Although it is important to learn the history of ethnography with Frances Densmore and early recordings of Native American music, I find listening to music created by Native Americans specifically shared with the public to have greater impact. In the Akwesasne Notes Magazine, there is a section called Music Reviews by Jill O’Brian. This section of the magazine talks about the Red Road Ensemble and Robbie Robertson. When simply searching up Robbie Robertson we find that he was a Canadian musician and lead guitarist for Bob Dylan. What we don’t see is his Native American background and the group he created called the “Red Road Ensemble,” who created the album, Music for the Native Americans which was used in a television documentary.
Robbie Robertson was a musician, songwriter, and guitarist of Mohawk and Jewish descent. He played a significant role in promoting and preserving Native Canadian/American culture through his music. Robertson incorporated Native American themes and musical elements into his compositions, which helped bring Native American culture to a broader audience.
Let’s take a look into the album Contact from the Underworld of Redboy, which was released in 1998.
“One particular song on the record, Sacrifice, highlighted the plight of Native Americanawk activist Leonard Peltier, who was serving two life sentences in prison for a crime he did not commit. The song mixes traditional singing and drums with Robertson’s own voice singing the chorus and a recording from a phone call with Peltier in prison, where the Lakota man tells his story.”2
It is important that we as students educate ourselves on Native people’s music in order to help preserve and protect traditions, which have been passed down through generations. 3
1Akwesasne Notes, Vol. 2, No. 1. 1996. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_Akwesasne_Notes_1996_11Wnt [Accessed October 26, 2023].
2Rickert, Levi. “Robbie Robertson: A Transcendent Musician Who Bridged Cultures, but Never Forgot His Native Roots.” Native News Online, August 15, 2023. https://nativenewsonline.net/opinion/robbie-robertson-a-transcendent-musician-who-bridged-cultures-but-never-forgot-his-native-roots.