. The Taos People were conquered early on, and 300 years of  Spanish and Mexican colonization came to an end when the American Army marched into Taos. Perhaps the devils the Taos Puebloans knew were better than the new devils wearing blue and speaking English. The title track, Indians Indians, begins with a tongue in cheek listing of different types of Indians. The rest of the song details the somewhat comical outlook a Taoseno might have when interacting with a tourist. The tourist in this case enters into a relationship with the protagonist of the song, who shows her his "horses." The Puebloan then presumably has his way with the tourist and then gets a ride to Santa Fe on top of it. A cool beat begins about a minute into the song, and Mirabal remembers the encounter, talking to the absent woman The brief partnership ends when his needs change, and the woman gets too intimate. Dream Song follows, a more subdued song, with a duet between Mr. Mirabal and Laura Satterfield, of the Indigenous female trio Walela

Theo's Dream is a meditation on Mr. Mirabal's Uncle Theo, a relationship that was deep and meaningful. Theo was a Viet Nam War Veteran. Theo was disabled, and the memories of the War haunted him.  Like so many soldiers of that War, he found the readjustment difficult.  Black Jack Daisy, the fifth track, is again a powerful story, framed as a love song, but really so much more. It is the story of a man who, through his roving eye lost the love of his life. The sadness is expressed not only through the vocal. but also by a mournful cello that follows the melody. Perhaps the saddest part of the song is when the cheater tells the listener that the only one who loves him is his old dog.  Blue Lake is a song that again tells a story about a cousin, nicknamed Starchy, the tune returns the listener to the day that Taos Pueblo celebrated Blue Lake's return. The song presents the events from a 7 year old's perspective...the return of the holy place, Blue Lake. In the background, a celebratory chant may be heard. Ruler of My Heart is a love song, a beautiful meditation on the relationship between two people in love. The Indigenous flute sings like a dove in the background, offering an emotional counterpoint to the love expressed in the lyrics. 

The next song, Morrison, is a song about the famous lead singer of the Doors, who lived in Albuquerque, some 130 miles south of Taos. The tune is a narrative about an encounter that a Taos Pueblo relative of Mr. Mirabal's had with Morrison at a commune. We can't spoil the story by going any further. Days Before Christmas is a memory of a long departed Christmas season, where his uncle and aunt visited the Pueblo, and his uncle had a drinking problem. There is a progression of growing up rights of passage in the Pueblo, and drinking became one. This is the story of one night's drinking. wasn't just one night. The next to last track, Shine, opens with the vocalist begging the woman he is talking to not to cry. It is as if his song is about his remorseful uncle singing to his wife, and is begging her to smile, to shine. The uncle has broken her heart one too many times, and there is no light left in her to brighten his darkness. Grandpa is a memory of Mr. Mirabal's grandfather. Grandpa passed in 1987, and Mr. Mirabal's grief at his passing is palpable. This was Mr. Mirabal's father figure, and he had the biggest formative male influence on him, and his father has gone to the next world. "The sun always sets like an Indian...."  

As Taos Tales was a musical message to Taos Pueblo, Indian Indian is Mr. Mirabal's message of respect and love to his family. One's life growing up in a Pueblo is difficult. Reservation life is unimaginably different than the usual American experience, and Mr. Mirabal has somehow given us a small glimpse into the drama of growing up in a Pueblo in the same manner that Robbie Robertson somehow was able to empathetically present life in the Southern United States on The Band, their second album. The major difference is that Mr. Mirabal's songs are memories, real memories, not songs from his imagination depicting a life he did not live. This album is a concept beautifully realized, with a depth of Indigenous humor and pathos that is engulfing.

Cover Art Work for the Sacred Ground Album

In 2005,  Robert Mirabal, Bill Miller, and other Silver Wave label artists were featured on an album, entitled Sacred Ground, which was thematically centered on Indigenous peoples' spiritual relationship with Mother Earth. The album brought a focus to the importance that Indigenous people attach to their relationships with their tribal lands, animals, and the heavens. As may be seen at the beginning of this article, this is not a casual approach, but a reciprocal partnership with the Earth which governs all traditional Indigenous prayers and dances. The album won the 2006 Grammy for Best Native American Music Album.

