April 8th, 2014 Last Updated on: April 8th, 2014
Lakota artist Chenoah Lee is passionate about playing a variety of music. From Billie Holiday to powwow drums, this talented performer draws strength from a variety of musical styles. During this interview, we discovered that music is not this dynamo's only passion!
Q) It's great to visit with you! Will you please introduce yourself to us? What do you want us to know about you?
A) First of all, I would like to thank you and POWWOWS.COM for interviewing me. It's an honor to have my voice heard in Indian Country. My name is Chenoah Lee and I was born in Portland, OR. I'm Lakota and my family comes from The Lower Brulé Reservation in SD. I'm married and I have two adopted cats. I live in the Seattle, WA area and work with my husband, Jeremy, who is Cherokee.
Q) It's all about the journey, more than the destination, right? We'd like to hear about your musical journey!
A) I've always loved music and have been writing since I was six. I grew up listening to gospel. In fact, it was the only music I was allowed to listen to. My first contraband “contemporary” music was a Christian rock band called The Sweet Comfort Band. I played the hell out of that cassette tape. They had guitars, drums, and loud vocals!!!! Then at fourteen, I discovered what people call EMO music today. Bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, Alphaville, The Smiths, etc.
Q) Fascinating! What led you from listening to performing?
A) In 1996, I started writing on a whole new level when I started playing guitar and listening to bands like The Indigo Girls, Patti Griffin, Indigenous, Joy Harjo, John Trudell, Ulali and Son Volt, to name a few. That influence mixed with the gospel is what evolved into the music I write and play today. I call it folk/rock, but with a Native twist!
Q) Let's talk about that “Native Twist”! How does your Tribal heritage appear in your life as a way of life? How does culture impact the way that you live and the way that you make your music?
A) My tribal heritage is one of the most important things in my life. I have been adopted and named in old Wasco, one of the languages of the Columbia River Plateau peoples. I am called Egoninah Aiyat which means Butterfly Woman. I take our old ways seriously and I see myself as a bridge between two worlds. The world where we have to get on and make a living and the world of our old ways which is how we make a life. Walking the Red Road in a good way is more important than anything else. I try to stay on my path and music helps me to do that.
Q) What do you hope your music inspires in the lives of your listeners?
A) Practicing ceremony, being a pipe-carrier, building flutes by hand and learning from my husband how to play and become a flute-maker has taught me perseverance, patience, wonder at the Great Mystery, Hope, and the strong belief that we will endure as Nations always. We can't give up. I was on my own at fifteen. It was really hard, but if you want something bad enough and you send up your prayers and you work hard, you can do anything. I don't care who you are and what struggles you face, everyone is gifted. I hope that my music will make people stop and just think. If I can get you to examine life and all it offers, then as a musician and a person, I feel I've done my job.
Q)As Native people, our children are our beautiful future! How do you hope to encourage the next generation?
A) Our young people are the future of all of us. They are a precious gift. They need to be told this and often! Suicide is not an option. We work with Native youth teaching flute-making and we have helped flute players get their music heard, recorded, produced and marketed. We also attend a yearly Flutes by the River gathering in the longhouse where our ways and the healing power of the flute are honored.
Q)Our traditional ways are precious. As you heal others through your beliefs and music, how have you been able to find healing for yourself?
A) I needed to find my own identity and voice before I was able to really share with others in song. Once that happened, I was able to speak from my heart and learn when to speak. Listening to our elders is the best way to learn how to live. They have so much experience! They and the Great Mystery have helped me overcome depression, acute anxiety, extreme poverty, alcoholism, and cancer throughout the course of my life.
Q)As we talk about our young people, do you have any practical advice for those just starting on the performing path?
A) Professionalism and respect are perhaps the best qualities you can have as a performer. Having a sense of entitlement in your attitude won't get you very far in any arena. I have my personal life and a public persona that is me, but I have boundaries around what I share and what I don't.
Q) A great way to avoid some of the mistakes you warn against is to listen to wise mentors. Who are some of your favorite musicians? Why?
A) I really love Pura Fe because she can sing that really beautiful Lakota register where you get the chills, you know what I mean?
I love the Indigo Girls because there aren't a lot of strong women musicians these days who aren't afraid to challenge the status quo. I feel like their songs speak to me and tell me to ride on!
Q) If you could offer any advice to someone who would like to learn more and possibly start performing,singing,drumming or playing, what would it be?
Find your voice, practice at least a few hours a day, be honest with yourself and your limitations, accentuate the positive gifts you have and run for as many of your dreams as you can catch! If it's not fun, don't do it.
Do your homework. If an offer looks too good to be true, IT IS. Don't become a slave to anyone. If you can't find the right people to work with who will honor and respect you, then do it yourself. Surround yourself with friends who will tell you the truth and don't be a fame seeker.
Q) What would you like us to know that we don't already know about you?|
My husband and I are dedicated to Native Youth and we plan to forego our own children so we can adopt Native children in need so we can keep them in their cultural loop. We are called to do this. If I can help one Native child go to college and become a strong member of their tribe, then I will feel even better on my Red Road. We all have so much purpose and so little time!
Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture »