Thursday, February 25, 2016

Takini: Music and Chants of the Lakota Sioux

This is a fascinating recording from the French Le Chante du Monde label of twenty songs recorded at the Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Sioux Indians in 1994 by the Takini Dance Group, an ensemble of  professional dancers from various reservations.  Hearing the chants, flute music and other songs performed by modern Sioux is as close as we can get to a snapshot of the time-honored musical traditions of their ancestors.

It is easy to overly romanticize native peoples and understandable to a significant degree because of the brutality to which they were subjected in the relentless move across the continent by Euro-Americans during the 19th-century and then the poor treatment of them by the government afterward.

Still, listening to these songs representing a variety of aspects of everyday life, from dance music, to the celebration of animals, a victory song, an honor song--some of which are traditional, others modern compositions in the spirit of ancient traditions--there is a strong sense of dignity, respect for the natural environment in which the Sioux have lived, pride, and communal understanding.

Most importantly, perhaps, these songs are a vibrant reminder that, for all that has been done to them, the Sioux have survived by holding fast to the kinds of traditional lifeways and practices emboided in this music, as well as in other ways.

The brief, but informative, liner notes give historical context to the music and then an explanation of what the songs are generally about and that the music is based on the pentatonic scale and the use of higher registers for vocalizing along with percussion for keeping time and reflecting the heartbeat during dances at pow-wows.

Interestingly, the continuing interest in warrior songs from times that are becoming more and more remote is their identification with modern warriors, Lakota Sioux that have and are fighting in the American military.  The social songs are a way for today's Sioux to have a deeper, spiritual connection to their ancestors, the land, and the ways of life which their people have  maintained, even in crisis, for centuries.

A remarkable photo is reproduced in the liners of an Omaha Dance from the summer of 1891, the year after the horrific Wounded Knee Massacre.  It, like this album, is a testament to native resilience and determination in the face of grave threats to a worldview and a way of life.

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