The album leads off with Bill Miller performing Sacred Ground, the title track. The track celebrates the wild and natural world that is sacred. The track uses modern instrumentation, with a syndrum complimented by guitar, percussion, and Mr. Miller's vocal is double tracked. His voice is a beautiful tenor, reminiscent of Roy Orbison at his best. Bass and normal drums come in halfway through, and the song just grows more majestic. Robert Mirabal's Can You Hear the Call is the second track, which features a scat drum interwoven with Mr. Mirabal playing Indigenous flute, with bass and percussion also heard. There is a synthesized string ensemble that adds an ethereal tone in the last half of the song. The track is memorial to Mr. Mirabal's father. His flute playing here is on a level that haunts and thrills at the same time. Mountain Song, the third selection is done by Star Nayea, Verdell Primeaux, and Johnny Mike. and references  It alludes to a sacred mountain. Shuffling drums are present along with a synthesized bass adding color. The track has a fusion feel to it, and is clearly a contemporary tune. This song amplifies the conflicts many tribes have which pit members' income needs on the reservations over and against the mining of tribal lands, desecrating sacred lands. Bill Miller returns on track 4, playing a beautiful Indigenous flute part in a song called Spirit Wind. Chants may be heard, along with an unrelenting percussion track. The song is instrumental, and sparkles. The first half of the album concludes with a track performed by Joanne Shenandoah, entitled Seeking Light. Ms. Shenandoah's vocals are sublime here, and are done in her native tongue as well as English. The track, in keeping with the contemporary feel of the album, features drums, synthesized strings, and multitracked vocals that are quite beautiful.

Shiprock-Sacred to the Di'neh 

The second half of Sacred Ground begins with a song entitled Raven, and performed by Little Wolf Band. An instrumental, it suggests the prominence of the raven in many tribes oral history. As with many of the animals of the Americas, the raven is believed to have a special role assigned by The Creator.  Robert Mirabal returns next with a haunting remembrance of his grandfather, who was his father in childhood. The song, called People of Yesterday, laments the fading of memories of ancestors who have passed and are no longer a dominant presence in our mental life. The track is haunting, and Mr. Mirabal's grief at not being able to turn to them for guidance is powerful. Little Wolf Band returns for track 8, entitled Prayers In the Wind.  Like much of Sacred Ground, the track rocks solidly, with chants heard in the background. The track musically covers a similar theme to Robert Mirabal's People of Yesterday, and is again quite haunting and ethereal.  Let Us Dance, performed by Verdell Primeaux, David Carson, and Johnny Mike, is a song about the temporary nature of one's life, and how the importance of passing on the traditions, dancing, singing, and ceremonial rites, must be observed and carried out. The loss of Indigenous languages is a challenge for many tribes the world over. Language is the medium of the oral traditions. Walela, along with Joanne Shenandoah perform a song called Mother Earth. Walela, composed of Rita Coolidge, Priscilla Coolidge, and Laura Satterfield, is a Cherokee vocal group whose members have been famous in the world of rock music for many years before uniting to record Indigenous music. This song is positively chilling, and alludes to Crazy Horse's vision of healing Mother Earth through seven generations.  

This album's spirituality and solemnity lays out the importance of Sacred Places and the Indigenous Peoples of North America's alarm and sadness at the raping of Mother Earth by humans who have no perspective of what the consequences their stupidity will have for their grandchildren and great grandchildren.  The Earth is a living planet, and all are dependent upon maintaining the delicate balance that has been so distorted by humans seeking money, the most deadly of all human addictions.

Under the name of Johnny Whitehorse, Robert Mirabal has recorded three memorable albums. His Taos Pueblo given name in the Tiwa language translates as Johnny Whitehorse in English. Mr. Mirabal
returned to a more rock sounding style, with the selections focusing here upon his love of horses. Every song offered on Johnny Whitehorse has a horse centered theme. Given Mr. Mirabal's previous work and descriptions of his life at Taos Pueblo, this theme was a natural.

Cover Art Work for Johnny Whitehorse Album 

The opening track focuses on a drumbeat that is steady and steadfast. The Indigenous flute is the primary voice that Mirabal uses on this tune. The track, entitled White Horse Dreaming, is a natural vehicle for the otherworldly sounds this flute can make. There is what sounds like a synthesizer in the background providing some mid-range tension. A rainstick adds percussion. There are sounds that imitate birds throughout the song. The picture this listener gets is an Indigenous horseback rider riding across the sage plains around Taos with leather covering his legs, but bare from the waist upward. There may be combat taking place. Indian Pony, the second track, continues the intense drumming with a large drum  and smaller bongo like drums being heard. There are chants to be heard, and a rainstick. The Indigenous flute adds color to the scene, which sounds like either a war dance or a race of some type. It is haunting. Two years passed before Mr. Mirabal recorded another album. In 2007, he had the inspiration to share three albums, In the Blood, A Pueblo Christmas, and Festivalink Presents Robert Mirabal at Taos Solar Festival 7/1/07 . In the Blood is an album that focuses on themes that are new, and also some that are new versions of songs originally presented on Music From a Painted Cave. The whole album is more collaborative with respect to songwriting, with the caveat that several of the songs are new studio recordings of older songs.  The third selection, Spirit Rider, is a powerful nod to the dead, who have passed into the next world, yet ride their horses there, watching over the people of their tribe. There is a rapid galloping sound that may be heard, along with an eerie sound that resembles a tambourine taped  and then played backwards. The next track, Iron Horse, has a rumbling sound in the background with a set of two drums playing against one another. The deep thundering sound reminds me of the sound of a long train rumbling past as I hold my ear to the rails to pretend I am Indigenous, which is a game we used to play at church camp when the Santa Fe Railroad was still itself and not a corporate conglomerate. It is also reminiscent of what a thundering herd of buffalo sounded like before they were nearly made extinct by railroad men shooting them by the hundreds of thousands. 

