When I first heard of the band Indigenous, I made some assumptions. Not bad ones, but assumptions nonetheless. I imagined the sounds of falling water and the call of wolves, the ethereal whistle of a flute and a continuous rhythmic chanting. -Indigenous will perform at the Eiteljorg Indian Market and at the Rathskeller on Saturday.- This couldn’t be further from the truth. And yet, Indigenous speaks to deeply rooted traditions — of another kind. Since hearing the band, I’ve begun to make different associations: to Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. By no means am I the first to make such comparisons. Since the band first started touring in the late ’90s, music critics across the country have been giving band leader Mato Nanji near godhead status for his virtuosity on the guitar.
The booking of Indigenous, who will perform this Saturday at 4 p.m. as part of the Eiteljorg Museum’s Indian Market (see related story, Calendar), is considered a coup for the Eiteljorg, which annually draws thousands of visitors to its White River Park home. Indigenous is comprised of a close-knit foursome of three siblings and one cousin, all of Nakota Sioux heritage, who still reside in their childhood home of Marty, S.D. Nanji, whose hair streams down his back in a long ponytail, not only looks Native American, but his ties to family are strong. His late father introduced him and his siblings to the kind of music for which Indigenous is becoming known. The fact that Indigenous is unmistakably Native American as well as a crowd pleaser with mainstream music lovers is what drew them to Jaq Nig, festivals manager for the Eiteljorg.
The Indian Market, which includes the Midwest’s largest juried show and sale of authentic, hand-made Native American art, also includes dance performances and demonstrations. The introduction of Indigenous to the mix is a first.
“I remembered seeing Indigenous at Indy Jazz Fest a couple of years ago and thinking that they were fantastic,” Nig recalls. “There are other Native American bands who concentrate on traditional Native music, but we all felt strongly that we wanted a contemporary band who just happen to be Native American. People get pretty wrapped up in their conception of what an Indian is and we want our visitors to see that Indians are artists and musicians and comedians and anything else they can think of. Our goal is to present an entertaining mix of traditional and contemporary art and culture to show a real representation of Native America.”
Echoing Nig, Nanji says, “Everybody comes from somewhere. If you can break that barrier … I think it’s more beautiful ... I feel better taking our music to everybody.”
Since the release of Indigenous’ first album, The Things We Do, in 1998, Nanji has been lauded by music critics across the country: “If Nanji isn’t yet the next great guitar god, well, he’s on his way. Yes, he’s that good, seemingly able to invoke the spirits of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan just by picking up his guitar.” (Pittsburgh Tribune, August 1999)
Circle, the band’s second album, released in 2000, received thumbs up from Rolling Stone: “Circle is solid and unpretentious, as well-schooled in its influences as it is earnest in execution.” The single “Rest of My Days” from that album received the band’s first significant radio exposure in major markets like Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle and San Diego. Television performances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, CBS Saturday Morning and Austin City Limits have helped introduce Indigenous to a national audience. Indigenous opened for Bob Dylan and Dave Matthews, who introduced the band by referring to Nanji as “an amazing guitarist … he’s kind of intimidating.”
Indigenous’ new self-titled album plays up its appeal to live audiences. With brother Pte Wicasa on bass, sister Wanbdi Waste Win on drums and backing vocals, plus cousin Horse on percussion, the Indigenous sound is bolder than ever. “A lot of fans say they dug the live version [of Circle],” Nanji says. “I’m a little bit more comfortable with what I did on this latest record; it captured more of who I am. I think it comes pretty close.”
To listen to Indigenous play you can download MP3s from their Web site at www.indigenousrocks.com. Better yet, hear them live at the Indian Market this Saturday. For details on this year’s market, see the NUVO calendar, visit www.eiteljorg.org or call 636-9378.