‘Stop, and uplift each other’
Native musicians hope to expand community, spread encouraging messages, and showcase the vibrancy and range of Indigenous artistry.
Heart Museum performs for a crowd of festival goers at The Hive in Durango, Colorado during the 44th Annual Snowdown on February 4, 2023. (Photo courtesy Chapter House)
For the last decade, Christopher Mike-Bidtah (Diné) who goes by the stage name Def-i, has been hosting the annual Gathering of MCs where Native hip-hop artists gather in community to perform and spread encouraging messages for listeners.
Def-i has been a vital part of the New Mexican hip-hop community, at one point co-hosting New Mexico’s longest running hip-hop weekly event, “Vinyl & Verse” with the late Wake Self. During Gathering of Nations in 2011, an unrelated event saw an influx of Native emcees, some who didn’t get a chance to perform. Def-i created a last minute event—the inaugural Gathering of MCs—co-hosted by MC/DJ Speed One to showcase Native hip-hop.
“At the beginning, we were hoping for it to be inter-tribal in a way that’s all inclusive, that anybody can be a part of. Not just Natives or Indigenous emcees, but just anybody could get down. That was the basic idea—for it to feel like a global community over time.”
He describes the arrival of Native peoples for Gathering weekend as a “resurgence,” where Albuquerque transforms into a mecca for Indigenous artists, creatives and communities.
A$h Da Hunter (Yavapai/Apache) is on the lineup for this year’s Gathering of MCs. She began rapping towards the end of 2017.
“I was in a relationship that put me into a hospital. When I left, I was really angry and I wrote a diss track about my ex-boyfriend,” she said.
She liked her sound, and the rest is history. Her first performance took place at Gathering of MCs in 2022, and she’s been on the rise since. In February, she was featured on Mato Wayuhi’s (Oglala Lakota) latest single, “Stankface,” and performed it alongside the “Reservation Dogs” composer at an NBA halftime show for the Phoenix Suns.
Her latest album, “Playing With Prey,” released in March.
A$h is looking forward to meeting new people and wholeheartedly admits that she’s most excited for the crowd’s reaction to her music. She entered her first Gathering of MCs unsure if she had what it took to be a performer, but now she’s returning to broaden her horizons and audience.
For up-and-coming Native artists, her advice is simple — don’t get caught up in competing with your relatives, “stop and uplift each other.”
As for newcomers, this weekend will be the first time August Remedy performs in Albuquerque. Joshua Long (Diné), Kylie Jim (Diné) and Dylan Jim (Diné), all from Flagstaff, Arizona, will be performing Saturday evening at Native Guitars Tour “The Main Event.” They’re excited to meet other Native musicians off the screen and in-person.
About their name, Long explains, “We landed on ‘August’ because that’s the month we were in. Then ‘Remedy’ because we all came from church and we like the idea of hope and encouragement behind all the songs that we want to sing.”
Kylie Jim describes their music as an upbeat “alternative vibe” with acoustic elements.
Their new single “Remember to Breathe” will be released April 28.
The band recounts all the obligations they have outside of their musical endeavors.
“Time’s not forgiving or easy on us.” Long says.
August Remedy has primarily performed in Native spaces, and the band comments on how their audiences often need some kind of hope. “I fell into depression and loneliness and for me, I just needed someone to tell me it was going to be okay. I think that’s what our songs carry—a sense of purpose, hope and encouragement.”
Heart Museum, a “melodic hardcore” band, will also be playing their first Gathering weekend gig during the Merciless Metal Savages event at the El Rey Theater on Friday, April 28.
Band leader Toni Heartless (Diné/Choctaw) is no stranger to the Native music scene hosting and collaborating on community music events in Shiprock for years.
“It’s not until this year that we’ve been considered a Native band. That might be because of our members being mixed, like me, being half-Filipino.”
Heart Museum’s recent EP “Relentless” reflects the band’s take on resilience. “I wanted it to be unapologetic. We’re not going to stop. We’re relentless. It’s the first time I spoke on any Indigenous topics because at the end of the day we are a Native band, but we don’t talk about a lot of that stuff, really. We talk about the environment we were raised in and the reality that we perceive.”
Toni credits the punk community for raising him and that’s why he’s so dedicated to the music. “There’s nothing that means more to me, than someone telling me how my music has helped them. That’s exactly why I do this.”
Last but not least, One Way Sky is an indie rock band from southern Arizona composed of four members: Adrian Thomas (Gila River Indian Community), Cody Bruguier (Tohono O’odham), Loma Manuel (Gila River Indian Community) and Damien Carlos (Tohono O’odham).
This is the band’s second time performing during Gathering and they’re excited about the networking opportunities, the chance to “take a little drive,” and to showcase how their sound has improved since last year.
Bruguier recounts, “Back then, it was kinda tough for us to jam because I lived on one reservation and Adrian lived on a different reservation. But he always made that sacrifice to come get me and take me back to his place to jam and then to play shows.” He quietly but proudly affirms they’re sounding really good lately.
The four young men are thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to meeting more Native musicians. Carlos adds that he thinks every event where Native peoples get to gather in community is special given the history of Indigenous peoples.
“The stuff we all went through to even still exist here? It’s almost like a miracle that we’re still here. So any chance we get to come together, it’s a good feeling. It’s an honor to get to play music at these kinds of places.”
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