various artists,
Traditional Navajo Songs
(Canyon, 1998)

Traditional Navajo Songs has a variety of songs taken from the Yei-Be-Chai ritual that were originally recorded by Canyon Records between 1952 and 1963. They have been compiled on this CD to provide an overview of Navajo musical traditions.

It is interesting that two songs on this CD have the same title and are performed by the same band. This is not a typo. There is a story behind this. These are the sacred songs that are performed during the Yei-Be-Chai dances or Night Chants. These are healing ceremonies. The council of the 12 gods, known as the Yei-Be-Chai, gave the two songs to an ancient Canyon de Chelly visionary. They have been passed down through the generations. For the complete version of this story and more information about this sacred dance ceremony, read the inside of the CD cover.

The latter of these two sacred songs, "Yei-Be-Chai Chant," is as close as the Navajo get to the Plains style of vocabals and wailing chants. This selection is so emphatic that it is almost yelled. There are no drums, only rattles for accompaniment. It is extremely layered with harmonizing and conflicting melodies of chanting. It is quite unique and has some extraordinary vocabals.

The Navajo are well known for their individualized chanting style. They seem to be all doing their own thing as the spirit moves them. Often their chanting is out of rhythm and off-key. If a baby adds voice to the chants, so much the better, for this is a sign that the baby will become a strong singer when grown. It is amazing how such a beautiful composition can come from what seems like such chaotic individualism. But it always manages to come together into a beautiful piece.

Most of these songs have a moderate to fast pace and reflect the Navajo liveliness and spirit for fun. As you listen to these songs, you will be carried away to a carefree world where everybody dances, sings and enjoys life. They are a welcome break from our modern hectic world of stress. As you listen to the sounds of the women grinding corn, you can imagine yourself entering this traditional world and sharing in their arduous task, while being serenaded by the men.

The selections include "Natay's Hoop Dance Song" (Ed Lee Natay), "I'll Take you Back to Arizona" (Reg Begay), "Old Time Squaw Dance Song" (Joe Lee of Lukachukai & Singers), "Competition Song (Roger McCabe), "Squaw's Pole Dance Song" (Reg Begay), "Circle Dance Song" (Mesa Verde National Park Team), "Corn-Grinding Songs" (male singers with women grinders), "Sun Dance Song" (Tseyia Chee) and "Round Dance Song" (Navajo Centennial Dance Team).

This is a collection of traditional songs that should be preserved for future generations. It is a real treasure and should be in the collection of every serious music collector or student of musicology.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 2 August 2003

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