I had first heard of Frank Waln through a friend of mine. She shared the music video for his song “AbOriginal” and I was immediately intrigued. The slickness of the video production and the originality of the lyrics made me watch the video over and over again; I had to find out more about this artist. For those that don't know, Frank Waln is an award winning Hip Hop artist/producer/performer and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. He's won a Native American Music Award both with his previous group Nake Nula Waun and his solo endeavors. He's performed for audiences in New York City, Hawaii, Philadelphia, Michigan and many more locales.
Luckily Frank lives here in Chicago so I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him about his music. I found out this talented Lakota artist has way more going on than just music.
Frank had recently come back from visiting his family over winter break in Rosebud, South Dakota. “Break” is putting it lightly as he went on a whirlwind tour of all the Head Start schools in the area. He sat down with the kids and read stories to them, hopefully inspiring them on their educational journey. “I guess I did so well with the kids that the adults wanted me to talk to them too,”
Frank said. So the following week he whipped up a presentation and sat down with the Head Start staff.
Now back in Chicago, he's wrapping up his final semester of Audio Design and Music Production at Columbia College of Chicago. But don't think that he's only focusing on school work. He's currently working with Title VII of Chicago in holding a weekend Songwriting Workshop with kids ages 10 and up. Last semester he had also worked with kids from Title VII on a Gates Millennium Scholarship workshop, of which Frank is a former recipient of. Education seems to be a key motivator to his success so he wants to make sure the youth also have access to those tools.
Speaking of success, let's get back to how I found out about Frank in the first place: his video for “AbOriginal”. It was filmed mainly on his homeland, the Rosebud reservation, with the help of a fellow Columbia College student studying film. The video quickly spread online with prominent websites like Color Lines and MTVu featuring it on their homepages.
Check out some of the lyrics from “AbOriginal” and watch the video below:
If you a red man/ you a dead man
“Better off on the rez” what they said man
“You a mascot/ Just a ghost now
Just a thing that I wear up on my clothes now”
In December he released another song called “White War”:
Manifest Destiny arrested all that is left for me
I used to be free in this land but now I’m a refugee
In the name of progress Presidents order the death of me
Shout out Dakota 38 I pray that you’re blessing me
So what does the future hold for Frank? He's currently working on a new solo album. “I want to create music that capture the spirit of the rez, the good, bad and the ugly.” We talk about how a recent trip to the birthplace of hip hop reminded him of how he felt when he first heard NYC hip hop and how those songs helped him visualize the grittiness of the terrain. “That's what I want to do on the next album, help capture that feeling you get when you're standing there on the rez, soaking it all in.” He wants to be able to address issues that concern Indian Country but he also wants to tell human stories, not necessarily native. Music does seem to be that common language where we can open up with each other and have a cross-cultural dialogue.
Our conversation turns to who inspires him. “Musically I'd have to say Robbie Robertson.” He mentions Kanye West's Yeezus album and I pause and add, “But not with the ego right?” He laughs. He also mentions OutKast as an inspiration.
“If you could work with anyone, who would you want to work with?” I ask.
“Robbie Robertson is a huge influence on my current work. Indigenous style with progressive rock.” He sits and thinks a little more. “Frank Ocean has a great vibe in the music he makes. Also lyrically John Trudell.” He adds that he tends to dig more melancholy music. “You can really hear the passion in the music.” Something Frank Waln's new album will surely not be lacking.
Just as I'm wrapping up the interview Frank says he's going to stick around the coffee shop. It turns out he ran into someone in the other room who recognizes him and wants to get a picture with him. I have a feeling a lot more requests for photos will be in his future.
If you're in the Chicago area you can check Frank Waln this Friday night (February 14, 2014) opening up for A Tribe Called Red at the Bottom Lounge.