Front Cover of Stephen Gough's Book - Colter's Run

Highway Historical Marker Commemorating Colter and His Run

Track five is an interesting and multicultural flavored recording. Runners of Snowy River begins with an ethereal, low guttural sound. This is an Australian didjeridu. It would be easy to mistake it for a bass harmonica.War drums come into consciousness early on, and the scene comes to mind from John Colter's life when he is caught by the Blackfeet and is made to strip naked in freezing, snowy weather and is given the chance to run for his life. Somehow he evades the Blackfeet warriors and wanders across what is now most of the entire state of Montana and makes it alive to a fort on the banks of The Big Horn River, still naked. The sixth track, Riding Alone, is a haunting tune. There is a Taos Drum miked with echo that makes it sound ominous, and a violin and Indigenous flute that play a morose melody, giving the listener the sense that a lonesome rider is riding back to his tribal home to deal with a sad event, perhaps the death of a wife or parent. It is a melody that simply exudes deep and unbridled sadness and inconsolable grief.

The next selection, Fear the Colt, begins with a sound that is cheery and could represent a newly born foal.  The song grows into a musical mood that seems to illustrate in sound the conflict that a young foal has to face when tamed and domesticated for riding. To a young foal, the idea of a bit and bridle must seem like hell. To a trainer, there is the unsettling fine line to walk between taming the foal and completely breaking it's spirit. Eventually there must be a meeting of minds and souls. A reliable war pony was essential to a warrior's survival. Riders in the Rain, Track eight, is a mood piece with what sounds like a group of warriors trying to get to their camp with their horses exhausted, defeated, and hungry. The sound of a warrior coaxing and cajoling his mount onward may be heard periodically. The rain keeps falling, and the ride becomes nightmarish. It feels as if everything is closing in, and chances of a good end are trickling away with the rain.  Track nine, The Last Ride of Cochise, begins with a gentle bass plucking away, maracas shaking, and acoustic guitar. The flute carries the melody. When Cochise died of cancer in 1874, his body was painted yellow, black, and bright red, and was taken into the Dragoon Mountains of Arizona. It was lowered into a crevice, the location of which is now unknown. Toward the end of the song, Cochise's words of peace are spoken by Mirabal softly in the background. The final track, Whitehorse Rides, is a mood piece that incorporates rainstick, Taos Drum, maracas, and lovely Indigenous flute. To this listener, it sounds as if the song is a musical expression of the exhilaration that a rider feels when he is riding without worry or fear as fast as he can, reproducing the incredible dive of a peregrine falcon as it dives at incredible speed toward the prey that is for dinner that day.

K'uu-ch'ish 1805-1874

Arizona's Dragoon Mountains - Resting Place of K'uu-ch'ish

This album is a concept album in the best sense of the world. Because it is done as primarily instrumental, the listener's imagination can adopt the idea of what the concept is, and mold it into his own vision, his own interpretation. This is Mirabal at his best, presenting a beautiful offering to his listener, and respecting him enough to allow a bit of imagination to flower without stifling the listener's creative emotional response to Mr. Mirabal's creation.

Cover Art Work for In The Blood Album

In the Blood is Robert Mirabal's finest album under his own name. It is a meditation on Spirituality lost and then regained. Like Taos Tales and Indians Indians, this album has an overriding theme, but the individual songs also have important stories and points to share with the listener. In the Blood begins with a brief picture in sound entitled The Chief Escapes. The meaning is left open to interpretation. Medicine Man then makes another appearance on In the Blood with a new studio recording that is more uptempo, and perhaps more confrontative. The person Mirabal presents singing this song is a little more aggressive, a little more challenging. Instead of the song's singer sounding resigned, the picture here is darker and more powerful. The Indigenous flute sounds disturbing, haunting. The third Track, Indian Johnny, is a tale of of an angry husband shooting his wife's suitor, then offering him a job. The song's message is a strong indictment of the takers in the tribe who do not contribute to the community's betterment. Brave New World, written by Robert Mirabal with Andy Byrd, begins with a train crossing signal, then references the novel of the same name as this song, A Brave New World. Part of the Huxley novel is set in the Western Pueblos of New Mexico, notably Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni. The novel is a utopian vision, like many of the then contemporary books of the 20th Century. Unlike other novels, this novel is a warning of the negative future a utopian society could bring. There is a plot theme of "savages" who take to the attractions of the new society like bears to honey. In time, it becomes apparent that the people who remain living on the "Savage Reservations" are the only people who have a vestige of true humanity left in them. The rest of the world is deceived, programmed by the governing powers to consume the new, trash the old, and true intimacy is nowhere to be found.   In the end, the question the listener asks is "who's the savage?" 

