February 27th, 2014 Last Updated on: March 4th, 2014
Interview by Dr. Dawn Karima, Music Editor
Wade Fernandez describes his music as a “gift”. For his many fans all over the world, the Menominee musician is indeed a gift. This talented performer, fresh from his recent international tour, took time to tell Powwows.com about his music, his tribal heritage and his family life.
Q) If you could only use one word to describe your music, what would it be?
A) Gift. Because each one of us are gifts in this world born to share those gifts that we have received and music is a beautiful gift given for all.
Q) Agreed! Your talent and skill is definitely a gift to your audience! I'm thrilled we'll learn more about your gift today!
A) Waewaenen, Dawn, it is great to visit you and learn from you as well! First of all, I am a father of five wonderful Menominee children, all with the same Menominee wife. 🙂 I grew up on the reservation and truly enjoy living and being active (harvesting, hunting, etc.) here in the ancient Menominee forest, which is a portion of our ancestral homelands. Being blessed with all this natural beauty and seeing how the forest and the animals only take what they need to survive and always give back in so many ways has helped me to see the beauty in sharing. Sharing music and working with students/people to help them recognize and share their own talents/gifts have been deep passions of mine.
Q) Being a parent is definitely a powerful and meaningful achievement! What are some of your musical achievements?
A) Some of my musical achievements have been: Male Artist Of The Year from the NAMMYS, Best Pop, Folk, Country, Contemporary Instrumental from the Indian Summer Music Awards, Best Music Video from ISFVA & Cherokee International Film Festival, over 20 tours of Europe, published composer, produced/engineered/arranged & played most of the instruments on the Mitch Walking Elk CD that one last years NAMMY for best Blues, and taught many young native musicians how to play & improvise on the Native American flute.
Q)You're a major force in music! Tell us about your first performance. How did you get started in music?
A) Waewaenen for your kind words Dawn! My first public performance was with my band on the rez when I was in 6th grade. It was a long time ago, during our elementary school spring singing program when I walked into the gym with my guitar and the janitor said, “Howah, that guitar is bigger than you!” I was probably 11 years old at that time and we performed three songs (Wipe Out, Take It Easy, & Sweet Home Alabama). I remember being so scared and nervous that my heart and head were both pounding and I couldn't get myself to look at the audience once!
Q) How has your music changed, evolved, grown over the years?
A) Well, for one thing, I'm not so shy anymore and I know a lot more than three songs! In the year 2000, I came out with my first CD of original music. Before that I only played cover tunes or supported other artists by recording on their CDs and/or touring with them. But my musical soul was not totally set free until I started recording songs that had been gifted to me.
I received a phone call around May of the year 2000 with an invitation to open for Bill Miller at an outdoor concert in Milwaukee, WI and I told the promoter, “Sure, I'll do the opening with my band and will sell my CDs at the show. I hung up the phone and had no band at the time, no original music, no CD, and only 3 months before the show. I knew it was time to either step on the gas pedal and follow my dreams or quit idling with music and quit. So I did something that I had never done before. I allowed myself to be good enough. before that, I would dismiss everything that I did musically as something not unique or worthwhile. For example; if I played something of my own creation and somebody said, “That was cool, what is it”?, I would always respond, “Oh, nothing. I'm just goofing around.” and then I'd let the musical idea go.
Well, after I hung up the phone with the promoter, my life changed. By setting a goal and a time limit I had to accept everything I did as good enough, at least through those 3 months and then I was awarded with 1,000 copies of my first CD that arrived on my doorstep the day before the concert opening for Bill, almost 72 minutes of original music, and a great band. When I started that process of writing and recording it seemed like everything began to flow much more smoothly in my life, which I believe has been because I found my true path of using and sharing my gift of music. I now have about 8 or 9 CDs out and the international tours are only getting more fulfilling.
Q) Right now, what are you most looking forward to in your music career? What's happening?
A) I'm looking forward to my children's paths! I have been taking them one at a time (sometimes 2 at a time) on tour with me ever since they were 3 years old. My 13 year old was jamming Purple Haze on the guitar yesterday and my 10 year old jamming When The Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin on the drums. They had a trio with one of my daughters about 3 years ago and did a few shows when they were at the ages of 10, 9 and 7. Now they want to get the band back together at ages 13, 12 and 10. It would be the youngest band in history to have a reunion tour.
Q) Thrilling! It's so encouraging to see you building a strong family!What else are you eagerly anticipating these days?
A) I have two tours in Europe coming this year and I'm working on a couple of new CDs, one may be a collaboration with another artist in a genre that I haven't recorded in yet. I love crossing genres and always finding that music knows no boundaries. Last fall I did my first concert with a symphony orchestra.
Q) Do you have any shoutouts? Folks you'd like to acknowledge?
