Since their explosive debut on the national blues scene in 1998 with their CD “Things We Do,” the Nakota family band Indigenous has been heralded as the torchbearer for a new generation of blues artists.
With a new CD scheduled for release on July 1 and a tour promoting it, Indigenous is poised and ready to climb even higher. The band is fresh from a lull in touring and sounding better than ever.
“On this CD we tried to capture more of our ‘live’ sound, to bring the stage into the studio,” said lead vocalist and guitar virtuoso Mato Nanji. “The tracks are all done live in the studio. Later we went in and added a few touches here and there, where we felt it was necessary. I feel the end result is better than the previous CDs we released, and I am happy with it.”
The CD is being released under the Jive label, the band having departed from Pachyderm Records. The first single, “Come On Susie,” will be released in June. This song is not for the timid or weak of heart; this is an in-your-face blues record intended for playing at maximum volume.
In an industry where success is largely a marketing product, these four musicians from the Yankton reservation in South Dakota have ascended toward the blues stratosphere with each CD release, and their live shows are claiming ever-growing numbers of fans. The critics have been equally awed.
Their music transcends their ages (all are in the mid-twenties). Can musicians this young belt out the blues, usually played by older southern artists in smoky Memphis juke joints, and make it sound good? Indigenous has proven that yes, they can. And, they have a good time doing it. Seasoned road warriors of almost 10 years, they have earned their stripes by playing festivals, arenas, casinos, and clubs large and small.
They have jammed with many of their heroes, including Chris Duarte, Bonnie Raitt, Keb’ Mo, B.B. King, Melissa Etheridge, and Santana. B.B. King invited them to join his Blues Festival Tour of 1999, proclaiming that Indigenous is “a band America and the world should hear.” They spent that summer touring with King.
In October 2000, Carlos Santana invited Mato to play during a concert in Albuquerque, an event that Mato will remember as a highlight of his career. “I went up and played about three songs with him. He’s one of the legends for me, so that is one of the things I’ll never forget! Hopefully this upcoming tour will bring more of those moments for us.”
Indigenous has had quite a ride so far. The journey began in the early 90s, under the guidance of their father, the late AIM activist/artist/musician Greg Zephier. Zephier taught them how to play, showing each member their own particular instrument.
“We grew up listening to all the music that influenced our dad, music like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Hendrix,” recalled Mato. “We practiced and he taught us the songs. We all learned from him.”
With Mato Nanji (Standing Bear) on lead guitar, brother Pte (Little Buffalo Man) on bass, and sister Wanbdi (Good Eagle Woman) on drums, the band asked their cousin Horse to join as percussionist and began refining their skills.
Their first gig was before a crowd at an old bingo hall that is now the present-day Fort Randall Casino in Pickstown, S.D. They released “Awake” and, soon after, “Love In The Mist.” Both tracks were on their 1997 CD release, “Live Blues From The Sky,” which sold 4,000 copies. The CD grabbed the attention of Bonnie Raitt and The Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray, who invited them to join the Honor the Earth tour and appear on the compilation CD. The release of “Things We Do” in 1998 brought them to the national spotlight. The title song of the same name reached number 18 on the Billboard radio and record charts. After touring at an exhausting pace, the band began to work on “The Circle” in late 1999. With Doyle Bramhall helping produce the CD, the end result was a showcase of polished musicianship.
The band’s manager, Chris Chardin, is quick to acknowledge the degree of talent and dedication the band possesses. “They are a pleasure to work withit’s fun to watch them come into their own,” Chardin said. “Indigenous has the skills to sound good both in the studio and on stage.”
Experiencing a live Indigenous show is not unlike rafting in whitewater for the first time: they evoke chills with the first song, leave the audience exhausted by intermission, and leave a euphoric daze after the last encore. Their creative artistry is apparent in their choice to perform without a set list. Mato’s sound is all his own. He is blessed with a greatness that can’t be learned from influences. Powerful, incendiary, call it what you will. He will have your attention riveted and with his blazing solo riffs, he lets the world know that he has arrived; he is no wimpy flash-in-the-pan Texas blues copycat, but the real deal.
Though destined for greatness, Mato will politely excuse himself from comparisons to Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn. “I never see myself as therethey are my teachers. I don’t consider myself as a teacher yet. It’s an honor for me when people use my name in the same sentence as them.”
When asked for advice for young people both on and off the rez, Mato said, “Stick to what you feel and things will turn out for the best. Don’t worry about what people will say or think about you when you are being creative. Follow your heart and be proud of who you are.”