By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – April 3, 2016) — After attending the Indigenizing Art Music symposium , I was engaged in mental thought over what defined the Southwest musical sound. Is it Native American inspired music? Or Flamenco-influenced music derived from Spain and Mexico? Or maybe pop music by such luminaries as Jim Morrison of The Doors (who lived in New Mexico) and Buddy Holly (recorded at Norm Petty Studios in Clovis, NM)?
After chewing on it, I decided that it’s not one or the other, but all of the above. The Southwest sound is large in scope and varied in output.
But what is it about the Southwest that has influenced the opaque and atmospheric sounds that helped shape the music and lyrics of many artists? Or, for that matter, what in the Southwest elicits melancholy feelings and otherworld attitudes that shape a variety of musical sensibilities?
For one, the Southwest is a confluence of ancient cultures, a hybrid of myth and history: Native American, Hispano, and Anglo. And this convergence brings with it a basket of religious thought and philosophical musing and beliefs, some otherworldly and enigmatic.
Take for example the various Pueblo Indian religious rites, or the Matachines ceremonies of the Hispano culture, both celebrating the union of earth and spirit, the physical and metaphysical. Or maybe the Catholic Penitente traditions that meld suffering with religious epiphany, piety and sin.
In a way, mood, setting, faith, melancholy, myth and ambiance are woven into the fabric of the Southwest, a type of poetry of culture that melds into expressions of creativity.
Second, the landscape of the Southwest evokes an exchange of shadow and light (as an example, many artist consider New Mexico’s light unlike any in the world), illuminating ancient ruins and modern cities, mountains, rock formations, valleys and plains; atmosphere in its deepest form.
The Southwest is ripe with inspiration and creativity, conjured from its land and people.
But many folks—at least in the popular world of music—are not too familiar with various bands and musicians that are from the larger Southwest region (Arizona, New Mexico, Southern Utah, and Colorado).
To help provide people with a basic overview of some of the more recent, prominent bands, I’ve provided a basic guide. Because there are so many great musicians and bands in the region, I’ve highlighted two “must know” artists from three states: Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado (not many bands are from Southern Utah. Though pop groups such as Imagine Dragons and The Used are great representations of bands from Northern Utah). I chose these artists for their sound that is unique to the region (as opposed to pop, metal, etc.). I toss in a few notable acts from each to consider.
Calexico. Originating in Tucson, Arizona, Calexico summarize the Southwest sound like no other band. Combining, Hispanic, Anglo, and various other traditions in full musical sweep, the band is an Indie favorite. Notable albums: The Black Light and Feast of Wire.
Carlos Nakai. Native American flutist, Carlos Nakai, is a Grammy Award nominee and the best selling Native American flute player on planet Earth. With collaborations with a host of musicians and symphonies, Nakai’s work is often deemed haunting and luminescent. Notable works Canyon Trilogy and Inner Voices.
Notable Arizona bands: Captain Squeegee, Meat Puppets, and Jimmy Eats World.
Beirut. Gypsy-pop band, Beirut, is the brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Zach Condon. Originating from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Beirut has a legion of avid fans worldwide. Combining brass-influenced music (gypsy meets mariachi), Beirut has toured the world with its unique blend of music that was birthed in the Southwest. Notable albums: The Flying Club Cub and March of the Zapotec.
Ottmar Liebert. The Flamenco guitarist is the leading exporter of the “New Flamenco Sound” originating in Santa Fe, New Mexico. With 38 Gold and Platinum certifications, the German-Chinese-Hungarian settled in New Mexico in 1986, where he took his music to the charts. Notable Albums: Nouveau Flamenco and Borrasca.
Notable New Mexico bands and individuals: Hawk and a Hacksaw (Gypsy), Postcommodity (Ambient, Noise), The Shins (Indie-alternative), and Robert Mirabal (Native).
Wovenhand/16 Horsepower. The Denver-based band 16 Horsepower helped create a new genre of music: Americana-Gothic, with the blending of gothic themes and acoustic instrumentation (banjo, accordion, etc.). Leader, David Eugene Edwards, later formed Wovenhand, combining Christian themes in layers of melancholy and angst. Notable works: Low Estate (16 Horsepower) and Consider the Birds (Wovenhand).
DeVotchKa (Russian for “girl”). This gypsy-inspired band originated in Denver, Colorado. With music featured on the movie soundtracks, Little Miss Sunshine, the band infuses many influences in its music: gypsy, Mexican, post-punk and folk. Notable albums: How it Ends and 100 Lovers.
Notable Colorado bands: Luminaires (folk-pop), Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (old-school soul, Americana), The Fray (rock), Sting Cheese Incident (Americana), and Elephant Revival (folk).
So there you have it, an introduction to the music of the Southwest. But rather than reading about it, go listen to it. When you do, you’ll learn that the Southwest sound is defined by experimental music and instrumentation, pulling from a variety of sources (gypsy, folk, Bluegrass, pop, and World).
Photo captions: 1) Carlos Nakai. 2) Beirut. 3) David Eugene Edwards of Wovenhand. 4) DeVotchKa. 5) Brian Nixon.
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About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). As a published author, editor, radio host, recording artist, and visual artist, Brian spends his free time with his three children and wife, painting, writing music, reading, and visiting art museums. To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.
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