August 01, 2017

Musician Spencer Battiest Talks Heritage, Motivation, and Standing Rock Ahead of Museum Concerts

By Sequoia Carrillo

At the 2016 Native American Music Awards, Spencer Battiest took home two things: a Nammy for Best Pop Recording for the album Stupid in Love and Taboo's phone number. Taboo, the 2016 Hall of Fame Inductee, rose to fame in the 1990s through his band, the Black Eyed Peas, to this day one of the best-selling pop groups of all time. "We heard Taboo was going to be there," Spencer explained. "So my brother, who is a hip-hop artist, made it his mission to get his phone number by the end of the night." It turned out Taboo wanted to talk to them just as much they wanted to talk to him. "He said he loved our performances and he had this idea to create a video with all the top Native artists to speak up for #NoDAPL. He said he wanted to be in touch in the next two weeks to get something together. This was late September when things were heating up so we were pressed for time.”

Battiest Brothers and Taboo
From left to right: Zack “Doc” Battiest, Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, and Spencer Battiest in the music video "Stand Up/Stand N Rock," which has more than half a million views on YouTube. Credit: Taboo

More than half a million YouTube views later, it’s no wonder Spencer is eager to talk about "Stand Up/Stand N Rock." “Taboo is so down to earth—the nicest man I’ve ever met,” he said. “It was such a cool experience because so many of us lived far away, but we recorded in our respective studios and it came together in this great song.” Once he produced the song, Taboo invited all the featured artists to Los Angeles to shoot the video. “I was performing in San Francisco that day, so my brother and I had to miss the full shoot with the other artists,” he laughed. “I actually didn’t get to meet everyone on the video until we were invited to perform at NYU a few months later.”

Battiest’s spotlight in the "Stand Up/Stand N Rock" music video was the latest accolade in an award-winning career. This week he’ll add New York and Washington, D.C., to his list of shows when the National Museum of the American Indian hosts him in its two public venues. On Thursday, August 3, at the museum’s Heye Center in New York, he'll take part in Native Sounds Downtown, a festival nearly two decades old. On Saturday, August 5, in Washington, he'll headline the 11th Annual Native Sounds Concert.

When I sat down with Spencer I wanted to learn how his career took off, but specifically what kept bringing him back to his heritage.

“I’m actually the third or fourth generation of singers,” he laughed. Spencer Battiest was born to two musicians on the Seminole Tribe's Hollywood, Florida, reservation. His father, Henry Battiest Jr. (Choctaw), grew up a part of the Battiest Gospel Singers. The family traveled the country singing. “Somehow they ended up down in the Everglades and went to a little Seminole church,” he said. “That’s where my dad met my mom.” At the time, they were both 17. They married a few years later.

Battiest-Love-0f-My-Life
Spencer Battiest in the video of his single "Love of My Life." Credit: Hard Rock Records

It wasn’t long before the young Battiest family imparted a love of music to their seven children. “My first memory on stage was when I was about four years old at my grandfather’s church in Oklahoma. They propped me up on the piano and put a microphone in my face.” His father—“a perfectionist and a big talent himself”—saw potential and taught him the basics early on. He credits a few great teachers and his school theatre department for showing him that he wanted to pursue a career in the performing arts.

In 2013 Spencer became the first American Indian artist to sign with Hard Rock Records. The choice to sign with Hard Rock was one that “felt like going home.” The Seminole Tribe acquired Hard Rock International in 2007. Under their leadership, Spencer performed across the United States and Europe. In addition, both of his award-winning music videos—“The Storm” and “Love of My Life”—play in every Hard Rock Cafe across the globe. “When people step into the cafe to have a burger, doesn’t matter if they’re in Ibiza or Houston,” he said, “they can learn about our [tribe’s] history from my song 'The Storm.' That’s just my small contribution at this moment.”

“I’ve always had close ties with my tribe since I was young,” Spencer explained. “As I push forward in my career and see how far I can go, I always carry my tribe with me.” Battiest’s reverence for his heritage is palpable in his interview as well as his work. Both of his music videos have had a Native director, actors, tech hands, and producers. “I love doing business with other Natives. That’s always been my thing.”

