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Energy and Entertainment: A visit with Ed Koban

Posted By PowWows.com May 6th, 2014 Last Updated on: May 6th, 2014

Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Music Editor

Widely known as part of the Native American Music Award house band, Ed Koban is a talented guitarist. Playing the flute is also a part of this skillful artist's career, which is distinguished by his energetic stage shows. From the Kennedy Center to concerts with some of Native America's most dynamic artists, such as Pura Fe and Dylan Jenet Collins, this great Native musician has a truly classic career!

Ed Koban Onstage

Ed Koban Onstage

Ed Koban

Ed Koban

Q) Great to visit with you! You bring such lively energy to every onstage session!

A)Thanks so much for asking me to be here. Things are pretty exciting right now, my new group, The Ed Koban Group, is playing some of our first shows this month since our debut at the most recent Nammy Awards. I'm also putting the finishing touches on my first solo flute CD, and just received a Bachelors degree in Sociology. Things have been a good kind of busy.

Q) What are some of the many accomplishments and awards you've achieved through your music? What do they mean to you?

A)I think that the things that am most proud of is having the opportunity to play some venues where the greats have performed. The Kennedy Center, with a long list of past performers who are music royalty was one of those, “am I really here” moments. I really cherish those moments. I once found myself in a room, working on a song all alone with Pura Fe, who is on my “musical Mount Rushmore” and felt at that moment like I had won an award and that all the work up to that moment had paid off. I get that same feeling through my bands role as house band for the Native American Music Awards. It's a great privilege. It's what makes all the struggles worth it.

Q) Why do you think Native American music is so popular with other cultures? What makes our music unique and important?

A)I think other cultures find Native Music and Native Culture to be beautiful, because it is. I find it fascinating when I talk to people from other countries and how much they seem to know about Native Americans and the culture, especially the music. Our story, history, perseverance, and traditions, are something that anyone, anywhere could relate to today, especially in places where similar stories are playing out. Our history, the history of Native Americans, is full of lessons, many very tragic, many as inspirational as any religious text, I think it must be more obvious to people who are removed from it. There is still a lot of healing and denial to get past in regards to this country and it's dynamic with Native people. Storytelling is, in my eyes, a fundamental aspect of Native culture. Our stories, told with our music, is like no other anywhere.

Q)Truth! Let's pretend you are a critic and reviewing your own music…what would you say?

A) That's a great question. Due to the fact I've been in a supporting role as a guitarist for other artists over the past 10 years, it has afforded me the opportunity to absorb other types of music that wouldn't have influenced my style otherwise. With my new group I'm able to create music that I've had in my head for a while now, which is very blues rock orientated, but am finding aspects of some of the things I've learned by playing other styles showing up in the new material. I'd say that we're defining our sound as we grow and I'm excited. To try to categorize it, I would say its a high energy, fun style of rock and blues, flavored with bits of jazz, Native American, and folk influences that give it a unique sound.
My first performance was when I was sixteen years old for a battle of the bands in my home town of Lockport, NY. It was a fun night and we had a lot of support from our friends who made it a memorable thing, even though we were kinda awful.
I've had the great fortune to play some very cool venues like The Kennedy Center and the 2002 Winter Olympics, which were special gigs for me. Playing with Pura Fe was a personal high point. I think that my group's role as Nammy House band the last couple years have been amazing. Having not only the opportunity to perform with established artists who I grew up listening to like Nokie Edwards (Ventures), and Joanne Shenandoah, but the chance to perform with rising artists at the beginning of their careers like Dylan Jenet Collins, Cody Blackbird, and Ryan Molina. It's a great privilege.

Q) You're always in such good company! What are some of the important lessons you've learned in your musical career?

A)I wish that I knew how profound of an impact digital technology would have on the music business, and how quickly that would happen. It is a very different world than the it was when I fist picked up a guitar. I love the ability to be involved in every aspect of your career now, and can do so much on your own through social media and Internet music sites. When I started the dream was to get signed by a record label and put your music out that way, and the chances were very slim. Today the ability to get your music to the world is on the artists shoulders. To me that's a great thing. That's the way it should be, an artist with the right approach can access the world from their basement if they put their mind to it.
I glad I didn't know that most grown ups were right about the uphill climb that the music business can be. If I had heeded their warnings I would most likely not be talking with you about this today. I had blinders on, and it worked out. Ha Ha.

