various artists,
Tohono O'odham:
Traditional Tohono O'odham Songs

(Canyon, 1998)

Tohono O'odham: Traditional Tohono O'odham Songs, Volume 6 of the Canyon Records Vintage Collection, reflects the traditions and culture of the Tohono O'odham ("The Desert People"), formerly known as the Papago. They are composed using the basket drum and gourd rattle to accompany the vocables.

Basket drums are an ingenious means of creating a rhythm. They are nothing more than a household basket, usually woven from yucca. The basket is tuned upside down and placed on the ground, and the drummer strikes the exposed bottom of the basket with a stick. This produces a unique drum sound that is readily identifiable.

One characteristic of the songs of the Tohono O'odham is unique among Native Americans. They never compose a song completely of vocables. Usually their songs are complex narratives, but they will always contain meaningful phrases.

I really liked "Echo Song," which has a male solo with only minimal accompaniment of the rattle. "Owl Song" and "Horse Song" are beautiful, relaxing pieces -- soft, serene and comforting to the soul. Other songs include "First Chelkona Dance Song," "Last Chelkona Dance Song," "A Woman's Song," "Song Heard by Sick Man," "The Song of the Coyote" and "Widow's Dream Song." The singers are Lorenzo Pablo, Joaquin Garcia, Frances Manuel, Emma Francisco, Jose Pancho, Baptista Lopez, Mary Lopez and Eva Lopez.

In many of the first 10 songs, I found myself gritting my teeth. There is one woman in the group that has a cracking, off-key, squealing voice. She sings at a scream and overpowers the other singers. Her voice is in direct conflict with the lead male singers, and she has no sense of rhythm. While I appreciate the fact that these songs are sacred and that singing is an expression of spirituality, some people should sing at lower volume than a scream when in the presence of others. If you have a voice that is simply not meant for public singing, you should go to a remote spot to sing at full volume.

In all fairness, I can recommend this CD only if I add a warning that you may have to skip a few of the songs or grin and bear them. These songs are only in the first half and the second half are all a pleasure to the ears.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 14 February 2004

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