Battiest Brothers Storm
Spencer and Doc Battiest in the video for their single "The Storm." Credit: UnconqueredMedia

Battiest and his brother Doc filmed the music video for "The Storm" while teaching tribal youth at a summer camp. “I’d been in contact with Steven Paul Judd to help with my first music video,” Battiest explained. “When Doc and I were approached by our tribe to teach a course at the camp, we obviously wanted to have the kids’ help.” Judd and Battiest worked together to teach the course, all the while filming the music video. “The kids helped with tech, wardrobe, makeup, and location. By the time the camp was over, we had filmed almost all of the video.”

The video went on to win awards throughout the next year including Best Music Video at the National Museum of the American Indian’s 2011 Native Cinema Showcase.

Spencer is excited to work with the museum to showcase his music, both new and old. “We’ve been working really hard on putting together a show that highlights my entire career,” he assured. “Our songs are the stories of our lives. If we’re ever able to get up in a front of any kind of audience it’s always a blessing, no matter if there’s one person listening or 100,000 people listening. I love a challenge.”

The New York concert will take place August 3 at 5 p.m. on the cobblestones in front of the museum’s George Gustav Heye Center. The concert in Washington will take place August 5 at 4 p.m. on the museum’s Welcome Plaza (the main entrance facing the Capitol). In the event of rain at either venue, the concert will take place inside.

 

Sequoia CarrilloSequoia Carrillo (Navajo/Ute) is an intern in the Office of Public Affairs at the National Museum of the American Indian. In the fall, she will be a junior at the University of Virginia specializing in History and Media Studies. During the school year, she works for the American History podcast and public radio program BackStory.

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August 05, 2015

Summer webcasts: Music, dance, and Indigenous approaches to healthy food and gourmet cooking

The National Museum of the American Indian presents live webcasts of music and dance performances, lectures and symposia, storytelling, and other public presentations hosted by the museum, bringing Native scholarship and cultural arts to a worldwide audience. Programs can be seen on the museum's Live Webcasts page. Between events, the webcast page often replays recent broadcasts.

Here's what's coming up on the webcast calendar for the summer:

Indian Summer Showcase—The Ollivanders and Dark Water Rising 
Saturday, August 29, 2 to 4 pm EDT

The Ollivanders
The Ollivanders.

Indian Summer Showcase features two Native American Music Award (NAMA)–winners. The afternoon concert opens with the rock-based music of The Ollivanders, from Canada's Six Nations Reserve. Last fall Martin Isaacs, Ryan Mickeloff, and Ryan Johnson won the 2014 NAMA for Best Rock Recording for their album Two Suns

Headlining the performance will be Dark Water Rising, members of the Lumbee and Tuscarora nations. The music of Charly Lowry, Aaron Locklear, Corey Locklear, Tony Murnahan, and Emily Musolino  is described as full of soul, blues, and tradition. Dark Water Rising has won three NAMA awards, most recently Best Gospel or Inspirational Recording of 2014 for Grace & Grit: Chapter 1. 

Dark Water RisingDark Water Rising; photo courtesy of Greensky Records. 

 

The following programs, presented earlier this summer, can be seen on the museum's YouTube channel.

Indian Summer Showcase—A Tribe Called Red
Friday, August 7, 2015, 7 to 9:30 pm EDT

A Tribe Called Red 2015Nation-II-Nation

August heats up with an evening of discussion and music by the influential First Nations group A Tribe Called Red, recognized in 2014 as Canada's breakthrough artists of the year. A Tribe Called Red blends powwow rhythms and vocals with the urban influences of techno, dubstep, hip hop, and reggae to create a unique musical style. Their songs, visual art, and stage performances champion issues faced by Native Americans. 

The evening begins at 7 pm EDT in the Rasmuson Theater with an artist panel featuring group members DJ NDN, 2oolman, and Bear Witness. The concert in the Potomac Atrium follows at 8:30 pm EDT.

Top: A Tribe Called Red. Above right: Cover art by Ernesto Yerena for A Tribe Called Red's second album, Nation II Nation (2013).

Living Earth 2015

LIVING EARTH FESTIVAL 2015 
Friday, July 17, through Sunday, July 19

This year the museum's hosts the 6th Living Earth Festival. Living Earth shares sustainable living practices from traditional indigenous perspectives and celebrates Native music and dance. The webcast program will provide a cross-section of programs and performances from the three-day event.

Living Earth Symposium—On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future 
Friday, July 17, 2:00 to 3:30 pm EDT
Archived webcast.

