White Sparrow Singing: A Conversation with Kelly Montijo Fink

Posted By PowWows.com June 24th, 2013 Last Updated on: June 24th, 2013

Kelly Montijo Fink “White Sparrow” (Mexican, Apache, and Spanish) is a wife, mother, adjunct Spanish professor, singer-songwriter, & creative artist.  She is a seeker of wisdom & a practitioner of joy and her heart is to see people walk in freedom in every aspect of their lives.She has multiple Native American Music Award nominations and won a NAMMY for an album that she co-produced as “Best Compilation CD” in 2011, with her song “More” as the featured  track.Discography: Heartbeat of the Creator (2008), Songs of War & Victory (2010), The Color of Hope (collaborative work 2011), Don’t Let Me Forget (due out July 2013)

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Q: In three words, how would you describe your music?
A: Heartfelt, strong, & truthful.Q: With an awesome name like yours, there should be a good story behind it. Can we hear it?

A: The name “White Sparrow” was given to me by a Kalapuya brother in a naming ceremony.  The “white” is for purity of heart & the “sparrow” is a song bird.


Q:So, how did you start making music?  Did you have a musical inspiration early on ? Who influences you musically these days?

A:  I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember.  I’ve just always loved music!  In school I was in choir groups and musical theater.  I’ve sung everything from Italian opera, to Madrigal music, rock / pop, folk, Mexican mariachi, Native drum songs, and now (curiously) rap & hip-hop.  In our household growing up I heard everything from Elvis to disco, Freddy Fender to traditional Mariachi music.  In my younger years I would say that I was particularly drawn to the voices of Linda Ronstadt & Pat Benatar – women with powerhouse voices! I have so many influences today that it’s hard to just pick one.  I love Latin music and would love to do an album all in Spanish someday.


Q:Do you think of your music as a new form of Native traditional music? Do you classify your music in a particular genre?

A:   My first album, “Heartbeat of the Creator”, is more of a traditional sound.  It was birthed out of my spending hours every week for the better part of three years praying for our Native peoples.   Really, it’s a collection of prayer songs with the voice and drum.  My second album “Songs of War & Victory” is about identity & has a lot more instrumentation and covers everything from pop & blues to contemporary folk & Native drum songs. I can’t stay put in one genre.  To me, every song has a personality that is expressed through a particular genre.  So I write music across genres.


Q: When you dream about the next phase of your musical career, what do you see?
A: It’s funny that you should ask that because I do literally dream of myself on stages or sometimes singing over people.  I hope to continue to do that which I see in my night dreams.  Wherever I’m supposed to go, that’s where I want to be.  I have also spoken to some particular people about doing collaborations, I’m excited about that possibility.


Q:Your music is poignant and evocative. Why do you think it resonates so deeply with your listeners? What kind of folks were you most surprised to find are your fans?

A: I believe that my music connects with people’s spirits, no matter where they are or what language they speak.  Our spirits are always crying out for hope and truth.  If a song can release that in someone’s life, then that is healing.  I guess I’m most surprised to learn that my music has traveled overseas to places like France, Austria, Russia, Israel, Peru, Colombia.  I love hearing the stories of the people that hear my music, for example, that some kids adopted from Africa listen to my drum CD every night before bed, that a young Cherokee woman incarcerated in Texas was changed by it, or that a young woman who was sexually assaulted was brought peace by it.   A teacher that bought my music indicated that she would use it in her classroom & a doula wanted to play it while her moms (patients) were birthing children.  How cool is that?  I’m thrilled that music is so accessible to everyone.

Q: Do you have particular songs that have special meaning to you and for you? Tell us about some of those?

A: I do, but I’ll just pick a few.  “Song of Freedom” was birthed in that season of intense prayer.  I was going to a gathering where I had been asked to bring “healing with sound”.  In one of those particular times of prayer I started playing my drum and this melody just came out.  Then I heard the words and began to sing them over and over so that I would remember them.  I knew that Creator God was giving me a song to sing over someone at that gathering.  Sure enough, I met “Beth” there and that was her song.  She wept as I sang it to her & told her the story of the song.  “Supposed To”  became kind of a “chick anthem” & the idea came when I was reading the Penny Saver (local paper with events & ads) in my kitchen & I was thinking, “everyone wants to make their mark…..so what kind of impact do I want to have and what do I want to impart as a woman to my own daughter?”  “The Awakening” was written in a time when Creator God was speaking to me in dreams and revelations about my Native heritage (I am Apache, Mexican, & Spanish).  In one particular dream, I saw the face of a Native man and immediately knew that he was one of my ancestors.  I knew that I was being “called out” to walk in greater understanding of who I was created to be in the fullness of ALL that I am.  Interestingly enough, sometime later a total stranger sat down with me (non-Native) and told me that he had this vision of me and began to describe that same man that I saw in my dream.  Before I met my husband, he had also had a dream about a woman with dark hair wrapped in a Native blanket.


