NUVO Staff Joy Harjo, renowned Native American poet, author and musician, will present a free concert of song-chant-tribal fusion at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Thursday, Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m. This is Harjo’s second visit to Indianapolis in little more than a month. She was previously in town to address a conference at the Eiteljorg Museum in connection with its current Fellows exhibition.
Q: You’re a poet and musician. Combining music and poetry in performance seems natural, but it also suggests crossing boundaries. How does this work for you?
A: It works fine for me, and for those who don’t put up fences between genres. Poetry and music belong together, came into the world together and will probably leave the world together.
Q: How would you characterize the relationship between your voice and your saxophone?
A: Both are voices. Of course, it doesn’t make total sense. I’d prefer to read and/or sing AND play the saxophone behind my voice. But that’s impossible, except when recording. Musicians who come to my performances remark that the sax and voice are the same, extensions of each other.
Q: Do you ever feel a need to reconcile tradition with innovation?
A: Maybe this is the theme of my life ... all tradition is enlivened by innovation. Though usually it isn’t seen that way at first. Most innovators are looked upon as strange birds. Bob Dylan was spit on and booed in his early performances. I haven’t suffered that — but I haven’t been celebrated as I would be if I played flute and performed in buckskin and fit perfectly in the native music category, or the jazz category, or any other category.
Q: Tell us about your new CD, Joy For Real.
A: This album seems to be growing on people. Sales are picking up and the word seems to be getting out. It’s quite eclectic. A mix between native, jazz, folk — me with sax, singing and poetry.
Q: Contemporary art seems to be an increasingly global scene. How does the sense of place figure in this?
A: A sense of place needs roots, in land, in culture. Yes, there’s global awareness, but each place on the globe is centered in an absolutely defined land, cultures.
Q: What will you be doing at the IMA?
A: I’ll be speaking, singing, playing sax.
Q: What did you think of the Fellows show at the Eiteljorg?
A: The event at the Eiteljorg was quite inspiring. I come from a family of painters/artists. In fact, one of the awardees was my cousin Maxx Stevens.