Green chiles roasting
Green chiles roasting at the museum. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI.

A healthy diet is a key component of sustainable living. The symposium On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future promises a wide-ranging conversation about sustainable farming, the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the conservation of heritage seeds, and indigenous approaches to the environment and harvest. Speakers include Ricardo Salvador (Zapotec/German–American), senior scientist and director of the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists; Robin Kimmerer (Citizen Band Potawatomi), award-winning writer, scientist, and professor; and Clayton Brascoupe (Tuscarora/Tesuque Pueblo), director of the Traditional Native American Farmers Association. 

Living Earth Festival—Performances from the Potomac Atrium 
Saturday, July 18, 11 am to 2:30 pm EDT 
Archived webcasts of Youghtanund Drum Group (part1 and part 2) and Guate Marimba/Grupo AWAL.

Saturday the festival presents live performances in the museum's beautiful Potomac Atrium. This year Living Earth presents traditional singing, drumming, and powwow style dances by the Youghtanund Drum Group.

Guate Marimba will perform Guatemalan folk music played on the marimba, drums, turtle shells, maracas, and whistles to accompany traditional Mayan dances performed by Grupo AWAL.

Youghtanund Grupo AWAL




Music and dance at Living Earth: Left: Youghtanund Drum Group. Right: Grupo AWAL. 

Indian Summer Showcase at the Living Earth Festival—Quetzal Guerrero 
Saturday, July 18, 3 to 5 pm EDT 
Archived webcast.

Indian Summer Showcase intersects with the Living Earth Festival on Saturday afternoon when Quetzal Guerrero (Native American, Mexican and Brazilian heritage) headlines the first of two concerts to be webcast live this summer. The man with the blue violin returns to the Potomac Atrium stage to wow the audience with his fusion of Latino, jazz, blues, and hip-hop originals. 

Quetzal GuerreroQuetzal Guerrero.

Living Earth Festival—Native Chef Cooking Contest 
Sunday, July 19, noon to 2:30 pm EDT 
Archived webcast.

Chef KaimanaOn Sunday the museum will webcast one of the festival’s signature events, an Iron Chef–style competition. Native Hawaiian chefs Kaimana Chee and Robert Alcain compete for bragging rights as they create a full course meal in which every dish features a special ingredient that is indigenous to Native America. The secret ingredient? Tune in to the live webcast to find out! 

Chef Kaimana Chee.

Stay tuned for future posts about webcasts planned for this fall and winter.

If you're in the Washington, DC, area this weekend, July 17 through 19, and would like to know more about the Living Earth Festival at the museum on the National Mall, the symposium program and festival schedule are available online.

All photos are used courtesy of the artists unless otherwise credited.

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July 17, 2015

The 6th annual Living Earth Festival is on!

YoughtanundThe group Youghtanund demonstrates women’s powwow-style dancing in the Potomac Atrium during the 2015 Living Earth Festival. Photo by Dennis Zotigh, NMAI.


It’s that time of year again: The Living Earth Festival—a signature program of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC—takes place today, Friday, July 17, through Sunday, July 19. This ecologically friendly family festival has something for every age group! This year’s highlights include a ladybug release in the garden outside the museum, Native dance performances, Native foods, artist demonstrations, a wine tasting, gardening workshops, an Indian Summer Showcase Concert by Quetzal Guerrero, a Native chef cooking competition, hands-on  bracelet-making, and a symposium titled On the Table: Creating a Healthy Food Future.

The events begin at 10 am each day and run until 5 pm. Native food chefs Julio and Heliodora Saqui create traditional Mayan dishes in the Akaloa fire pit outside the museum's first floor. Artist demonstrations are being offered by Janie Luster (Houma), who makes unique jewelry and other items from alligator gar scales found in her home state of Louisiana. Also taking part in the festival are artists Stephanie Madere Escude (Tunica–Biloxi); father and daughter artists Juan and Marta Chiac (Maya) from Belize; Peruvian jeweler Evelyn Brooks (Ashaninkas); and Guatemalan weaver Angelica Lopez (Maya).

Information booths have been set up by the InterTribal Buffalo Council, Traditional American Indian Farmer’s Association, Native Seed/SEARCH, and Twisted Cedar Wines. Navajo Community Health Outreach has a poster exhibit of its work. These presentations take place in the Potomac Atrium and outside the Rasmussen Theater on the first floor. 