A) I'd definitely like to acknowledge Macewatok and all the ancestors that came before and paved the way for us to live the life we lead today. Also, I'd like to acknowledge my grandparents, parents, brothers, sisters, wife, children, friends, and really just about everybody that I've met wether it was personally or not because everyone's influence has brought me here where I am today. Here's a very small sample of named influences, Mitch Walking Elk, Bill Miller, Quint Fernandez, Clinton Miller, Keith Secola, Louie Webster, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray, Dire Straits, Paul Rodgers, Son House, all the rez bands I have had the honor to perform with, etc…..
Q) Culture and traditions are an integral part of life. How does your heritage influence your career? Your music?
A) Being Menominee and growing up on the reservation has influenced my music so much that I know I would be a completely different artist without it and maybe not even an artist. The forest, animals, and Wolf River on my reservation had a profound affect that can be found throughout my music. I love to play with many styles of music and it is the culture and land of the Menominee Reservation that is the glue tying my vast array of influences together into a seamless universal communication with the listeners. Wherever I travel, my language and culture is with me. On my last tour I had inmates in a German prison where Hitler was singing a beautiful song in the Menominee Language with me, I had children in Austria learning how to count in the Menominee Language, and I've talked about the needs internationally to preserve our severely threatened Menominee Language. At the moment, I am composing a Menominee Language CD to try to support our language immersion efforts on the reservation. I really don't know if there would be much substance left to my music if I stripped away all that came from my land and culture and I really couldn't find any pleasure or reward from making music that has no roots holding it down to the earth.
Q) When you listen to your own music, are there certain songs that have strong meaning to you? Please tell us about them? Tell us about some of the stories behind your songs?
A) “Sawaenemiyah” is one song from my latest CD Breath & Flow is a song sung only in the Menominee Language and the word, sawaenemiyah means blessed. I originally wrote it with my family in mind but it has become a song with strong meaning for many people that I have met globally. Originally, I released it on an earlier CD with the title Blessed and many people liked it but when I chose to release it in the Menominee Language to help preserve the language, it took on much more power and everyone who has been moved by it uses it in a different way.
The music video for Sawaenemiyah can be found here:
There are many other songs that have different strong meanings to me such as “Nokomaeh/Nenah Kemanon Nokomaeh” (for my grandmother who passed away at 55 due to diabetes and has become a song of strength), “Commodity Cheese Blues” (award winning music video written for all those people on reservations who were maybe tired of esoteric images of native people and wanted an homage to reality and the song and video are rez humor all the way), “Locked In Cages” (for those who are incarcerated), “Black Gold” (environmental abuse), “Cry Of The Wolf” (on the new NAMMY CD to protect the wolves), the multiple songs I have written for my children, etc.
Q) Why do you believe you have such success in music? How do you define “success”?
A) My key to achieving a degree of success has been my persistence at following my passion, acceptance of who I am, and allowing that all into the music. When I first started, I wasn't anywhere that I wanted to be in terms of development and I was also one of the shyest kids in my school on the rez. But I loved music so much and had such big dreams that I just never gave up. When faced with self-doubt I didn't pack up and go home, I just continued to move forward. Around 2001 I performed a song I wrote for my first born son on a TV show called Next Big Star, the producer told me that I shouldn't do it because I'd have a much better chance of winning if I perform a cover tune. I didn't win and the person who did sang, “You've Got A Friend”. But after my performance, the producer came up to me with a hug and tears in her eyes as she said told me that she had never been so emotionally moved by a performance as mine and then said, “You're going to make it someday! You're just taking a longer way to get there.” I know I could have made more compromises in order to reach the success that many others strive to get. But I haven't been reaching for that same type of success that to me is like a blinding light that causes so many to stumble around in the dark. My idea of success is really just to be able to go to bed with a smile and wake up feeling good about what I did the day before while moving on to try and make the next day even brighter.
Q) Are there other artists that you enjoy hearing? Who are some of them? What do you think makes music “timeless” and gives it impact?
A) I enjoy any artist that you can hear the passion, fire, heart and soul in their music. That can range from a kid jamming his first two chords or a musical genius like Ray Charles or somebody from any genre just as long as they possess those main ingredients. Music becomes timeless when it is honest and has the ability to rise above the individual who is presenting it. That means that the musician must lose his or herself and let the music come through pure and honest. When we take the me out of the picture, music is allowed to flow with both the power and gentleness of water. It is free to serve it's purpose. Then it can connect with people on a deep personal level because it becomes a necessity. Just like air, water, culture, and food, music is a needed part of our lives that can be very healing and strengthening for our souls.
Q) How do we order your music? How do we find your concert schedule? What can folks do to connect with you?
A) My music is available on my website www.WadeFernandez.com, iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, etc. CDs can be great to listen to in private but I feel the best place is to hear music is in a live setting because there is an exchange of emotions between the audience and musician(s) that help to move the music along and sometimes when the audience and musician is in tune, they can compose some powerful music that could never be caught on tape. My concert schedule is also on my website and Facebook. Also, my e-mail [email protected] is probably the best way to contact me and I'm always open to performing. Waewaenen for giving me the honor to speak with you and your audience Dawn!
Dr. Dawn Karima is a NAMMY-winning recording artist for her cd, THE DESIRE OF NATIONS.
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