Aldous Huxley Quote from Brave New World

Holding Up the Sky is an uptempo rocking number, and taps into the conflict and anger many Indigenous people have toward the dominant culture, due to to promises from the past that are unkept...treaties, agreements, promises. Mr. Mirabal sings about various aspects of the fear that members of the dominant culture have toward the world going to hell. Mirabal then quotes Sitting Bull. The point is that the thought that Indigenous people can save the world is a concept that could make Indigenous people feel even more powerless, because their cultures are so damaged by the sector of the dominant society that wants to adopt Indigenous views of the world. Mirabal makes two points here, with the first being that the dominant culture has got to keep the promises it made and broke repeatedly to Indigenous tribes. The second is that the tribes themselves have got to develop a better view of themselves and take pride in their heritage and hold the dominant culture accountable for the broken promises.  A beautiful remake of Little Indians follows, with the memorable lyric that asks if it is possible for Indigenous children to break out of the cycle of disillusionment and disappointment that so many young people floating between two cultures have that degrades them and causes them to disengage and begin self-destructive behavior. While the dominant culture is in love with the Noble Savage ideal, in reality the lives of Indigenous children are exactly the opposite. Theirs is a struggle to find an identity.

The title track of the In the Blood album, a Mirabal co-write with Andy Byrd,  follows Little Indians, and the whole rock feel of the album continues here. In the Blood shifts the mood of the album, building on the message of the last few songs. The whole feel of the song is a celebration of being Indigenous. Instead of trying to be something else, Mr. Mirabal challenges his people to turn to their heritage and take pride in it. The medicine for the clash between Indigenous and dominant cultures inside each Native Man or Woman is to stop fighting and to embrace their Indigenous heritage proudly and completely. Here is the video that Robert Mirabal put together for this track Robert Mirabal-In the Blood (title track)  Tsel-Mo-Ah (The Butterfly Song) is a beautiful traditional anthem that offers a majestic track with chanting in Tiwa prominently presented.  The lyrics are by Patrick Shendo Mirabal, whose singing is heard. The melody is from a Jemez Pueblo children's social dance. The version of Ee You Oo that follows Tsel-Mo-Ah is a new 2007 recording of the song that first appeared on Taos Tales, then Music From a Painted Cave. The song is sung in Tiwa. A 2007 recording of Theo's Dream follows Ee You Oo, and the contrast drawn with the earlier meditations on embracing Indigenous heritage is sharply drawn. It is another reminder of the damage that war does to human beings, all human beings. The feel that is engendered is one of Theo being lost, lost to all he was or could ever be. The guitar here is simply stunning. Things Are Different Now, a rare non-Mirabal composition, follows, and features Paul Fowler. This song makes the observation that things are changing, perhaps more randomly than any of us can imagine. The counterpoint between Robert Mirabal and Paul Fowler here brings an eerie sense of discomfort. The reverb on the vocals and instruments yields a distortion that impels us to move out of our comfort zone to listen to the song, which is the point of the song....if we get too comfortable, we cannot embrace the opportunities and changes we encounter due to fear.  

Pottery Shard Man is the next to last track, a powerful track that rocks in a manner very close to traditional Taos drumming, which is the point. Mirabal asks, can we find the light? Can we love in the face of the unexpected and the tragic? Can we dance? In dance is the spirituality we crave so strongly. A new recording of The Dance from 2007 closes this superb album, and the first sound is the Taos drum, played by Reynaldo Lujan. As Mr. Mirabal so eloquently sings, "where there is suffering, there is dance." We all must find our own way to peace. The song rocks and the drum is there, guiding it all, bringing it home. If Taos Pueblo is Mr. Mirabal's home, it is also where his heart lives... The Mountain, The sacred Blue Lake, the Dance, and the Drum.

The Taos Drums

Cover Art Work for Johnny Whitehorse Totemic Flute Chants Album

Back Cover Art Work for Totemic Flute Chants 
(explanation of totems and album's theme)

With the Johnny Whitehorse album having been very well received, and nominated for a Grammy for Best Native American Album, Mr. Mirabal returned to his alter ego for a second Indigenous concept album, this time describing in sound the various animals who serve as spiritual guides to the various tribes incorporating totems in their overall religious beliefs.  Totemic Flute Chants is another work which is more inwardly directed and spiritually centered. The Totemic Flute Chants album received the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Native American Album in a very competitive year for outstanding Indigenous artists' albums. It is important to note that Mr. Mirabal has incorporated Aboriginal instrumentation in several of his albums throughout his recording career. Among the instruments to be heard on this album in addition to Taos Drum, Indigenous flute, maracas, and rainsticks,  he can be heard using didjeridu, bullroarer, and clapsticks.  Each totem presented on this album represents admirable traits that Indigenous tribal members admire and wish to emulate. 

