by Tamia Sorensen
My husband and I had the very good fortune to attend the 4th Annual Bellingham Native American Heritage Day concert last month, which was hosted by the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. The evening was kicked off by acclaimed performer and storyteller, Swil Kanim, who introduced the event with warm and welcoming wit as well as an informal question and answer forum about Native American Heritage Day. We squished up closer to one another in the pews to make more space for the full-to-capacity audience.
We are honored to have Loree Boyd, author of “Spirit Moves” and daughter of Silversong, and later, Frank Goes Behind, revered artist, storyteller, and totem pole carver both perform the opening ceremony asking permission for us to express ourselves this evening through song. We were reminded of the very human relationship between Emotion and motion and invited to walk the isles, dance, or have a little shuffle should we feel the inspiration.
Flutist Peter Ali shared his hauntingly beautiful and strangely lonesome pieces. I was intrigued to learn of Ali’s own background. His father was a Berber from Morocco and his mother of Yaqui Indian, Italian and Spanish heritage. This eclectic genetic memory has no doubt contributed to his playful cross-pollination of flute musical styles. Ali snatches bits from disparate flute traditions around the world, blending them with respectful musical craftsmanship and a sprinkling of humor. I was particularly fascinated to hear a Native American flute fitted with keys in a scale or mode traditional to Middle Eastern music. From this flute, Ali produced a sound evocative of a cool evening in the Sahara…or Mojave Desert.
Pianist and composer Cindy Minkler, a member of the Lakota Sioux Nation, then took the stage with a beautiful flute piece before moving to the piano to share with us the heartbreakingly nostalgic George Winston tune, “Thanksgiving”. She reassured us that it was ok to cry – that crying is being with god – and that a worried heart slows you down. Although her playing was melancholy and moving, it was her wicked sense of humor stole the show.
Rounding out the evening, we were treated to JP Falcon Grady’s phenomenally silken vocals and guitar music. A member of the Blackfeet Nation, Grady played for us the seductive original composition, The Blue of the Night. Grady was then joined by Peter Ali for a stunning cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone”. Of course our favorite was the sorrowful but surprisingly uplifting “I Shall Be Released”.
On the eve after Thanksgiving, sitting there in the Unitarian Fellowship’s chapel, its soring rafters of crafted western red cedar tuning the room to such splendid acoustics, I suspect I was not the only one in the audience to tune out the uncomfortable swell of the previous day’s stuffing and pie overindulgence to chew on something way more important; the message of the event.
We received a great gift in the form of an evening shared with artists, artistry and the resonant reminder that art itself is the qualitative act of being, honor is to be present to one’s truth, feelings, and significance in this world, and with honor, something amazing can come - like heroes.
Swil Kanim, JP Falcon Grady, Cindy Minkler, Peter Ali, and Frank Goes Behind are my heroes.