Program 103: Tribal Rhythms

The Music of Joanne Shenandoah

Nico Wind

Nico Wind

with Nico Wind

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah with Lawrence Laughing
Prophecy Song
Orenda
Silver Wave Records
 
Arlie Neskahi:

According to Joanne Shenandoah, prophecy and respect for life can guide one’s music. “The Prophecy Song,” an anishnabe song from her album Orenda (with Lawrence Laughing), is to remind us to be aware of our place upon the earth.

Here’s Nico Wind with Tribal Rhythms

Joanne Shenandoah

Joanne Shenandoah

Nico Wind:

Joanne Shenandoah’s Iroquois name, Tekalihwa Khwa, fulfills its prophecy, for her name means she sings. A wolf clan member of the Iroquois confederacy, Oneida nation, Joanne is an internationally celebrated native singer and composer. She’s won multiple awards as a vocalist and performer of original compositions that integrate the ancient songs of the Iroquois with a blend of traditional and contemporary instrumentation.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah
You Will Have Peace
Peacemaker’s Journey
Silver Wave Records

Wind:
“You Will Have Peace” is from Shenandoah’s 2001 Native American music award winner, Peacemaker’s Journey. It traces the story of the peacemaker, a prophet who convinced the Iroquois to abandon warfare among themselves, unite and accept the great law of peace. Thus the world’s first united nations, the Haudenosaunee, or the Iroquois confederacy of nations, was formed more than a thousand years ago.

Joanne Shenandoah:
You know, I think that first and foremost in my mind, my music is not for recognition but for listening and also for changing the heart and mind of people around the world. You know, it’s been prophesied as well by some of our elders or visionaries that my music will be heard and it’s not specifically, in my sense, my music. It’s music that is to be shared and music that will help to heal.

Wind:
For her outstanding work as a singer, songwriter, and peacemaker, Shenandoah received the first honorary doctorate of music ever awarded to a native musician from Syracuse University. She has sung at several inaugurations and appeared at the White House. Native artist of the year, Shenandoah has twelve albums to her credit, including Peacemaker’s Journey, a 2001 Grammy nomination.

Shenandoah:
No matter where you go, there is someone wanting or needing to have some light in their life and music definitely does that. We believe that music is a healing force and one that can completely change your life.

Wind:
Shenandoah’s musical career is a complex path moving in multiple directions: composing, singing, performing, and writing. Her father was the late Clifford Shenandoah, a chief of the Onondaga nation and a jazz guitarist who played with Duke Ellington. Maize, Shenandoah’s mother, is a clan mother of the wolf clan of the Oneidas. She and her husband provided numerous opportunities for the musically precocious child to acquire skills.

Most evident in Shenandoah’s work is its central goal of preserving and teaching about the value of the traditional music, legends, and wisdom of the Iroquois people.

Shenandoah:
There is a song that I wrote, called “Eagle Cries.” It’s about the great symbol of peace, the great white pine tree. On top stands an eagle, who is our protector. When the eagle calls out or cries out, we’re to join hands together as one, no matter what race, no matter what religion or age, because we can all find shelter under this great tree.

Under this tree are buried our weapons of war. There are four white roots, which are to spread out in four directions of the earth. And it is said that one day, everyone will hear about this great message of peace, and all are welcome to join us, holding hands under this tree. So the tree will never fall.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah
Eagle Cries
Eagle Cries
Red Feather Music

Well, ever since I was a little girl, I was singing. I realized only later in life, after fourteen years in the computer industry, that I should be doing music. In the Iroquois way, we believe that we’re given certain gifts and responsibilities and that if we use these responsibilities in a good way with a good mind, we will be able to affect the world, and I guess I’ve been able to do that. I’ve really followed my heart. I moved back to Oneida territory and began recording and performing and singing full time.

Wind:
There are a number of central themes that weave through Shenandoah’s music. Many of her songs focus on honoring women and praising mother earth. Her recording, Lifeblood, with Peter Kater, includes a woman’s dance and a song, Path of Beauty, that affirms the true beauty of a woman, as she grows older and becomes an elder.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah
Path of Beauty
Life Blood
Silver Wave Records

It’s a central theme in the philosophy of the Haudenosaunee altogether because women are the clan mothers responsible for the political, social and spiritual welfare of the people. It’s a very big job and that’s one that my mother’s had.

Wind:
Her love of children and a healthy sense of fun shine in Shenandoah’s all spirits sing album, a work that begs to be transformed into an animated film. It describes the epic journey of an Iroquois child searching for her own voice and song.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah
All Spirits Sing
All Spirits Sing

Shenandoah:
I realize that a lot of children, as they’re growing up, they aren’t sure where their place is or where they belong or what their responsibility or gifts or talents are. You know, we believe that as custodians of the earth and custodians of our community, we are supposed to help children recognize their talent so that they can take active part in their community, as they grow older.

Wind:
Shenandoah is a natural teacher. She enjoys sharing ideas for achieving goals and realizing potential.

Shenandoah:
It’s a very simple and beautiful way of realizing your gift, and that is allowing it to happen. Like many people will say, “I’ve never played guitar. I’ve never played the piano; I wish I could do that.” Yet they’ve never sat down and tried.

Wind:
While Shenandoah’s music is firmly planted in her own culture, many songs enlighten listeners about Native and mainstream issues. Her album, Once in a Red Moon, includes songs about environmental concerns, a plea to cease the desecration of Indian graves, and the problem of suicide among natives. Joanne Shenandoah feels that native music holds the potential to help bring healing and peace to our country, indeed to our world.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah
Mother of Nations
Peacemaker’s Journey
Silver Wave Records

Shenandoah:
Well, I think if the general public actually took the initiative to say, “This is the kind of music we want to hear”. What I’m thinking is, hopefully, with the way that the world is looking at potential war, that we would consider reaching out for that spiritual music, that sacred music that puts us in a good state of mind. Because a good mind in the Iroquois way doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to agree on everything. But what it means that we are willing to come to the same table, sit down, and try to understand one another.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah
Heartbeat
Eagle Cries
Red Feather Music

And one of the best ways to communicate is through music. Music has changed the hearts and minds of a lot of people.

Neskahi:
Joanne Shenandoah lives with her daughter, Leah, and her husband Doug George-Kanentiio. Joanne and Doug have been celebrating the completion of their orchestral production of Sky Woman, a book of legends that the two wrote. A review of that production is on Joanne’s website at www.joanneshenandoah.com.

Tribal Rhythms is produced by our music director, Nico Wind and written by Anne Morin.

If you’d like to learn more about any of the artists or music featured in our programs, visit us on the web at wisdomoftheelders.org.


For more, visit Joanne Shenandoah’s website.