Craig Harris,
Heartbeat, Warble & the Electric Powwow: American Indian Music
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2016)

Two years ago, musician and writer Craig Harris published a strong biography of the Band (which I reviewed in these pages on14 June 2014). Now he's back with a new book that takes on a wider scope: Heartbeat, Warble & the Electric Powwow is a comprehensive survey of Native American music.

To put the text together, Harris has conducted more than a hundred interviews, speaking both to well-known musicians such as R. Carlos Nakai, Buffy St. Marie and Bill Miller, and to dozens of artists I've never heard of. He divides his book into three major sections: The Heartbeat represents the drums, heard largely in powwows; The Warble describes the sound of the native flute, found as a solo instrument and as backing for singer-songwriters like Buffy St. Marie and Bill Miller, who excel at those instruments as well as guitars; and The Electric Powwow is the harder, edgier side of of Indian music, rock, punk, pop and alternative.

In all, Heartbeat, Warble & the Electric Powwow takes the reader on one fine trip. The book invites you into the music, beneath the surface of the form so that you learn about the philosophy that binds the music together and ultimately binds the people together. We learn, for example, how the warble in the flute is a result of its construction and how the native culture determines the music. The book will have you looking at Indian music differently.

I thought I knew a little something about the genre; reading this book showed me that at this point I know nothing. Harris is a good guide, though; by following his lead, I'm learning.

Craig Harris, with his plethora of research, organization and writing skills, opens the field of Indian music, showing its depth and pleasures, providing us with list of essential musicians to listen to, a listening program made easier by the Spotify playlist he has put together to accompany the book.

This is one you're going to want to read.

book review by
Michael Scott Cain

16 July 2016

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