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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

 

July 14, 2001 - Issue 40

 
 

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Ignacio's Yellow Jacket Drum Group Adjusts to Changing Times

 
 

 by Matt Joyce Durango Herald Staff Writer-July 8, 2001

 
Photo - Yellow Jacket DrumIGNACIO, CO Ė When the members of Yellow Jacket circle around their drum to sing, the music that emerges is timeless.

"Itís something thatís been going on in Native American culture forever," said Tyson Thompson, a member of the singing group for four years. "Weíre just trying to keep it alive."

The Ignacio group, composed of Southern Ute Indian tribal members and other American Indians from the Ignacio and Four Corners area, plays music born from tradition.

But as their modern clothing suggests, the singers Ė mostly in their 20s Ė are men of their times. They compose most of their own music about topics relevant to their lives.

At a June performance celebrating KSUT-FM public radioís 25th anniversary, Jake Blue Star Ryder, 22, introduced a new song, "Sun Setting on My Heart." He wrote the song for the baby that he and his wife are expecting in October.

Ryder, wearing jeans and a sweat shirt, led the others through two verses Ė called push-ups Ė of call-and-response singing. Ryder sang a line and the others would follow in chorus. There is no translation of the song because it has no words. Rather, the singers sang in a unique yodeling style. The singers communicate with one another through subtle hand signals that indicate changes in the song.

"You canít just talk to them while youíre singing, but youíve got to let everybody know whatís going on," said Johnson B. Taylor, the groupís oldest member at 63.

The forceful, synchronized singing, combined with the underlying pulse of the drum, created a mesmerizing sound that demanded the crowdís attention. Two babies, perhaps sensing Ryderís motivation for the song, were particularly entranced.

Yellow Jacketís notoriety takes the group touring to powwows and other events on most summer weekends. The groupís size depends on how many of its 15 members can leave Ignacio for the weekend. Touring has taken the band across the nation to Connecticut, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Washington, Taylor said.

The groupís traveling expenses are primarily funded by the tribe through gaming funds earned at the Sky Ute Casino, Thompson said. The group must apply for the funding.

"We sponsor the (group) and help with the finance of traveling to different places to spread the word of the Southern Ute Tribe," said Leonard Burch, tribal chairman. "Itís another means of communication to let people know that weíre here in southwestern Colorado."

Yellow Jacket is also a common presence at Ignacio events, such as funerals or Southern Ute political inaugurations. The group recorded its third album, which should be released soon, at the Southern Ute Fair in September of last year.

It also has participated in compilation recordings, including several made in Albuquerque at the Gathering of Nations Powwow. One of those, recorded in 1999 with several other American Indian singing groups, won the award for best Native American Recording in the 2001 Grammy Awards. The voices that eventually became Yellow Jacket started singing in the Ignacio groups Seven Rivers, which started in 1992, and Eagle Spring, a youth singing group. In 1995, the two groups merged, forming Yellow Jacket, and the membership has evolved since.

In addition to Southern Ute tribal members, Yellow Jacket also includes Navajo, Ponca, Otoe and Comanche singers, Taylor said. The group also includes one Anglo.

"We invite anyone. It doesnít matter who they are," Taylor said. "If they want to sing, they can sing with us."

At present, many of the members are related in one way or another. Taylorís son, Johnson K. Taylor, is one of the groupís lead singers. Thompson joined the band because his brother, Ian Thompson, was one of the original members. "The boys enjoy singing," Taylor said. "If they didnít, they wouldnít be here."

Yellow Jacket normally practices on Thursday nights. At practice, the songwriters introduce their songs to the group.

"Usually Iíll just be working or walking around and it just comes to me," Ryder said. "I remember it and record it on a tape recorder and sing it to the boys at practice. If they like it, we sing it. If they donít, I just sing it to myself."
 

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  
     
 

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