Hear Long-Lost Rock 'N' Roll From The Native American Heartland Native North America, Vol. 1 sketches out an entire chapter of American music that, remarkably and shamefully, largely had been lost until now.
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Hear Long-Lost Rock 'N' Roll From The Native American Heartland

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Hear Long-Lost Rock 'N' Roll From The Native American Heartland

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Music Reviews

Hear Long-Lost Rock 'N' Roll From The Native American Heartland

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Songs about Native Americans were popular in the '60s and '70s, but the singers were almost never Native American. A new CD collection shows that American Indian artists were in fact recording their own music at the time, largely outside of the media spotlight. The set is called "Native North America, Vol. 1," and our critic, Will Hermes, has this review.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: There are plenty of great stories in the "Native North America" set, but maybe the most compelling is about the Algonquin-Mohawk musician Willy Mitchell.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLY MITCHELL: The name of this song is "Call Of The Moose."

HERMES: In 1969, he was a teenager in Quebec, hanging up posters for his rock band. In the case of mistaken identity involving a set of stolen Christmas lights, he was shot in the head by a local cop. But astonishingly, he survived, and years later, he'd refer to it in his song "Call Of The Moose."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL OF THE MOOSE")

MITCHELL: (Singing) And I listen to the man of the law. I listen to his way. And I listen to a crack of a gun. And I'm the one that had to pay. And I listen to the Ojibwe chant and to the drumming of the Cree. And I listen to the cry of the people dying of mercury. Don't you know we (unintelligible)? Don't you know? Can't you see?

HERMES: As a cultural document, this collection is a masterpiece of curation and detective work, assembled over 15 years from records pressed in tiny quantities and recorded by artists from remote areas. But "Native North America" is also a very cool mix tape put together by a smart, crate-digging DJ. Listen to Sugluk, an Inuit band raised in a town near the rim of the Arctic Circle, who are listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, just like young musicians at the time all over the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FALL AWAY")

SUGLUK: (Singing) And fall away. I fall away. I never got my girl, and now I fall away.

HERMES: But most of the artists here are fusing modern traditions with native ones, like Inuk singer William Tanooga, an Eskimo artist from Nunavut who picked up music after a bout with tuberculosis. He sings this haunting country rock song, a pledge of devotion to his mom, in his native tongue.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANAANAGA")

WILLIAM TANOOGA: (Singing in foreign language).

HERMES: The essays and illustrations in this set, 120 pages worth in the CD package, sketch out an entire chapter of American music that remarkably and shamefully has been largely lost until now. And alongside some very potent music, they deliver something you rarely get in this age of downloads and streaming services - context and stories. Here's hoping there's more where these came from.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRCHBARK LETTER")

WILLY MITCHELL AND DESERT RIVER BAND: (Singing) I wrote her a letter from the bark of a tree. I was telling her that I would soon be there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The collection is called "Native North America, Vol. 1." Our critic, Will Hermes, is the author of the book "Love Goes To Buildings On Fire."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is all things considered from NPR news.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BIRCHBARK LETTER")

MITCHELL AND DESERT RIVER BAND: (Singing) I thanked him for the love that never ends.

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