Owens OutComm Student Media

Owens OutComm Student Media

Owens OutComm Student Media

Indigenous American Music

Stop Two on our Journey with Indigenous American Culture
Thurlow Lieurance with three Native American Indians; one of whom plays a courting flute. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, 1922.

Welcome to the second part of our five-part series on Indigenous American Culture. Today we will talk about Indigenous American music. Indigenous Americans have used music for social gatherings, to tell stories, for ceremonies, and to teach their history for long before European settlers arrived. Their music includes vocals, instruments, and dancing just like every culture’s, and within the umbrella of Indigenous American each tribal nation has their own type of music and how they celebrate it. These songs are an integral part of their culture and have even shaped the modern music we listen to today. Below are a few examples from some tribal nations.

Navajo Music

Traditional Navajo music is vocal, and plays a major role in their culture’s ceremonies with chants and some instruments like rattles and drums. These chants may take place over the course of an hour or more depending on the story. Both men and women can sing and often have separate parts in addition to choruses. These songs may teach lessons or tell stories and are an integral part of preserving their culture.  A good example of this is the video on You Tube entitled, “Navajo Healing Song By The Navajo & The Sioux,” posted by helen 1434 in 2009.

Cherokee Music

Music of the Cherokee people is a combination of song and dance. Accompanied by rattles, drums, and flutes, and as European culture influenced their music, they came to also include fiddles, guitars, and mandolins. They are ceremonial and sacred to the Cherokee people. Their music uses a percussive cadence for ritual dancing to call for the power of nature and its spirits or to honor their legends, which are traditionally passed down orally generation to generation.  The You Tube video entitled, “Cherokee Morning Song – Music for Native Americans – Robbie Robertson,” posted by Sandra Morrison in 2009, is a good example.

Iroquois Music

Music of the Iroquois traditionally happens in longhouses, which are built for community gatherings. A housekeeper finds members who know the dance to be performed and relay them to the announcer to introduce their dancers and vocalists to the audience. They mainly used water-filled drums, sticks, and stomping their feet to accompany their music but rattles and flutes were also used. 

Dancing was/is integral to the Iroquois culture; it allowed them to connect and communicate with other Iroquois tribes. They dance in a counterclockwise direction and sing in their Iroquois language. The YouTube video “Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Indian Dances and Songs Part 1,” posted by Ahwahneechee in 2007 is an example.

Native American Music Influences Modern American Music

The impact Indigenous Americans have had on American music is unmistakable. One of the first music genres of the United States of America was the Blues during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Blues were a response to the discrimination experienced by both Black people and Native Americans in the South, a way for African Americans and Native Americans to hold onto the culture taken from them by colonization.

One of the first iconic Blues artists was a Indigenous American man by the name of Charley Patton, and a person we will learn more of in an upcoming segment of our articles on Indigenous American culture.

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