Leading off  the album is a song for the Cougar. Taos Drum, Indigenous flute, and rattle simulate the quiet and stealthy movements of this secretive hunter.  Those fortunate enough to see a cougar in the wild often do not realize that the animal may have been stalking them. The next song is the song for the Coyote, whose cleverness and ability to survive difficult living situations is honored by many tribes. The coyote has the widest range of North American canines still wild, and Mirabal's playing here is reminiscent of the yips of the coyote. At roughly two and a half minutes in, tribal chants emerge with imitation of coyote cries closing the tune. The Thunderbird is an animal that is sacred to many Southwestern US tribes. There are also oral histories of thunderbirds in many other tribes in the US. Most tribes believe that by beating it's wings, thunderbirds create the movement of clouds into thunderheads that bring rain. 

Keresan Pottery with Thunderbird 

The next selection of this album is the Emergence (Creation). The ancient tribes of the Southwest believe that they emerged from Mother Earth. Taos Pueblos point of Emergence is believed to be their sacred Blue Lake (see illustration above). Mr. Mirabal speaks a brief part of the Emergence, and today's kivas, are really not that different than the Anazazi old ones.  The old ones' ruins are considered sacred, and are protected by federal law.  The next selection, Earth Mother, opens with a cry and rattle. Taos Drum and violin enter, and the whole feel is of Mother Earth giving birth to the animals, plants, and other life that make up the Indigenous world. The Pueblo kiva and Lakota sweat lodges are places of prayer, purification, and atonement. That they are underground and sometimes dark commemorates the role of Mother Earth in the Emergence. 

Mother Earth by Maxine Toya, Jemez Pueblo Potter

Serpent, which follows Mother Earth, represents primal energy in most tribes' beliefs. It is believed that serpents represent healing energy and spiritual growth during times of change. The serpent sounds here are hisses and serpent energy is unconscious energy hidden from the everyday mind. Often serpents show up in dreams, calling attention to unfinished life dilemmas.  The many Indigenous flutes here call to us to reveal what we need to know or to heed in our lives. In many ways, some of the flute parts on this song sound East Asian Indian in their flavor. Buffalo, the next song, begins with Indigenous flute, rattle, drum set, and synthesizer in the bass clef. To many tribes, the buffalo is a symbol of abundance and thankfulness. In Lakota culture, The White Buffalo Woman taught the Lakota how to pray, live a sacred life, and about the role of the Lakota in the world.  The next selection, Whale, is important to Indigenous people in the Pacific Northwest, with Orcas being especially significant. Mr. Mirabal here does a nice job of placing whale song within the body of the overall sound of this tune. The waves of the ocean my be heard, as can the spouting of the whales. Humpback whale song is delicately woven in and out of the tune, suggesting their place, so close and yet so far away. Elk, the totem song following Whale, begins with the trumpeting male elk during rutting season, announcing the entrance of Autumn and the cold time to come. The clash of the male elk during rutting season is a sign of  love, bravery, endurance, and male spirit power. The Indigenous flute is said to have been created by the elk people to attract women, and their sound was thought to be irresistible. 

Late 19th Centry Plains Tribe Tipi with Eagle Clan Symbol

Whale Totem from Tlingit Nation in Alaska

Di'neh Bear Medicine Sand Painting

Indigenous Plains Tribe Wolf  Clan Dancer

Following Elk is Eagle. In the cosmology of the Pueblos, the Eagle is the guardian of the upward direction, and represents balance and spirituality. Eagle feathers are symbols in the Plains tribes of bravery in war. Listen closely here, and the piercing cry of the eagle may be heard, woven into the music. Bear is next, with the bear representing bravery, gallantry, and in Pueblo cosmology, Bear Medicine represents the West and the color blue. Bear Medicine included wearing claws, or including them in medicine bundles. Strength and power were also ascribed to Bear Medicine. Ending this lovely and powerful animal is Wolf.  The cries of the wolf are a sound heard less and less in the USA, because they are shot by poachers and government hunters after being labelled as threats to domestic livestock.  In this selection, an Australian Indigenous instrument called a bullroarer may be heard. You may associate it with the sound that might be made by a giant mosquito. Wolf calls are again included here. Wolf Medicine is associated with bravery, daring, and hunting. In some tribes the Wolf Clan is associated with creation. 

