Rock n' Roll and Removal on the Audible Native Frontier
by Jonathan Hill — University of Massachusettes Amherst
December 06, 2012 – 00:00
Being heard is an issue for most Native musicians. In their efforts to be recognized for a broad range of expressive practices and their impacts on popular culture, many still confront expectations and expressive typologies imposed by institutionally affirmed folkloric ideologies that made their way into mass circulation. The consequence is a limiting expectation of what Native people sound like, as listeners have a hard time marking sounds as “Indian” beyond the stereotypic formulas. This video showcases contemporary Indigenous sounds, a lesser known history, and a broader range of Native identity that defies expectations.
The Plateros are a guitar based power trio out of To’ Hajiilee, NM. In the video, they are performing at the 34th American Indian Film Festival. Their performance is in honor of Veterans, thereby aligning it with a “traditional” practice of acknowledging this role in a community. Using rock as a means of honoring Veterans contradicts most “traditional,” scholarly, and mainstream notions associated with this practice. Yet, the group members do not define their identities by adhering to “tradition” or catering to expectations. For them, playing rock music is Native.
The lesser known history has to do with the song’s composer, Jimi Hendrix, who was also Native. Despite his efforts to make his identity audible and visible, many could not hear it, including other Native performers. The Plateros were not aware of Hendrix’s Native identity or military service when they selected this song. They had not heard the story behind the track, “I Don’t Live Today.” They did not know that Hendrix’s second album was supposed to be his “Indian” album or that the artists misinterpreted what he meant by “Indian” when they designed the album’s jacket. They had not heard about Hendrix’s role in putting Redbone together. Yet, this performance is contextualized by these aspects for those who are aware and makes the song choice appropriate and intentional despite the lyrics.
The Plateros are striving to make it to the larger stages as they defy expectations of what Natives sound like. Meanwhile, other performers and their legacies still need acknowledgement, as they were silenced by similar expectations. A broader listening and framing of Native expression is needed. Otherwise, expression is limited to types and dialogues that don’t voice the full range of Native sounds.