Native Music and Identity

Our group decided to explore Lumbee identity through the lens of Native music.  

First steps: To begin, we held a group meeting to review our own musical and historical interests.  When discussing the potential focus of our research, we realized that we were interested in many different aspects of music — rhythm, lyrics, and melody.  We also came to the realization that we were interested in looking at Lumbee and Tuscarora music as it was played, and has been influenced, by prominent musicians such as Willie Lowery (Lumbee) and Pura Fe (Tuscarora).  From there, we met with our professor, Malinda Lowery, to receive guidance on next steps as to who we might contact and how we could collect data.

Methods: After careful consideration of our interests and the information available to us as students, our group decided to primarily use two methods in order to acquire our data.  The first method used was online research, during which we looked for relevant text and music related to our prompt.  We also decide to collect data through oral histories.  While two of these oral histories came through e-mail interviews, we were able to conduct an in-person interview with Pura Fe.

Project: For our creative project, we decided to put together a mixed playlist of songs that we found significant to Native musical identity in Robeson County. This playlist includes songs from prominent Native musicians throughout the region, including Tuscarora musician Pura Fe and Lumbee musician Willie French Lowery, who we believe are demonstrative in some way of modern Lumbee musical consciousness. We chose artists who have either had an influential role in their own musical careers, and/or have been influenced by other prominent Lumbee musicians.


Introduction: Pura Fe on Native Music

Tuscarora vocalist and guitarist Pura Fe spoke on April 29, 2013 about Native musical identity as it relates to musical geography, in that “we’re all related, from this region.  And we are, we’re a distinct region, and the music that comes out of this distinct region definitely has a different ring to it than any other place….We do have a distinct sound in terms of choral music, things that come out of church, or even pow wow music….And the contemporary groups…all of that music is made by people from this region, and some of them are interwoven with each other…you’ll have someone from Coharie and then some Lumbee and Tuscarora all sitting together at a drum, or even Dark Water Rising….We’re a family.” Pura Fe went on to describe that the communities from this region have not only “a distinct way of singing,” but that this form of expression demonstrates “an old spirit that carries in whatever they do.”

Later, she spoke about how native peoples could express themselves through music as a form of protest.  She began by explaining feelings of frustration as a young girl watching American Indians portrayed on TV.  She explained, “I still have memories of my eyebrows going down, as a little girl watching Cowboys and Indians…just being very outraged and angry, seeing all of this…That was definitely a genetic response.”  Then, she spoke about how she found a place for protest in her music.  She said “it’s not only about native [protest].”  In fact, she highlighted the names of some of her songs that touched up on the protests of many people, including her songs called, ‘Stand Up for Human Pride,’ ‘Borders,’ ‘Rise Up Tuscarora Nation,’ and ‘Women Sacred.’  She explained further that “I have a lot of songs where I feel like there’s another perspective and respect that needs to be….it exposes the truth…from my personal perspective.  It’s a pretty native perspective, I guess if you want to put a label on it, or humanitarian, or social justice.”

She then spoke about the mainstream musical environment in the United States, relative to other countries around the world.  She explained that her music  “will never really be played on radio unless it’s an underground kind of thing.  But in Europe, my music does very well, especially in France, where they like to jab at the Americans…it’s a totally different industry.  Here, music is a luxury, and in other parts of the world it’s more like a necessity.  There’s a huge difference right there….there’s a different focus.

With all of this in mind, as it relates to the geography, history, politics, and culture of music, we went on to research other aspects of Lumbee musical identity.

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