For weeks now, Christmas music has been playing everywhere — carols in the grocery store, holiday hits at Starbucks, and live music on the streets. But one artist has taken the holiday spirit in a different direction. Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Jana Mashonee recorded 10 traditional Christmas songs in 10 different Native American languages. The result is American Indian Christmas.
Jana Mashonee's latest album is called New Moon Born.
Jana Mashonee's latest album is called New Moon Born. Carter James
"I wanted to do something no one else has done. And so I thought maybe I can do a whole album in Native languages," Mashonee says, "And I thought I am crazy; I am doing it."
The ambitious project took a long time, as Mashonee sought permission from tribal councils to record a Christmas song in their respective languages. Some tribal leaders refused to participate in the project because they felt their languages are sacred and Christianity is not their religion.
One of the hardest songs for Mashonee to record was "Joy to the World," sung in Chiracahua Apache. She had to work with language coaches for all songs, but this in particular was especially challenging.
"That one was the hardest, because it needed to be translated," Mashonee explains. "We had to do that over the phone, and she was an elder woman in her 90s and she barely spoke English."
There are over 500 different Native American tribes in the United States, but Mashonee, a Lumbee-Tuscarora, says often the elders are the only keepers of the languages. She recorded the album to make the Native language more accessible and accepted.
"It is kind of a way to know that these languages are still living ... to be able to have the younger people in the tribes to know more about their language and accept it," Mashonee explains. "And, also for non-Native people to hear a Native language."
Jana Mashonee is an eight-time Native American Music Awards winner. In 2007, she received a Grammy nomination for her album American Indian Story.