Visitors ages 5 and up are invited to make ti leaf lei bracelets in the imagiNATIONS Activity Center on the 3rd floor. This hands-on activity is first come, first served basis.

Music and dance take place in the Potomac Atrium on the first floor: The Youghtanund Drum Group from Richmond, Virginia, will perform powwow-style dances and songs each day at 11 am and 2 pm (2:30 on Friday). At 12:30 and 3:30 pm on Friday and Sunday, 12:30 only on Saturday, musicians from the Washington-area Central American group GuateMarimba join Grupo AWAL to present traditional Maya dances.

Each afternoon of the festival, the Cedar Band of Paiute Indians of Utah host a wine tasting of their tribally owned Twisted Cedar Wine. Times vary, but the wine tastings all take place in the Mitsitam Coffee Bar on the first floor. 

On Friday at 2 pm, the Living Earth symposium On the Table: Creating a Healthy Future features speakers Ricardo SalvadorClayton Brascoupe (Tesuque Pueblo), and Robin Kimmerer, and moderator Tim Johnson (Mohawk). The symposium—a lively discussion covering sustainable farming, the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), the conservation of heritage seeds, and traditional Indigenous approaches to the environment and harvest—takes place in the museum's Rasmuson Theater. If you can make it to the National Mall, you can watch the symposium live via webcast

On Saturday at 3 pm in the Potomac Atrium, the museum hosts the first of three Indian Summer Showcase concerts for 2015. Quetzal Guerrero and his band bridge Latino and American music styles, including blues, jazz, and hip-hop.

Sunday's highlights include a Native chef cooking competition between Hawaiian chefs Kiamana Chee and Robert Alcain, beginning at noon on the Welcome Plaza outside the museum's main entrance. This year's secret ingredient is cacao, but don't tell anyone. Beginning at 2:30 pm in the Rasmuson Theater, Navajo young people working with Navajo Community Health Outreach will share their tribe’s effort to improve health education and access to healthy foods in the Navajo Nation. Come by and let them know you appreciate the important work they're doing.

—Dennis Zotigh

Dennis Zotigh (Kiowa/San Juan Pueblo/Santee Dakota Indian) is a writer and cultural specialist at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

Events from the Living Earth Festival are webcast live throughout the weekend. Take a look at what's on the schedule or go directly to the museum's Live Webcasts page.

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May 31, 2015

This Day in the Maya Calendar: June 2015

Cholq'ij, the Maya sacred ceremonial calendar of 260 days—a cycle of 20 Day deities and 13 numbers—is the basis of the Maya spirituality that survives to this time, practiced daily among millions of Maya people, in thousands of communities. The interpretation of the days can vary from one Maya people to another. The interpretations given here are based on sustained conversations and participation over three decades with Maya Q'eqchi calendar priest Roderico Teni and daykeeping families in the area of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, by Jose Barreiro (Taíno), head of NMAI’s Office of Latin America, and his wife, Katsi Cook (Mohawk). Glyphs representing the Day lords appear throughout Maya Country; these were painted by Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya) of Cobán.

For more background to this series, please see Jose's introduction, "Living in the Practice." For further insight into the role of the Day lords in everyday life, please see the Maya Journal. For the complete year so far, please see the Maya calendar archive.

Illustrations: Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya), calendar glyphs. Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala; 2003. Paint on wood. Purchased from the artist. 26/2685. Photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI 

8 Imox  |  Wednesday, June 10, 2015

262685_ImoxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 8 Imox. Imox is Lizard; 8 is a double balance. Imox is the very force of gravity and a good day to pray for creativity and for rain. Imox can open el Mundo to receive cosmic messages. Known as a "crazy" day, Imox requires much concentration and control. A day of high male intelligence, also impatience and agitation, Imox can be difficult. Grounded on its left side, left arm, this day is easily unbalanced and in need of clasping by left and right hands. Imox can be good if held in the balance of the Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth; unattended, Imox can manifest imbalance, mental nervousness, and even death. People born on Imox are open and sincere, but indecisive—in need of ceremony to set the positive to override the negative. —Jose Barreiro 

7 Ajpu  | Tuesday, June 9, 2015

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 7 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 7 is a pivotal number. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —J. B. 

