What does it mean to be a Native American artist in a contemporary world?
That is the question the Sun Valley Center for the Arts has posed with its multidisciplinary exhibition, "Album: Shifting Native Stories." Over the past few weeks the exhibition has used the work of Native American artists, including Marie Watts' expository hangings and sculptures, the nature inspired work of Anne Appleby and the witty art of Larry McNeil, to present possible answers to that question. This weekend you can hear one for yourself.
The distinctive voice of Pura Fé will echo through the Liberty Theatre in Hailey this Saturday, Sept. 16. Of the Tuscarora Nation, hers has been called "the voice of an angel" and "soul itself."
"With her voice soaring, foot stomping, this beautiful songbird transcends time and brings the message of our ancestors who have sown this beautiful seed that makes powerful music," said singer-songwriter Taj Majal.
Pura Fé (which means "pure faith" in Spanish) is bringing her astonishing voice and unique blend of native and blues influences to the valley for the first time.
"Pura Fé epitomizes the kind of innovative, world-class programming that the Sun Valley Center for the Arts brings to the Wood River Valley," said Kathryn Maguet, The Center's director of performing arts. "She is a major talent in her own right, but she also has something to add to the ongoing dialogue about what it means to be a Native American artist in a contemporary world, which is the theme of our current multidisciplinary project, 'Album: Shifting Native Stories.'"
A founding member of Ulali, the internationally renowned Native women's a cappella trio Pura Fé is recognized for bringing contemporary Native voices to the forefront of mainstream music. She has opened for such musical luminaries as Neil Young, the Indigo Girls, Jackson Browne, Sting and Bonnie Raitt. A singer, songwriter, musician, poet, artist, dancer, actor, teacher and activist—this multitalented woman resurrects and elegantly restates the indigenous beginnings of the blues with her soulful voice and skillful way with her acoustic lap steel guitar.
Born to a Puerto Rican father and a Tuscaroran mother, Pura Fé notes that the perception that Native American music is somehow "outside the mainstream" is wrong.
"Charley Patton (the 'father of the blues') was Choctaw. Scrapper Blackwell was Cherokee. All the early jazz people were mixed," she said. "It was like another race that gave birth to this rich musical culture, a race that's largely been forgotten about. My people, the Tuscarora of North Carolina, were known for harboring runaway slaves ... so the races have been mixing and influencing each other for a long time.
"The call-and-response thing in blues and gospel and its modulation is what Indians call Stomp Dance," she continued. "The wailing guitar you hear in rock and blues is the sound of the powwow singers. Nowhere in Africa do you hear that kind of guitar playing."
Pura Fé has stamped her distinct vocals on many recordings, music videos and movie soundtracks throughout her career and has appeared in several Broadway musicals and TV commercials. In addition to her recordings with Ulali, Pura Fé has released several solo albums including "Follow Your Heart's Desire" and "Caution to the Wind."
Tickets for Pura Fé's performance are $15 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Call 726-9491 or stop by The Center in Ketchum or Hailey. Tickets are also available at Big Bad Bill's in Hailey and at the door.
Other upcoming elements of "Album: Shifting Native Stories" include classes and demonstrations for children and adults, lectures and author readings and visual arts exhibitions in Ketchum and Hailey. Work by Marie Watt and Anne Appleby is on display along with a group of finely woven Aleut and Tlingit baskets at The Center, Ketchum, through Oct. 20. Watt will speak in Ketchum about her work on Wedensday, Oct. 18.
A series of photographic collages, "Keet H'it, Killer Whale House" by Boise State University photography professor Larry McNeil, is at The Center, Hailey, through Oct. 27. McNeil, a member of the Tlingit and Nisga'a Nations, will speak in Hailey about his work on Wednesday, Oct. 25. Also upcoming is a reading by best-selling author Louise Erdrich on Wednesday, Oct. 11, in Ketchum.