What to make of this album? It is fairly unique, and it is a wonderful statement using music as a means to acquaint young Indigenous children about their traditions and heritage. It is also useful to help other cultures understand to a small degree, the uniqueness of Indigenous peoples of North America and they way that they look at the world. To some degree, the USA high school athletic mascots are are direct descendants of totem medicine, and this simply another way non Indigenous people have "borrowed" from North American Indigenous Spirituality and Belief. Most of all, it is a masterpiece of Robert Mirabal's musical expression, and the beauty and depth it radiates makes it more powerful than even he may have envisioned.

Cover Art Work for Pueblo Christmas Album

2007's second album from Robert Mirabal is a holiday themed album, Pueblo Christmaswhich on first blush seems unusual from him, given his more traditional outlook. The genre of Christmas Music is a creature to itself. It is difficult to compare Christmas themed albums with regular releases. This is also true of Robert Mirabal's Christmas album. It is quite special for a few reasons. First, it is designed primarily for an Indigenous audience. Second, it is a present to New Mexico Indigenous children, and finally, it is nice reflection of the duality of religious consciousness that most Indigenous New Mexico Pueblo tribes function under. There is their specific spirituality that dates from time immemorial, but, also, many of the Pueblos have Roman Catholic missions that date back almost 400 years as a religious tradition in their various reservations.

The album begins with a New Mexico themed tune by Mr. Mirabal called Green Chili Christmas. Traditional sleight bells and Indigenous flues kick off the song, which then yield to a mid tempo rock beat. Mr. Mirabal then pulls a "Surfin' USA" and names many of the Pueblos as the song progresses. There is a doo wop type of counterpoint with a fine bass singer chiming in. The album then turns to Indigenous flute and drum based music, beginning with Angels We Have Heard On High. The Indigenous flute is a beautiful instrument to play holiday music on, and at times, the flutes on this carol are double tracked, playing different parts simultaneously through the wonder of the studio. A lovely cello and possibly a bass viola kick of the next selection, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The Indigenous flute and cello play the melody together with flourishes from each instrument. This interpretation of this traditional tune is a highlight of this album. We Three Kings of Orient Are follows, with an acoustic guitar accompanying the Indigenous flute. The flute seems to come from nowhere, and the echo on the track itself adds a pathos to the song. The picture my mind envisions is a shepherd, alone with his flock outdoors, playing his flute to celebrate the holiday with no one else to hear him but the sheep.

Illustration of Taos Pueblo Church at Christmas by Valerie Graves (

The version of Away In a Manger is done in waltz time and is lovely, with the flute taking the melody accompanied by acoustic guitar, cello, tambourine, and at the end....wolf calls in the wind. A gently plucked guitar begins Silent Night, with the flute entering at measure 4. This carol is perfect for interpretation by Indigenous flute. The middle section features a lovely cello, which is then replaced by guitar and flute for the second playing of the melodic theme, simply perfect in it's simplicity. The flute returns to play the introduction to Hark the Herald Angels Sing, with variations on the main melody played by the cello and flute, with guitar added for timekeeping. Suddenly, at two minutes in, the melody is joyously presented, with what sounds like overdubbed flutes added for color. The next selection is a cool interpretation of a medley of  Go Tell It On the Mountain/Jesus Loves the Little Children. The flute playfully takes the lead, almost sounding like a child's tonette. The guitar keeps a walking 4 beat behind it, and it is easy to see children delighting in hearing this version. The maraca and guitar close the tune percussively. A medley is also presented in the next selection, What Child Is This/Greensleeves. The flute again is the lead instrument here, with percussion from plucked guitar, maraca, and variations on the themes from cello. The arrangements on many of these carols is more jazz oriented than rock, and sounds improvisational. Rainstick and bells open Winter Solstice, a Mirabal original. The solstice is a major day of Traditional Pueblo Religion, and the holidays are a combination of celebration of Christian and Traditional Pueblo Indigenous Beliefs. This song is subtly gorgeous, with flute present throughout, and drum, bells, and rainstick at the end. The First Noel is next, with the cello taking the melody. The plucked guitar keeps time, with a beautiful flute middle section. The cello returns to carry the carol to a lovely conclusion. 

O Holy Night keeps the tone and mood of the last several selections of this beautiful, yet humble Christmas Album. The melody is carried by the flute, with percussion kept by the guitar, and color added by what sounds like violin and cello. The simple arrangement highlights the music, and shows why this carol is a Christmas standard. Mr. Mirabal presents a spoken word meditation, explaining how Christmas Eve is timeless at the Pueblo, and he himself is just temporarily there. The Virgin Mary is timeless, and children still suffer, and the unchanging Pueblo is the place to return from wherever you are on Christmas Eve.  The album ends with a joyous rendition of Jingle Bells, played with loving abandon on the Indigenous flute, accompanied by plucked cello, violin, and guitar. The sleigh bells help change the tune to double time two minutes in, and the song end humorously with a flourish and a hose neighing.  