6 Kawoq  |  Monday, June 8, 2015

262685_KawoqCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 6 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 6 is a middle, even number. Kawoq is a high woman day—a day of duality in all of nature and a guardian of contentment. It is the day of woman and man, lightning and thunder, fecundity and imagination; a day of midwives; a day of prayer for unity within the home, strength within the family, renewed strength for convalescents, and the smoothing of all irritation. This is a good day to turn bad medicine back on itself. Kawoq attends to young women in pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and to full realization for all women; it is a day of their sash. Kawoq is also a good day to commemorate the Staff of Authority, a good day for the men of a family and community to pray for the coffers (good fortune) of the women and for the protection of the home. Good midwives, writers, and architects are born on this day. —J. B. 

5 Tijax  |  Sunday, June 7, 2015

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 5 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 5 is one hand. Tijax is a day of doctors, good to pray for surgeons and all medical practitioners; a day of sacrifice and liberation from suffering; a day of sharp, cutting objects, of knives and scalpels and scissors. Tijax is a safeguard for domestic animals against predators, a good day to pray for all animals that are sacrificed, both in ceremony and in everyday life. Tijax is a good day to use metal (a machete, scissors) to "open the sky"—to solicit rain, solicit life, split black clouds. Gossip, calumny, and sorcery, on money and sexual matters, can be overcome on this day; on a high-number day, disputes can turn public and become debilitating. Tijax is a good day for seasoned masters to fortify daykeeping trainees against ridicule by envious countrymen or evangelicos. It is not a good day to plant. —J. B. 

4 Noj  |  Saturday, June 6, 2015

262685_NojCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Noj. Noj is Woodpecker;  4 is high balance. Noj is a woman's highest intelligence. Maya knowledge and wisdom live in this day—good science to support positive deeds, good projects, good business, a good home. On Noj good ideas are available through the intelligence connected to the movement of the earth. Boys born on this day have important female qualities and can be attentive to the knowledge of nature, which rules all. Girls born on this day can be clear leaders. This is a good day to hear advice and make decisions, a good day to feed the mind, recognize curiosity, and strengthen memory. Noj is one of the four Yearbearers. —J. B. 

3 Ajmac  |  Friday, June 5, 201

262685_AjmacCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Ajmac. Ajmac is Bee, also Vulture; 3 is a rotor. On Ajmac ancestor spirits can detect and smooth the thread of time in our lives. Prudence, intelligence, ancient wisdom are in this day. This is a day to plead forgiveness for serious faults and to be judged. It is a day that demands moral rectitude, respect, and sincere analysis. On this day our faults (stains) must be faced and paid for; humble request for pity is encouraged. Ajmac is a propitious day for the women of a household to make peace with one another after conflict, to apologize for sharp words; it is a good day to pray for smooth relationships and the renewal of agreements among women. Hard luck can face those born on Ajmac. —J. B. 

2 Tz'ikin  |  Thursday, June 4, 2015

262685_Tz'ikinCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Tz'ikin. Tz'ikin is Bird, best represented by the Hummingbird, also the Quetzal and Eagle; 2 is duality. Tz'ikin carries messages between the Heart of Earth and Heart of Sky. Cold, heat, light, air, cloud are its elements. Love, intuition, precognition are strong in those born on this day. Tz'ikin is a good day for humans to follow birds to the corn—to find good material luck. This is a good day to ask for revelation and intelligence, for vision, and for abundance; a good day to ask for collaboration in projects or for personal freedom. On this day, women have the privilege to ask for their husbands and sons to triple the family money. —J. B. 

1 I'x  |  Wednesday, June 3, 2015 

262685_I'xCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 1 I'x. I'x is Jaguar; 1 is the beginning. I'x is woman's energy day. This is a day to connect with your own land and to pray for its original owners; to pray for and appreciate your house; to pray for the finances to buy and sustain land; to ask for fertility in humans and animals; to request vigor and strength for reproductive organs, particularly female. I'x is a good day to pray to the mountains in favor of the land. It is a good day for a woman to request strength in her husband's commitment to matrimonial stability. People born on I'x have a close relationship to el Mundo and receive good access to precious metals. I'x is a good day for solitude and meditation. —J. B. 