Q:Do you receive your songs fully formed? Or do you labor over each line?

A:  I don’t really try to “force” a song.  Some songs come quicker than others. They may come in bits in pieces, but eventually become fully formed.  I keep both scraps of paper & word documents with songs waiting to happen or songs in progress.  Sometimes it’s just a line or two of lyric, other times it’s just verses or choruses around a particular theme.  I use my phone to record melodies that pop into my head at any time.  I feel responsible to take note of what I’ve been given.


Q: What's the greatest moment you ever enjoyed while performing? The most cringe-worthy?

A:  The greatest moments are when people feel the impact of a song & it resonates with them – when a song or songs give them courage, determination, freedom, healing, hope.  Those are the moments I treasure the most because I believe it to be a reciprocal experience.  I pour out what I have they receive something from it and I in return am encouraged by their response.  My most cringe-worthy experience was when I was in college and had been asked to sing with a Mariachi band in a regional festival.  I was pretty naïve about just jumping in with the band to sing.  I just met them that day & we had about fifteen minutes of practice before the half hour performance. It was a disaster.  The ironic thing about that was the very next day I went to a quinceañera (15th birthday party for a girl) and the same Mariachi band had been hired to play.  They called me up to sing a song with them and it went MUCH better that time.


Q:Who are you away from the studio? What fills your time, your dreams, your days besides music?
A: I’m a wife & mom and an adjunct Spanish professor. My family & friends fill my time.  I’m so blessed by both.   I love to take walks and create (arts and crafts) so any free time I have that’s what I like to do.

Q:What do you think people see when they first see you?  What will they miss if they just go by first impressions?
A: People have told me that they thought I was aloof and somewhat prideful.  But I think that’s because by nature I’m an introvert and a bit of a loner.  I’m also even-keeled & confident.  Sometimes my aloofness comes across as arrogance, but I that’s not who I am.  My husband is a total extrovert, so he has taught me to be more outgoing.  He often says I could live in a cave by myself and be happy.  I do think I have a depth of understanding of things.  I’m often surprised that people, even people older than myself, will come to me for advice or wisdom.  I’m not overly communicative, but I am deeply loyal to the ones I love.

Q:Okay, then what do you think listeners hear when they first hear your music? What will they miss if they don't take a second listen?

A: I have been told that I have a powerful voice and that the songs are powerful.  That blesses me immensely.  I know that there are others out there more talented than myself & I hope that people don’t dismiss the music (and messages) by comparing my skill level to another. I’m always trying to improve and refine my abilities.  I don’t want my inadequacies to stop me from doing what I was created to do.

Q:Who's your “guilty pleasure” musically?

A: ‘80s music….Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield, The Go-go’s,  Depeche Mode, The Cure…and…okay, I’ll say it out loud (in this century)…The Jonas Brothers.


Q: How can we find your music or connect with you?

A: You can always contact me directly at indigenoui [email protected]  if you’d like to order a CD, rather than do a download.

Q:What do you wish we knew about you and about your music right now that we don't?  Tell us, please.

A: I may describe myself as a singer-songwriter, but I’m really a “song catcher” I try to catch the messages I hear and adapt them into musical form.  I always say that the truth doesn’t have to be complicated, but it helps if it’s catchy.  I’m a work in progress and so is my music.  I couldn’t do it alone.  One of my favorite quotes is from the Guatemalan singer-songwriter Ricardo Arjona who said, “Songs are born in absolute solitude, but they find accomplices”.  I have been blessed to find so many talented “accomplices” along the way who have mentored, instructed, & encouraged me as well as lent their talents to my projects.


Thank you so much for sharing with us. We look forward to more great music from you.Kelly with blanket

Kelly Montijo Fink

Dr. Dawn Karima Pettigrew (Creek/Cherokee) is a NAMMY winning recording artist, who hosts A CONVERSATION WITH DAWN KARIMA, a Native American radio program that airs on TalktainmentRadio.com and its affiliates. Her home is the Qualla Boundary Reservation in North Carolina.

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I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Kelly at the Native American Music Awards. Beautiful voice, soul, vibe. She is the real deal

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