A Pueblo Christmas is an album that you need to listen to on a nice set of speakers or on headphones. Repeated listenings offer new subtle details, humor, and somber worship. This is a gift from one New Mexican to all of the rest of us out there, expatriate or instate. It is not to be missed. 

The third and final album record in 2007 is FestivaLink Presents Robert Mirabal at Taos Solar Festival 7/1/07. This album is live, and is a selection of many of Mr. Mirabal's most engaging songs from this new century. The album kicks off with a rocking rendition of  Medicine Man. and there is something about hearing this tune live that is magical. The ensemble playing with Mirabal here catches all the subtlety of the studio version, and the Indigenous flute that Mr. Mirabal plays here sings in a manner that is wild and birdlike. The live presentations on this album present Mr. Mirabal the chance to stretch out and play extended versions of several songs.

Amazon Cover Art Work for FestivaLink Presents Robert Mirabal at Taos Solar Festival 7/1/07

The version of  Indian Johnny here rocks solidly and harder than the studio version. This is one of those songs of Mr. Mirabal's that has a moral needing to be heard. This simply is a live version that exceeds the studio original. The version of In the Blood here is introduced by Mirabal as a prayer for Indigenous people. The song as a prayer is intended to inspire Pueblo people to see themselves and their beliefs as valuable and powerful. The song places Indigenous people squarely in their culture and dances. The message here is hope. An extended version of Holding Up the Sky is next, with the group rocking hard. The message of the studio version is brought home, and the hope here is for inner stability and knowing ourselves. People who know themselves can reach out and become acquainted with other people who know themselves. Again, this is a prayer, a message to turn inward and to know your roots.

Robert Mirabal Live in 2007 - Taos Solar Festival

A sampled didjeridu kicks off  Brave New World, one of Mr. Mirabal's most meaningful compositions. To hear the Singer at the beginning is to have chills. The song is probably too complicated lyrically to get all of the first time in a live setting. Despite that impression, the tune itself is one of Mirabal's finest, and  belongs in the small cadre of tunes that have ideas that emerge gradually to the listener upon repeated listens. The crowd sings the refrain at the tune's conclusion. The workout this song receives here simply enhances my admiration of the song.  A 13 minute version of Pottery Shards Man, the closing track of the In the Blood album,  follows with the song again receiving an extended presentation. The introduction to the song is quite enlightening, and helps the listener put the tune into a context that is understandable. The tune percolates for a few minutes and then rocks hard. The tune is pivotal on In the Blood. The central theme of the tune is "Can We Dance?".....this is a metaphor for "Can We Pray?" Mirabal references the one billion Indigenous people on Earth, and offers the prayer that the Indigenous people of the world can unite to speak as one. This concert's final track is The Dance, which  answers a resounding yes to the question posed in Pottery Shards Man...and the Sacred Drum returns to the the foundation, the Beat of Prayer. Aho.

After touring for most of 2008, Robert Mirabal issued his third album as Johnny Whitehorse, Riders of the Healing Road. It again was a concept album, addressing the spiritual brokenness so many of us feel, especially Indigenous people. After the Grammy winning Totem Flute Chants album, which seemed to be addressed to young people and cultures outside of the Indigenous world, this work seemed to be recorded to help the many of us who are broken spiritually to look at searching inside themselves wondering how to heal, to become One again. My brokenness has been healed more than once by being in nature, listening to my higher power inside me, and finding out why I am broken and how listening to my inner Light may unify me again. When I was in New Mexico, I had the good fortune to meet two spiritual leaders in the Pueblos. The holy men, or caciques, as they are called, gave me guidance on how to heal and what to listen for. Later on, I was invited to observe a Sun Dance, which is an unforgettable experience, and got to sweat with several local urban Indigenous people, who keep themselves together with periodic sweat lodge praying. This album directly points to the healing power we all have inside of us and around us. 