13 Aj  |  Tuesday, June 2, 2015 

262685_AjCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 13 Aj. Aj is Cane Reed; 13 is the highest turbulence. Aj begins the women's cycle, sentiments of family and home, the spinal cord. Aj is life and receives life. This is a day of resurgence and renewal, as in the reed and the corn; a day for the triumph of good over evil, life over death; a day of happiness, renewal of food, money, the heart of life. People born on this day renew their communities; they are sickly as children and sturdy as adults; they are especially lucky; they are good awakeners of their families and communities; they make good midwives. Aj is a good day to ask for clarity of destiny, a good day to pray for the protection of your life and of the newborn, a good day to pray for twins, a good day to pray for humanity. —J. B. 

12 Eh  |  Monday, June 1, 2015 

262685_EhCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 12 Eh. Eh is Bobcat, also the Path and the Tooth; 12 is the highest balance. Eh can orient individuals, groups, or communities to their destiny. Eh is the day to ask for protection from dangers and obstructions during travels—specifically, that on your road the attention of thieves or highway police or border inspectors will be deviated from your trajectory. Solitude is in Eh, light rain, kindness, alignment. People born on this day can be good counselors, spiritual guides with the gift of prayer to Ajaw (Creator) on the destiny of things. Also, good dentists are born on this day. Eh is one of the four pillars of the 20 days, a Yearbearer—a strong, especially sacred day. A prayer started in Batz can be carried by Eh through the full cycle of 20 days. —J. B. 

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August 09, 2013

Quetzal Guerrero: The man with the blue violin

QUetzal Guerrero close-up
Quetzal Guerrero, accompanied by percussionist Leo Costa, at the National Museum of the American Indian. Washington, D.C., July 20, 2013. Photo by Maria E. Renteria, NMAI. 

The singer and multi-instrumentalist Quetzal Guerrero filled the National Museum of the American Indian’s Potomac Atrium with the music of his roots. Guerrero has Native American, Mexican, and Brazilian heritage, making this music one of a kind.  

Guerrero visited Washington, D.C., as part of the museum’s 2013 Living Earth Festival. Guerrero played at the festival’s Indian Summer Showcase concert Saturday night, July 20. If you missed the concert, or if you were there and want to re-experience a fun night, video is available on the museum’s YouTube channel.

NMAI caught up with Guerrero to talk about his music and his blue violin.

Tell us about your background.

My mother is from Northeastern Brazil in a city called Recife, which is in a small state called Pernambuco. She is a musician. She’s a classically trained pianist since the age of five. She raised us all playing/learning classical music from an early on age.

She played a lot of Brazilian guitar. She taught me bossa nova. My first Joe Beam song, she taught me how to play that. She is very musical.

My father, his name is Saco Guerrero. He is an artist, muralist, mass maker, chicano artist. He actually published various books. He’s a native of Arizona. His family has roots from Northern Mexico, Yaqui Indian from Durango. He also has heritage from the Juaneño tribe, from the San Clemente area in California. He is a native of the Southwest. He is fifth-generation born and raised in Mesa, Arizona. My great-great-grandfather was actually one of the founders of Mesa, along with a lot of Mormon settlers. He was non-Mormon, took part in building the community. So I was raised in a very artistic, creative family, doing a lot of music and doing a lot of visual art. It gave me the direction and visual of who I am today. That is my background in a nutshell.

Your mom is the reason why you play the violin?

Yes, my mom is definitely the reason. My mom taught my dad. He played an Andean flute, called the quena. They had a musical group that they performed and traveled with even before I was born. So I was pretty much born into the music, performing and playing ever since I was a young kid. It was part of my daily activities and daily life. So when I was a child, my mom wanted to choose an instrument that I could play and have a discipline to study. I was watching Sesame Street, and I saw Itzhak Perlman perform and saw kids too playing the violin. “Mom, that is what I want to play.” I was like three or four years old. So she said, “If that is what you want to play, we’re going to get you lessons and we are going to start learning.”

I began to study in the Suzuki Method, which is a very popular method used to teach young children how to play at very early age. What you do is you learn by ear first, before you learn how to read. As oppose to the school system that teaches you read and play at the same time, so the prerequisite age is much older. You can start [that way] when you are nine or ten, because at the point you already know how to read and write. The Suzuki method is kind how you learn how to speak. You learn by listening and mimicking, and then you learn how to speak.  You learn how to read and write later. That is the method I learned my violin on.

