December 2nd, 2013 Last Updated on: December 2nd, 2013
Lakota/Apache/Taino/Maya powwow personality Ryan Little Eagle Molina has a lot to be thankful for this season. Fresh off a NAMMY win, this musician is also a student, pursuing his academic goals. His Native heritage and dedication to powwows form the focus of his grounded, consistently excellent career. Recently, he shared his viewpoints with Powwows.com.
Q) There's a lot to congratulate you for these days! What are some of the honors and accomplishments you have received recently?
A) Thank you for taking the time to interview me. This is a great honor. Yep, it seems like it these days. Donald Blackfox at Spiritwind Records honored me with a Silver Arrow Award for the Spiritwind Label and even named me the first recipient of the Spiritwind Records’ Rising Stars Award. I was also named the 2013 Debut Artist of the Year for the Native American Music Awards and the 2013 Best Flute CD award from the Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Awards. It’s funny because I’m still trying to grasp the reality of actually receiving these awards. It wasn’t long ago I was just blowing wind and making noise. Then, some of my relatives threw me up on stage in front of people at different events and before I knew it, I was in Niagara Falls, NY, with my Mom and my Uncle, receiving my first Nammy.
Q)Tell us about your Native heritage?
A) My Native heritage comes from both of my parents. My mom is Minneconjou Lakota and Taino and my father is Mayan and Apache. I’m not sure if it is so much tribal values, but more of the way my family believes. If it is tribal values, then it would be what my uncle has taught me. He teaches me about Lakota spirituality, he has had me help him with sweats and even took me to watch and support him during Sundance. He tells me a lot about the 7 spiritual laws the people have.
The ones that really stick with me are Wowahwala (To walk quietly and be humble) and Wopila (to give thanks). The Lakota also have another word ikce wicasa, which means to be a common man. I guess one way of looking at it, there are a lot of ideas and philosophies from the Lakota way that influence the way I live. I guess besides my family one of the biggest influences in my life is one of my role models.
One man I look up to, or should I say an influence from the way he lived, is Tashunka Witsko (Crazy Horse). Crazy Horse was a great leader who was looked up to because he was humble. I remember listening to a few of my elders tell stories about him and read some books on him by Joseph Marshall. The one story that meant a lot to me is about the time he was asked why he did not wear a war bonnet like the other headmen. It is said that he grabbed a handful of grass and sprinkled it in his hair and called it his bonnet. He then told the young man, “Why do I need to prove to everyone who I am when they already know who I am?” I have a lot of different influences, my family and friends are my biggest influence. They always raised me to remember where I come from, and they taught me how to stay grounded and how to remember who I am in my heart.
Q) Powwows! Powwows! Powwows! We see you at many, many powwows! What does the Powwow Trail mean to you?
A) I do attend a lot of them. Powwow to me are family reunions, where there are opportunities to enjoy our culture while also meeting new relatives. As a friend of mine says Powwows are opportunities to swing, sway, and do things the Ndn way. I really enjoy attending them, because it seems the more I go, the more I learn from the dancers, drummers, and even many of the elders. If I had to describe a Powwow to someone who has never attended, I would have to say it’s an Ndn thing.
I would probably tell them that a powwow is a great way to take part in a different diverse culture. The reason they should attend is because when you go to certain Powwows, you start to become part of a big family. There are a few Powwows I try to make it to every year. These Powwows to me are where I found my family. See I’m originally from Texas and now I’m transplanted in Georgia. I left most of my family out west. At many of the Powwows I’ve attended since leaving Texas, many of the Promoters, Dancers, Drummers, and Vendors have adopted me as one of their own. Thinking about it, when you remove the politics, the reason they should go to a Powwow is because of the love and friendship between everyone. Ultimately though the reason they would have to go is because it is a great place to get the Holy food known as frybread. Just kidding, there is a long story to this statement but I’ll get into that later.
Q) What changes in you when you wear your regalia? How do you feel when you dance at a powwow?
A) In a weird way, when I put on my regalia I feel more myself. In a way, it’s like my spirit is free to be itself. I feel like the problems that I deal with every day just disappear. It’s a great feeling. A lot of my regalia has been gifted to me by relatives, and some I’ve made myself. It’s very simple compared to a lot of the other dancers I’ve seen. It’s not as flashy and I don’t have a lot of beadwork, but it’s still pretty cool. My regalia is very simple.
