Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"She Rocks Harder..."

Undated photo of Buffy Sainte-Marie from her MySpace page

Saw Buffy Sainte-Marie at the KiMo in Albuquerque August 13, 2012.

"She rocks harder at 70 than she ever did..." is how she was introduced, and it is no exaggeration. She's been on tour for her latest CD, "Running for the Drum," released in 2008 or 2009 (not sure, views differ) since 2010, and her show in Albuquerque last night was a reprise of her "¡Globalquerque!" appearance last year at New Mexico's premiere World Music festival. Her band consists of members of the award-winning Canadian Indigenous rock band Gathering of Flies.

They call much of the music on "Running for the Drum," Buffy's most recent CD, Pow Wow Rock. Compared to what she was doing Back In the Day, it's a big step, and I was wondering last night when she started doing the "Indun Stuff." There was nothing like this before, at least not when I was more attuned to the whole music scene in which Buffy's genre was rather rigidly categorized as Folk. Not Folk Rock. Folk.

And quirky Folk at that. There wasn't anything quite like it in those days, but there was. She was a unique talent, and yet her music seemed always familiar somehow. Her catalogue of folk hits and award-winning commercial-movie type music is extensive.

Most Anglos are never exposed to the Pow Wow culture that is so appreciated among Indians, they never hear Indian music -- either the traditional style or the contemporary -- and something like Pow Wow Rock can come as a real surprise, especially when presented by someone with such an extensive repertoire in completely different genres.

"She rocks harder...than she ever did." See for yourself.

The music on her "Running for the Drums" CD is tame compared to her live show, in part because her band of Indians from Winnepeg is so strong, and they don't appear to be part of her CD. She herself is no slacker, but her band, members of Gathering of Flies, are the musical driving force, and that is in some measure due to drummer Mike Bruyere ("Ojibway, Ojibway, Ojibway" as she says when introducing him) -- a big measure of the driving force though he himself is rather diminutive.

The drum is the heartbeat of the Earth and is the central factor of Indian music. Bruyere manages to impart the spirit of that heartbeat while rocking as hard as anyone onstage if not harder.

The audience, of course, was made up largely of geezers and coots like me. One fellow said to me after the show that it was one of the first times in a long time he'd been in a room -- as he put it -- with so many of his contemporaries "in time and in space." Indeed.

I was in the front row so it was sometimes difficult to get a bead on the rest of the audience, but the "room" appeared full, the audience was probably seventy percent my age or older, not a few of them with their canes and walkers and wheel chairs, and ever so many of them with stories to tell of forty years ago -- or whenever -- and they last saw Buffy or bought her album, or in my case, were in a movie that featured Buffy's music heavily in the sound track. "Forty years ago" figured heavily in the night's festivities, and yet in some ways, many of us were allowed to forget, or if not forget, at least allowed put in perspective the vision of "forty years ago" -- and maybe let go.

For many of my generation, of course, that's not going to happen. But Buffy has largely moved on -- and at the same time stayed true to yesteryear.

When I watched the DVD that came with "Running for the Drum" this morning, it occurred to me how little I really knew about her. I had no idea she'd been adopted out of the Cree Reserve, she didn't actually know when she was born (1940, 41, something like that). Her (adoptive) mother was part Micmac but she was not raised among her people or in Indian culture. Her awareness grew with time. She was raised White. Well, sort of. She was "tan in a sea of white" and yet there was always something drawing her to Native Peoples from her earliest days, and at the same time offering her so many of the advantages and inducements that accompany being White in North America. (No matter what else she is, she is very Canadian!)

And I realized how she came to do Indian music, or at least her version of it, and why it has taken her so long to get there. The only way I can put it is this: unless it comes naturally, you can't very well do it at all, and she had to live long enough for it to come naturally to her before she could do it. Getting to that point was a process that took time and belief and courage.

The Pow Wow rock segments of the show were the ones that got these old geezers in the audience on their feet clapping and stomping and shouting, and there were enough Indians in the audience that they could accompany the music from the stage with their own calls and chants in a kind of circle of sound and life that is so much a part of the pow wow. It was a thrill to see it and hear it happening spontaneously the way it should be.

It's not everyday something like this happens.

Buffy Sainte-Marie is a legend -- a very self-aware legend, let it be said -- but she isn't stuck in The Back Then, rehashing her Old Hits one or two more times before she dies. Oh no, she's well beyond that.

And for that, I'm grateful. She was also very pleasant for a PhD! (/s)


  1. They play her occasionally on our local Lefty radio station. The last song I hear of hers was...

    No No Keshagesh

  2. No No Keshagesh at Dundas Square in Toronto last month gives you an idea of the difference between the live version and the video.

    Working for the Government is pretty good too. Stockholm August 2012.

  3. Oh, good, I look forward to watching these when I am free.