Cover Art Work for Johnny Whitehorse

Riders of the Healing Road bursts out of my speakers with a sudden flute call, then suddenly transitions into a bullroarer, with what sound like women singing in the background, but is electronic instead. Again the flute is the primary instrument, accompanied by Taos Drum, rainsticks, and maracas. This song called The Ceremony Begins, is a statement of intention and also an invitation. We are explorers of the most complex and confusing territory on Earth...our own inner spirit. A song called Blood Medicine is next, probably referring to the healing practices of Pueblo caciques, which entail the use of of herbs and purification. The song is haunting, giving the feeling that the person needing healing is plagued by bad spirits. As with regular medicine, a cacique must first learn what healing arts need to be used by identifying the problems the person needing healing has. The third track, Saint Sara, begins with flute and acoustic guitar, with wind chimes heard in the background. Bongos come in, along with mandolin. The flute seems to imitate the sound of a woman talking. Guitars come back, and the vocal from Robert Mirabal sounds as if he has lost someone very close to him. The whole song begins to have a feeling of grief and sadness. The next track, called Moving Chi, begins with intense drum, with maracas and Taos Drum as well. The feeling here is one of anger, inner turmoil. It seems that the balance of the person's life is undone. Moving Chi is a reference to Oriental Medicine, chi being life life force. The track may also be possibly a dance prayer using the drum and flute. In Vedanta Medicine, often yoga is used for moving chi. Ancestral Kundalini, track five, is a spoken word track, with Mirabal using an example of  Buddhist tantric prayer to illustrate healing. In Christianity, the closest corollary would be the teachings of Jesus about selling everything you own, leaving your family, and following Him. The mantra in this song is "Give Everything Up." 

The next track, Rituals of Winter,  begins intensely, perhaps communicating the inner struggle that people who seek healing experience. The Taos Drum enters at two minutes in, perhaps representing the heartbeat those of us who practice yoga hear when we are doing it. The flute plays in a very high register, as if a child who has been stifled wants to be released. Hand Tremblers is a meditation by Mr. Mirabal about the inner conflict his grandmother experienced being a healer, a vessel through which cleansing spirit passes, and through which spiritual illness exits. He sings about his grandmother intuitively knowing when someone who needed her was coming. The grandson then describes how he was called to be a healer, and violins and rainsticks offer a feeling of healing. Mimi Spirits, the next track, begins with a bullroarer, signifying perhaps spritely spirits, or as mediums describe, "spirit helpers." Mimi Spirits is an intense track that refers to the tall thin spirits living in the Australian Outback at the Time of Dreaming. They engaged the Aboriginal Indigenous people, teaching them about hunting, cooking, and other important skills. There is a similar ancient spirit that Mr. Mirabal refers to in his Music From a Painted Cave album and dvd. Interested listeners may refer to that section of this article where a link to the song and video is posted. 

Rock Paintings of Mimi Spirits by Australian Indigenous People

The track that follows, Heal the Bones, is ominously sad, with synthesizer, rattle, and a haunting flute in the first  minute. The track continues, adding a Taos Drum, and the voices simulated by the synthesizer are maudlin and turbid...the closest analogy here would be funeral music. The chant Mr. Mirabal sings in the last few minutes is deep in grief, yet may also represent a prayer for letting go of the relative or friend who has died. This album's final song has the same name as this album, Riders of the Healing Road.  The flute here has a shrill but more joyous sound. The Taos Drum enters at roughly a minute in, and the track quickens as if the person who this album is about has balanced himself, with the corresponding reintegration into life and all it presents. The album closes on an upbeat tone, with the caution that it is easy to become unbalanced again, if the person does not walk with a balanced heart and mind.

The collection of music that Mr. Mirabal has written and recorded for 25+ years is not only spiritually expressive, but offers listeners the chance to understand the complex world that Indigenous people have to navigate. It is a complex world that not every person can live in, and those who are successful, such as Mr. Mirabal, are interpreters of the traditions that make life meaningful to young people growing up in those traditions. Mr. Mirabal regularly plays free concerts for Indigenous young people, and his work has rippled throughout the Americas. Through his work, a new generation of Indigenous artists and musicians are entering and exploring their worlds, offering a message of renewal of Mother Earth, and an alternative to the soulless world of conspicuous consumption.

This author is indebted to several sources that are important to name:

*Allmusic-The sections on Robert Mirabal, Johnny Whitehorse, and Bill Miller
*Robert Mirabal's own website-Robert Mirabal's own site
*Silver Wave Records-Home of the vast majority of Mr. Mirabal's albums Silver Wave Records
*Ear Candy Magazine-Home to an excellent interview with Robert Mirabal about Music From a     Painted Cave
* to another Robert Mirabal Interview
* excellent overview of Mr. Mirabal's career
* to an excellent biography of Mr. Mirabal Robert Mirabal Biography
*Mr. Mirabal's own Blog, updated regularly at his own website
*Neville H. Fletcher-Australian Aboriginal Instruments: The Didjeridu, Bullroarer, and Gum Leaf. 
Journal of ITC Sangeet Research Academy-Volume 21-December 2007 pp 61-75
*Alfonso Ortiz-The Tewa World: Space, Time Being and Becoming in a Pueblo Society. 1972-University of Chicago Press 

Art work is copyright by Warner Records and Silver Lake Records
Text is copyright by Peter Reum-All Rights Reserved

This article is dedicated to the memory of my Indigenous sister Susan Ann Reum and her daughter and my favorite niece Regina Cata of Albuquerque