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First Americans Music and Art

Native American music and art or the art of first Americans is largely unfamiliar to the American audiences because major record labels, music festivals and art galleries don’t pay attention to the cultural heritage of first Americans. Still, from Canada to New Mexico, native music is played inside artful communities who want to keep their legacy alive through painting, sculpture and music.

Native American music is traditionally monophonic, but today exceptions started to appear and have been accepted by the community. The most important instruments in the musical culture of first Americans are the drums. Drumming is the main ability of Native American musicians, but they also play other percussion instruments like the rattles. They also play flutes or whistles that are hand made from bone, wood or cane. Flutes are used individually, but also in large ensembles for accompaniment.

There are some Native Americans who have made a name for themselves in the American pop music industry like Rita Coolidge, Gene Clark, Blackfoot, Tori Amos, CocoRosie or Redbone. For example, R. Carlos Nakai is famous for combining traditional Native American sounds with more modern music and integrating them in instrumental recordings. Today, small record labels offer contracts to Native American musicians. Their style includes rap, rock and roll and pow-wow drum music. A pow-wow is the most popular Native American musical gathering, where performers gather in a circle around a large drum. They play the drum while also vocal singing in their native language. More conservative communities of Native Americans keep this musical practice for themselves and they perform it only within the community. The songs that they play include honor songs, grass-dances, welcome songs, going-home songs, war songs and inter-tribal songs. Pow-wow’s usually gather large circles because they are unique and colorful. Performers dress traditionally and also dance while playing the drums and singing.