Later on, around twelve years old, I began to sing. I started taking choir classes at school. I started teaching myself guitar. My mom also taught me some guitar. I learned a lot from musicians around in the environment that I was always in. I was always around a lot of very talented and experienced musicians. I was always picking up different things from everybody, kind of practicing it and trying to learn as much as I could. That is a little bit of the history my musical upbringing.

I moved to Los Angeles about eight years ago. I think that was a pivotal point in my musical growth. Anybody who knows about Los Angeles—it is a mecca of the entertainment industry. Immediately moving to L.A. I was connected with some very, very talented and driven musicians.  I started to working and performing with them. It really helped me to elevate the level of my musicianship and composition and playing. I think L.A. again has an important role in my musical development .

Why a blue violin?

I have about six violins. I have a traditional classical violin, which is cherry red; that one I use specifically for recording or practicing or certain types of sounds I want. I have a series of different types of electric violins. Playing with a live band or playing with amplified music, the violin gets drained out and disappears in the sound. I actually saw a country violinist, when I was 13 or 14, with a blue electric violin. I went crazy, “I need one of those, I want one.” He gave me the information where I could get one. So that blue violin is actually my first electric violin, which I purchased when I was 14. I’ve had it ever since then. I love it. I have several, but that is the one I’m most comfortable with. I also think people remember. People will always remember the blue violin. It stands out and catches the eye.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Not really. I am not a very ritualistic kind of guy. I really try just run over the song list and envision the set list of songs I’m going to do. Visualize a little bit of my performance, how I’m going to perform, my presence. I try to warm up, practice a little, get the jitters out a little, feel comfortable with my instrument. That is pretty much it. I don’t have anything crazy I do.

I can hear the cultural influences in your music. But how do you explain that to people who don’t know what bossa nova is or other different musical styles you incorporate. Your music can fit into multiple categories. How do you explain your music?

That is the thing: I really try not to explain. I try to get the listener hear it and get their own experience from it because there are so many subtle rhythms and influences that happen inside the music that if you are not aware of them, you are not even going to register. I think that more important than defining the music and trying to tell people what it is, is having them feel it. The connection of rhythm and song and music in general is that it is universal and that everyone can connect to it. So I really try to be like, “You just have to hear it.” I can give you a list of influences, where the things come from and where they go.  But if you’re not educated or aware of those styles, it is not going to mean anything. I think that what is more important is the message of the lyrics of the songs and how they make you feel.

The feeling that a song and music has, it permeates anyone regardless of their understanding of music or understanding of language. I try to focus on the feeling and intentions behind the music and rhythms.  As opposed to trying to explain it or make it relatable to most people. I find that when you explain something that is foreign to them, it closes people’s walls. If you just play it, they immediately take to it and understand it. That is the only thing I am always trying to tell people, because that is the first thing they ask, “What does it sound like? What kind of style is it?” I feel that is so limiting, so putting inside a box.

That is something very westernized in our way of thought. “What tribe are you? Where are you from? What language do you speak?” Anybody who knows anything about history knows that we are all mixed. Everything comes from everywhere. We are mixed together. So I try to find common ground, especially with the music.

What projects are you working on?

I have a new branded album that we just finished recording and mastering and that I’m going to start releasing hopefully this fall, if I get everything together. But if not, it might be at the end of the year or next year. That album is called American Import. I feel like that title is something that kind of defines who I am. I’m a Native American and American-born citizen, but I’m also a world traveler. I have been all around the world. I have Brazilian heritage and have been to Brazil many times.

I feel more a world citizen than American, but I am very American in my perspectives and in my cultural upbringing. I was born and raised here. So I think what I bring in this album is something very familiar. I am touching a lot of American folk, rock, and blues influences, along with rhythms from northeastern Brazil and [elsewhere in] Latin America and things like that. I am importing something that is American and familiar to everyone, but it has that little taste of something exotic. That is [what’s behind] the name of my next album, American Import.

Thank you for the interview.

No problem. Thank you. 

—Maria E. Renteria, NMAI

Maria Esmeralda Renteria is an intern with the National Museum of the American Indian’s Office of Public Affairs. She is pursuing an MA in Museum Studies from the San Francisco State University and received her BA in both Latin American Studies and Spanish at UCLA. 

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To the author of this site, do you know if Quetzal Guerrero and Leo Costa would be open for an interview? I greatly enjoyed this articles and Guerrero offered me an insight into music from a different perspective I have seen before. They could in return gain some new exposure to my audience and share knowledge on my site.