Our last visit to Pine Ridge Reservation was very different from our previous visits. One of the things we did this time was to spend a bit more time learning about the contemporary activities on the rez. History is important but what’s happening today helps me to understand the youth needs better.
So with some trepidation, we decided to attend the Independence Through Music (ITM) free concert that was being held one of the days we were there. I say with some trepidation because I have written about the ITM project before and knew that many of the musicians were hip hop or rap musicians. No offense to anyone whose musical tastes run in those directions, but mine do not. I can enjoy almost anything else, being the eclectic gal that I am, but rap generally would send me heading for the door.
In addition to being eclectic, however, I am also open-minded and like to learn about new people and things. So we went. I have a feeling that my husband, who shares my hip hop/rap feelings, was there only because I wanted to be. I’m grateful, because he handled the video taping which allowed me to concentrate on listening, watching and, yes, enjoying the concert.
We arrived at Billy Mills Hall in Pine Ridge, the concert venue, a bit early. I had a fairly good idea of what to expect, my husband did not. What we found was basically a large gymnasium with bleachers that push back when not in use. If you’re old enough, you may have had that kind of gym for your high school. Obviously, the acoustics were going to leave a lot to be desired.
We watched the sound check, which included some of the artists we would see later. Interesting. There is a link to the sound check video clip below. This is the memory of the concert, followed by some observations.
There was one more thing that struck me about the concert in general — and it had nothing to do with the musicians. Picture this:
You are sitting on the bottom step of the bleachers in a large, open gymnasium. People are getting their hands marked with a number as they enter — not for a count, but so they will be eligible for door prizes at intervals during the concert. Your back is already telling you that your fibromyalgia is not going to be happy with the seating arrangements. You ignore your back, knowing you may pay for that tomorrow.
The lighting leaves a little to be desired. There are no spotlights or stage lights, of course; there are just the single bulb lights suspended from the gym ceiling. Just the lights in front, where the performers are, are lit although at first the sunlight is also streaming through the high gym windows.
People trickle in. You are surprised that there are not more people, since the concert is free. But of course, communication on the rez is not great so it’s possible that many don’t even know about the concert.
You notice that while some people sit and watch the concert from one spot, others seem to need to wander about. Some go in and out the doors – the smokers, of course. Children run about freely, a bit distracting for you but they are not ill-mannered or wild. You think how wonderfully accepting the community is of normal child behavior and how much love they demonstrate to their children. Even the performers accept it easily, including the guy who performs half his act holding his son who is sleepy and wants his dad.
You notice a young man who is very obviously disabled and by his physical appearance, you would guess he has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He wanders across the gym, mingles with the musicians and dances when the mood strikes him. Then surprisingly he is introduced as a community member who would like to perform. He goes to the microphone, stands there clearly struggling to recall the song and to have the courage to sing it. He cannot. Suddenly, the audience breaks into loud applause and he beams. He leaves the microphone and resumes his previous activities. But it isn’t the young man who has impressed you — it is the community. The support and love they showed this disabled young man spoke volumes about the kind of people they were. Amazing!
The concert was supposed to run 6 – 10 pm. It is now 9 pm. You want to stay for the last hour, but you can see your husband has run out of enthusiasm. More than that, which might be overlooked, your back has finally begun to issue you an ultimatum — move and do something else soon or you will pay a BIG price. You know your back doesn’t kid about those things, so you look at your husband and give him a slight nod. He packs up the camcorder and you both head out to the car. You have almost an hour’s drive through the road construction to go the distance to your hotel at the casino. Suddenly you are very tired and hope you can stay awake until you get to the room.
The show started more or less on time. It was interesting to watch these aspiring musicians perform. Some had performed locally before. For others, this was the first time they were performing in front of a live audience. It showed, to be sure, but it also a bit endearing to watch these young men who were performing for the first time confront their fears and insecurities. I say young men, because there is only one young woman in the program so far. That’s just a result of who showed interest, not where the talent lies.
I was struck by the fact that most of the hip hop/rap artists performed music which told a great deal about rez life from the perspective of young people. So it was very interesting. It gave another point of view to an already complex topic. It was not all negative. Many of the lyrics displayed their pride in their heritage and their anger at being judged.
There are links below to all of the performances. If you notice that there is a clip missing (#10), that clip is of Davidica. Since she is a professional and has recorded the song that she sang, I agreed not to publish it at this time.
I wanted to make note of the young lady who performed, Tiana Spotted Thunder. I had noticed her videos on YouTube before my rez visit and before I knew she was a participant in ITM. In person, even battling a cold, she sounds just as beautiful as she looks. But she is shy and it unfortunately comes off as not believing in her own talent. I hope she can overcome that because her talent is real and her voice will have power when her confidence can shine through it.
My bottom line on the concert? I loved it!!!
And I learned something, which is always good.
I learned that, just as you shouldn’t judge people by any arbitrary factor (and I usually don’t), you shouldn’t judge art or music by arbitrary factors as well. I typically don’t like the kind of music I heard that night. But I did enjoy it at the concert. Why? It wasn’t exactly the same. Perhaps it was the roughness, the unpolished, unpackaged manner in which it was performed. I don’t know for sure. But I am glad I was open-minded enough to try it.
Concert Sound Check http://youtu.be/OLSRBKVXK3Q
Independence Through Music #1 http://youtu.be/J1q0rI01bfI
Independence Through Music #2 http://youtu.be/RQ0pWiG6qPE
Independence Through Music #3 http://youtu.be/HgyyXxQaT-w
Independence Through Music #4 http://youtu.be/lbEktnOGyvI
Independence Through Music #5 http://youtu.be/eqdRqCd9TDI
Independence Through Music #6 http://youtu.be/NFitcxqa3Fw
Independence Through Music #7 http://youtu.be/GlJ9fPdSJNY
Independence Through Music #8 http://youtu.be/Ins1pL2fkLY
Independence Through Music #9 http://youtu.be/OPxVGZTggso
Independence Through Music #11 http://youtu.be/etgyr74Gewk