Harmony Nights: Native American Vocal Harmony


Alex E. Smith, Cheevers Toppah and Nitanis “Kit” Landry.

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Call me rezz dogg. Thanks to the i-pod technology, I write this stuff while I ride. Not the physical act of writing but the spiritual act involved in a piece. Living in the moment is probably as close as I get to “spiritual”.

Cheevers/Toppah, and Landry have released an outstanding Native American Vocal Harmony CD that is made up of traditional type vocable songs harmonized. Alex E. Smith (Pawnee/Sauk & Fox), Cheevers Toppah (Kiowa/Navajo), and Kit Landry (Ojibwe) sing a harmony that brings me instantly into the dream world of this morning in brilliant golden moments before the sun rises.

The song “Dookóósliid” featuring the lead vocal of guest artist Louie Gonnie (Diné) grabs my attention as I burn it hard down Minnehaha Boulevard. The song is hot and intense, sung with passion it’s a wonderful cut.

In the liner notes it says, “their (Smith, Toppah) debut recording “Intonation” was nominated for multiple awards and was a finalist at the 2005 Grammy awards in the category of Best Native American Album.” And Smith and Toppah have forged “an unprecedented vocal sound blending Southern plains Pow Wow singing with choral hymnody.” This is Grammy Award level performance singing with great production values. Up to the usual Canyon Records standard of excellence.

The song “Saturday Night” is next and it makes me feel like a Saturday Night and the excitement that comes from heading to the ’49 to feel whole again. The song features the flute playing of Anthony Wakeman (Gunlake Band of Pottawatomi/Oglala Lakota).

A tearful pleading of a song titled, “Leavin’ Me” follows. The song says, “If I had known that you were leavin’ me/ I would have told you/they just don’t know/they just don’t see/please my baby/I don’t want you to leave me.”

“Never Too Far” is an interesting sentiment about never being too far away. There is intelligence in the song sequence. I find it interesting that the Harmony Nights CD is classified as an experimental genre as in my dream eye, I can see this sound is as ancient as the earth I walk on. What I hear in my head is a dream.

Ms. Landry’s (Ojibwe from the Whitefish Lake First Nation, Ontario, Canada) beautiful, sinewy soprano vocal provides the Baritone/Tenor voices of the men with balance. Perfect. Riding bike is all rhythm and balance. This is as peaceful as I’ve ever felt at the start of a ride.

The Native American Vocal Harmony Group, Smith/Toppah/Landry, in Harmony Nights, have discovered something fundamental about music. They have worked and sung together, they have the cohesiveness that you expect of vocal harmony.

The song “Never Too Far” is a distinctly Native melody with moving modulations in the key signature and it’s sung in English making the sentiment easily understood by us urban rats that don’t speak it.

The CD ends with the song “Takin’ It Back”. Now here’s a sentiment that easily translates in any language. But I look around and think, “Takin’ It Back?” Hah. You can keep this nasty piece of the rock. Although I hear Smith/Toppah/Landry and commend them on their activist stance. “One-day baby”. One day. The song features the award winning drum circle Thunder Hill backing them with strong traditional drumming and singing.

Once again Canyon Records has given me a spiritual epiphany as the sun breaks up over the horizon in scarlet and gold. I just keep riding.

Jamison Mahto

Reporter/Indigenous In The News

Indigenous In Music CD Review

jamison@iicoc.com • www.iicoc.com