Today is Native American Day!

native_am_musThis day is set aside to honor and celebrate Native Americans, the first Americans to live in the U.S. Still commonly referred to as American Indians, the term “Native Americans” has been used in recent years as a sign of respect and recognition that they were indeed the first people to populate our great and wonderful nation.

By the time the first explorers and settlers arrived from Europe, Native Americans had populated the entire North American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the northern reaches of Canada.

History of Native American Music

Music and history are tightly interwoven in Native American life. A tribe’s history is constantly told and retold through music, which keeps alive an oral narrative of history. These historical narratives vary widely from tribe to tribe, and are an integral part of tribal identity. However, their historical authenticity cannot be verified; aside from supposition and some archaeological evidence, the earliest documentation of Native American music came with the arrival of European explorers. Musical instruments and pictographs depicting music and dance have been dated as far back as the 7th century.

Bruno Nettl refers to the style of the Great Basin area as the oldest style and common throughout the entire continent before Mesoamerica but continued only in the Great Basin and in the lullaby, gambling, and tale genres around the continent. A style featuring relaxed vocal technique and the rise may have originated in Mesoamerican Mexico and spread northward, particularly into the California-Yuman and Eastern music areas. According to Nettl, these styles also feature “relative” rhythmic simplicity in drumming and percussion, with isometric material and pentatonic scales in the singing, and motives created from shorter sections into longer ones.

native_mus_2While this process occurred, three Asian styles may have influenced North American music across the Bering Strait, all featuring pulsating vocal technique and possibly evident in recent Paleo-Siberian tribes such as Chuckchee, Yukaghir, Koryak. Also, these may have influenced the Plains-Pueblo, Athabascan, and Inuit-Northwest Coast areas. According to Nettl, the boundary between these southward and the above northward influences are the areas of greatest musical complexity: the Northwest Coast, Pueblo music, and Navajo music. Evidence of influences between the Northwest Coast and Mexico are indicated, for example, by bird-shaped whistles. The Plains-Pueblo area has influenced and continues to influence the surrounding cultures, with contemporary musicians of all tribes learning Plains-Pueblo influenced pantribal genres such as Peyote songs.

Amazing Grace – Cherokee

Soothing Native Flute Music and Rain

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