When I dance, there is no feeling like it. Hearing the drum beat with that heartbeat, and the songs being sung, dancing connects me to my heart and spirit. When my feet hit that ground, I feel connected to the old ones, I feel connect to our ways and culture, and I feel connected to the Creator. When I dance, I feel like I’m where I belong. It gets better when I’m able to do it with the people who love and help me with my life.
Q) What are some of the lessons from your Tribal heritage that help you to create your songs?
A) The ultimate lessons from my heritage that keep me centered spiritually are to be humble and to follow my heart. With everything I do, I don’t want to lose who I am, and I don’t want to lose sight of the people who have helped me in my life. Luckily, I have plenty of relatives and family that threaten me. What I mean by that is I have people who love me and make sure that I don’t lose myself and that I don’t let my ego rule my life.
I see a lot of people who get some sort of fame or acknowledgement and let it go to their heads and forget where they come from. I’ve seen some people believe they are God’s gift to the world. My uncle always teaches me that it is better to be humble, and with that I’ve found that I’ve been able to connect to my heart and spirit more. One of my elders once told me that the key to live a good life and keep my spirit happy was to follow my heart because it will never steer me wrong. So with the connection I have, I’ve been able to find myself and learn about who I am. With everything I learn, the journey of my life starts to become part of my music. It’s like every little memory and discovery becomes a story. And with that, my stories eventually becomes my songs.
Q) What are your memories of the beginning of your music career?
A) I was at a Pow wow in Bandera, TX, when I first started playing. I had been introduced to the sound of the flute, but at this particular Pow wow, Will Harjo had some river cane flutes for $15. I being a broke kid, $15 was affordable so I bought one. I took to it like a duck takes to water. I found my thing. As time would go on I just found a love for playing it. Another thing that got me wanting to really learn and play was a flute cd I bought from Target. I just loved the sound. It was pretty cool the other night I started listening to that album again, and it’s just amazing that I used to listen to this particular CD and wanted to be able to play like it.
Fast-forward a few years, now I have 2 CDs of my own and I’m performing at different events. To back track a little, it’s kind of funny because I didn’t really see myself wanting to perform on the flute. The reason I started to work on a CD was because I couldn’t find a part time job. Eventually after finishing my first CD, which was nothing more than a burnt CD inside of a jewel case with a little album art, my grandfather put me on stage at a festival in Conyers, GA. It was the first time I performed as a musician. After that performance I found that I really enjoyed being on stage in front of people. The more I performed the more I enjoyed creating music. I started to see people enjoy what I created. After a while, I found that it was something I truly wanted to do with my life.
Q) Native flute seems to be increasingly and enduringly popular. Why?
A) The power of Native Music is a connection to the spirit and heart of a person. Native music is very spiritually driven, at least on the flute side. It seems like our music has allowed us to be able to tell our stories when so many people didn’t want to listen. My music is an outlet for me to say what my heart wants to say, even though sometimes I can’t physically say it.
The reason Native music is so popular now is for two reasons. First reason is because Native music is so diverse. It spans all genres, from traditional to modern-day pop music. The second reason Native Music is so popular is because many people are looking for something to satisfy their lives. I mean many people use flute CDs for meditation and other spiritual things.
Ultimately though I believe that Native music just comes from a different place. There is a lot of heart in Native music, and I think it’s that heart that speaks to Non-native people. I believe it’s my heart that was into my music that is the reason for its popularity.
Q)Every musician seems to have a signature sound. What's yours?
A) I think the thing that really distinguishes me is when you hear or see me, what you see is what you get. I know a few performers who are different people when they are on and off stage, but I’m the same way whether I’m performing or just hanging out. I was doing a presentation at one of the colleges where I live and after I finished a student walked up to me and said they really like how I put them on the same level as me.
Even though I have success with my music and I’m having a success with my career, I still feel no different and I take that with me every time I go perform. So when you come to see me, you’re not going to get a character, or an act. When you come see me you going to get me, that natural born man, not any more and not any less. I guess another thing that makes me different is where my music comes from. A lot of artists search for their songs through their heart and their experiences. My experiences in life to me are what distinguish me from them. Although a lot of people have many similarities no two people are the same. I haven’t exactly had an easy life, but at the same time it wasn’t all that rough either.
In my life, I’ve been blessed with a lot of people who have touched me in a good way and through that I create my music. A lot of my music is upbeat, but I do have some songs that are slower and more melodic. When I play a song, I want to try and tell a story and take the listener on a journey through whatever it is I’m trying to put out there. Like in my song “Mama’s Love”. It’s a song I wrote for my mom and when I play it I try to take the listener through it as I try to play a song that relates the blessing of a mother’s love. I guess looking at it what ultimately distinguishes me from other artist are my heart and the people who’ve touched it. That is what makes me different.
