Native American/First Nations Music (Southwest)

Native Americans in the Southwestern United States were making music using instruments such as turtle shell rattles, clay bells and clay flutes (see a Mexican/Aztec example, performed by Philadelphia’s own Brujo de la Mancha) as early as the 7th century. After about the year 1000 Southwestern Native Americans assimilated an increasing number of Mexican and U.S./Mexican border instruments. Nettl divides Southwestern Native American music into two general camps: Pueblo and Athabascan.


Nettl describes Pueblo songs–music of the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo tribes like the Taos Pueblo, Santo Domingo Pueblo and San Ildefonso Pueblo–as the most complex of all Native American songs due to their melodic and rhythmic trickiness. Nettl describes Kachina dance songs as the most complicated of the bunch. So guess exactly what
kind of song we’re going to sing in class…. We’ll learn about the Pueblo/Hopi song we’re going to learn, “Mudhead Kachina,” further down in this e-mail.

[Listen to a Hopi “butterfly song” | Watch an informal performance of a song of the Taos Pueblo | Listen to music for a Zuni “Buffalo Dance” (not to be confused with Neneh Cherry’s ’80s hit, “Buffalo Stance”)]


Athabaskan tribes such as the Navajo and the Apache sing their fast, percussion-heavy songs with vocals that are notably nasal (sort of like the tribes of the Plains, about whom we’ll learn below) and don’t have any accompanying harmony. Sometimes the Apache use the “Tsii’edo’a’tl” (meaning “wood that sings,”) which is known as “the Apache fiddle.” [Watch Mr. Rogers–yes, that Mr. Rogers–visit Tom O’Horgan–yes, that Tom O’Horgan–and learn about his incredible collection of indigenous peoples’ instruments from around the world. O’Horgan brings out his Apache fiddle at 6:42.]

[Listen to an Apache spirit song | Listen to an Apache sun dance song | Listen to a
Navajo “bluebird song”
| Listen to a Navajo/Sioux “healing song” | Listen to a particularly invigorating Navajo “peyote song,” performed by noted Navajo vocalist Louie Gonnie]

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