Jhe drum is at the center of powwow music. The singers beat in unison on her skin as their voices overlap with vibrato-laden syllabic sounds. No specific language is sung; instead, powwow music is a spiritual communication that has anchored Native American intertribal gatherings for more than a century. On her first album, Niineta, pow-wow singer Joe Rainey dispenses with the drum circle and brings layers of his own voice to the fore, assisted by producer Andrew Broder: the duo met at Bon Iver’s Eaux Claires Music Festival and later became part of his 37d03d collective.
The resulting 10 tracks provide insight into the powwow lineage while pushing it into new settings and spaces. Many tracks add strings and grandeur to Rainey’s fiery multi-octave range, transporting his performance into the realm of the concert hall. On BE Son, synth strings beneath his baritone create a desperate sense of nostalgia, while Turned Engine sees long bowed phrases add a romantic base to Rainey’s tenor duet with vocalist Allie Bearhead. The intimate ballad Ch 1222 combines sparse piano chords with Rainey’s murmuring register.
Other songs inhabit the club. Towards the end of Turned Engine, Broder introduces a distorted bass drum that explodes like the heartbeat of an industrial techno track – a feature that continues on the Easy on the Cide crunch – reminiscent of the sparse soundscapes of techno producer Perc . No Chants’ punchy 808 bass takes us into trap territory, allowing Rainey’s vocals to soar to the peak of its minimal beat and exposing the underlying kinetics of his powwow songs.
Rainey points out that this modern subversion does not deny the ancestry of his music. “These are all my creations, but they are powwow songs, and our language is sacred,” he says in the press materials. It’s a brave undertaking that straddles the line between tradition and adaptation, and ultimately Rainey and Broder succeed – allowing the uninitiated to experience and enjoy the enduring emotions of powwow music without stifling its ineffable power.
Also released this month
Durban gqom trio Phelimuncasi released their second album, Ama Gogela (Nyege Nyege Tapes), a smash hit producing hard-hitting syncopated beats paired with the group’s common spoken word. Japanese singer-songwriter Yama WarashiCrispy Moon (Prah Recordings) is a meandering collection that cuts through everything from Alice Coltrane-esque ambient soundscapes to Afrobeat beats and synth-funk. The highlights come from the quieter moments of Makkuroi Mizu and Haha No Uta. Moroccan Sufi Collective The Master Musicians of Jajouka present their first album, Dancing Under the Moon (Glitterbeat Records). It’s a record best listened to in one sitting, showcasing the trance-inducing melodies produced by the double-reed rhaita.