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The Rough Guide to Native American Music
(World Music Network, 1999)

The Rough Guide to Native American Music introduces listeners to the aural magic of North America's First People. This is a sampler album, traversing the United States with 18 artists expressing their cultural heritages.

The songs are in the traditional languages, giving English-speaking listeners a disadvantage. Still, the melodies speak louder than the lyrics, alternatively soft and lovely or full of strong beats. The music is excellently crafted and enticing in its uniqueness. For folk music fans, this will provide something unusual, yet compelling.

Unfortunately, the accompanying booklet is mostly advertisements. It describes the singing groups, but not the words or even the deeper meaning of the songs, aside from translations of the titles. Some of these are obviously dance tunes, such as the Garcia Brothers' "Basket Dance" and Ed Lee Natay's "Sacred Mask Dance," and there are celebratory songs such as "Zuni Sunrise Song," a chant by Chester Mahooty, and Walela's "Cherokee Morning Song." Others include Primeaux & Mike's "Healing Song," the Blackstone Singers' "Victory Song" and R. Carlos Nakai's "Cleft in the Sky."

The selections span tribes across the United States. Most of the songs sound quite authentic, but some, like the Black Lodge Singers' "Mickey Mouse" and the rap-influenced "Are You Ready for W.O.R." by Without Reservation, are not among them.

Instruments vary, but the emphasis is definitely on the singing. The artists demonstrate the formidable skill of their crafts, despite the less-than-outstanding structure of the album.

- Rambles
written by Valerie Frankel
published 29 March 2003

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