Q) So glad it worked out, but if it hadn't, what would you do?

A)I've never thought about that. I would say that writing would fill that void for me. It's odd, because I am not a very confident lyricist, but I enjoy writing short stories and loved writing papers in college. I can find the same stream of consciousness moment writing that I get from music when it's going great, and it just flows out of you as if your not even in control of it. I love that, a lot.

Q) How did you know that music was your passion? Who taught music to you?

A)I loved listening to music as a kid. There were a bunch of older kids in my neighborhood who turned me on to a lot of great music, but when I seen my first concert, and experienced the music live, that's when I knew what I wanted to do. How well I play, and how much I get from it is directly related to the vibe from the crowd, even if the crowd is 5 people. I learned music from watching other players perform. I would go to local bands rehearsals and watch them play, I would help move gear so they'd let me hang out and just absorb all I could. I still watch and learn now, the guys in my band in particular are guys I try to learn from. I think that something like You Tube can be a valuable tool for learning that way. I regret sometimes that my musical upbringing wasn't a little more formal, but that's the great thing about music, there is always something new to learn.

Q) Where can folks find out your concert schedule? How can they purchase your music?
A)We have a brand new Facebook page up and running. The web address is:
https://www.facebook.com/EdKobanGroup
and, at the moment, is the best place to keep up with what's going on. There is a couple of videos up now, and the new CD will will be accessible from that page soon. I'd like to encourage everyone to “like” the pages of your favorite artist on Facebook. The number of likes on those band pages really is a factor when booking and promoting your stuff. It's an easy way to help out any band that you like.  I'm stepping off the soapbox now.

Ed Koban rocks!

Ed Koban rocks!

Q) How does Native American identity and culture appear in your music? How does Native tradition shape your songs?

A)Having been adopted as a baby, I was raised in a diverse city environment. My parents we're very open with me about my adoption and never held back anything I wanted to know. But It was through my music that I have been able to connect with my Native identity, and that has I think manifests itself through my flute playing. Native tradition inspires me to make music. Having the great privilege of making music and visiting different tribes, in different parts of the country with different traditions, and how powerful an impact they still have, always gets me going. Being that my upbringing wasn't as traditional as the people who were raised with it from the start, and is often linked strongly to their own identity, I feel that if I tried to imitate it, it would be disrespectful and be kind of crossing a line. I would feel like a tourist in a jingle dress. I just try to let how it makes me feel come out of the instruments I'm playing. I am proud of my Native heritage and very proudly identify my myself as Native, but that doesn't change my upbringing and where I came from, to deny any part of where I came from, or to imitate something that I feel may not belong to me, would disrespect the tradition and my parents and who raised me well and are my family.

Q) If we came to see you perform, what could we expect? What's the signature trait of your musical shows?

A)I like to think you could expect to go home happy after seeing us. We put a lot of energy and effort into what we do, and really try to have that translate to our performances. Whether it's a solo flue gig or the full band, you can expect us to work hard to make sure you're glad you didn't stay in for the night, or catch a movie. I've been told that my playing has a particular feel that people can tell when it's me, that might be my signature trait.

Q) What would you like to tell us that we don't already know about you? About your music?

A)I guess it would be that aside from music, I spend my days working with special needs and at risk youth. My goal for the future is to earn my a doctorate degree and work in the areas of poverty and teen suicide, which have reached crisis level among our Native youth. Musically, I'm actually a closet Gospel Music lover. It's unlikely that you'll find me at a church, but you may think there is a service going on in my house when I'm in a Gospel music mood and my stereo is cranked.

Ed Koban

Ed Koban

Thanks for your consideration and for your time!

Dr. Dawn Karima is a NAMMY winning recording artist. She is the author of two novel, THE WAY WE MAKE SENSE and THE MARRIAGE OF SAINTS. Her home is the Qualla Boundary Reservation in North Carolina.


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