Q) How do your songs come to you? Do you improvise when you create? Or do you hear the songs first before you make them?
A) I think it’s a bit of both. Sometimes my songs come on the fly. I tell you sometimes that gets hard because I have to try and remember what I played. I‘ve had a few time that I came up with something I really like, but totally forgot.
My song “She Who’s in the Stars” was an example. I was really sick when I recorded that song. I was at my ex-girlfriend’s house, she had to go to work but I wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed home. I had a recording program on the computer so I decided since I was at the house I would try and work on some music. I started with a backtrack of a crackling fire and started playing. I came up with a song. The song sounded decent but it just didn’t go with the fire crackling and the more I listened to it I started wondering what is this song. So I played it for a few people to get their opinions and although it was helpful, I still didn’t have a clue what this song was supposed to be about. So I decided to close my eyes and listen, and sure enough I started visualizing what I saw. Turns out the inspiration for this song came from a hard moment in my life where the stars gave me comfort and reminded me that no matter how hard life seems, I can get through it. That’s when I gave it the song the name “She Who’s in the Stars”.
It’s cool that in the song I feel like I used a lot of different techniques that gave it a unique sound, but my problem is I can’t remember how I did some of them. (laughs) But it’s all good. Then I have songs like the Papa’s Song that I knew exactly how the song sounded before I started to play it. One thing I do notice though with a lot of my songs it that over time they continue to evolve beyond where they originally started. Like Mama’s Love, I’ve been playing it for about a year and a half now, but I’m still adding and taking away from it every time I play it. Although it sounds similar when I play it, the foundation stays the same, but the little odds and ends are constantly changing.
Q) When you play, what do you hope your audience will learn about themselves as they listen? What do you hope that they will discover about Native People and Culture?
A) I hope audiences can journey through the music and find their own story, as well as take something away with them. I’ve had people say that my songs touch their heart and bring them comfort during hard time. I had a woman come up to me at a Powwow and she told me that she was having a hard time having lost her son. She told me that when I played “Mama’s Love” she could just feel her son there with her and that although she was crying, the song brought a little bit of joy to her day.
And then there are other times I see little kids crying, and they when I start to play they begin to smile and laugh. To me, that is what makes playing the flute and performing worth it. I personally love hearing all the stories I get from listeners when they tell me the different feelings and experiences they get from my music. I think those stories really help with the evolution of the music itself. It’s cool because the people who listen actually start to become part of the song.
I hope that most people discover that Native People are normal people like anyone else, but we have a culture that is very enriched with the idea of being part of a community. Like I said earlier, when going to a Powwow, you become part of a bigger family. I hope people can take that away with them. I mean from my experience, the native culture is full of love and support, and to me it really helps many of the children and young adult that go through hard times on the different reserves. Every day I give thanks, because I realize how blessed I am to have this culture as my heritage.
Q) Where can we purchase your music? How can we see you perform? How can folks connect with you?
A) To be honest, the best way is through Facebook right now. Facebook is where I keep people up to date on what I’m up to, where I’m performing, new music I have in the works. It’s the one way I can keep in touch with everyone.
The best way to get my CDs is also through Facebook, although there are a few stores that do have my CDs. There are about seven total stores in the country that carry my music, two in New Mexico, two in Texas, and three in Georgia. Another way for people to pick up a CD is for people to catch me at one of my events. But I do have plans to have a website soon. To keep in touch and find out what’s up all everyone has to do is hit me up at https://www.facebook.com/Wamblila.Dreamwalker.
Q) What do you wish we knew about you that we don't already know?
A) Well, first, the comment earlier about frybread. To explain it a little better, I’ve been told that I do a killer Thomas Builds-the-fire impression. I am also working on doing standup comedy as well as jazz music. I’m a college student at the University of North Georgia. And I love what I do.
I love being able to create different songs, perform, as well as make people laugh. At my root, if you want to get to know me or know who I am, just listen to my flute. No matter what success I achieve at the foundation, I’m just a natural born man, not any more, not any less. I speak out against bullying, and also try to speak for kids who have gone through abuse as well as other emotional traumas. But most importantly there are three things that I find are keys to my success and life: Faith, Love, and Family.
Q)Mvto…thank you for your sharing with us! We sure do appreciate you!
A) Thank you Dawn, it was great and a pleasure. I feel incredibly lucky that you chose me for an interview. It was truly an honor.
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