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  • The Sound of Navajo Country: Music, Language, and Diné Belonging by Kristina M. Jacobsen
  • Lauren E. Deal
Kristina M. Jacobsen, The Sound of Navajo Country: Music, Language, and Diné Belonging. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017. 200 pp.

Kristina Jacobsen's The Sound of Navajo Country: Music, Language, and Diné Belonging is an excellent addition to a vibrant tradition of anthropological scholarship working at the intersections of language, music, and sound (Feld and Fox 1994, Faudree 2012). Like many scholars in this tradition, Jacobsen takes "voice" as a site for examining the politics of identity and belonging (Feld, Fox, Porcello, and Samuels 2004). Voice, for Jacobsen, is both a sign of individual identity and of social difference; a highly personal site of individual representation and self-expression that is constantly under evaluation by others and through which a speaker is placed, gendered, raced, and otherwise identified based on how they sound. Jacobsen argues that by considering what it means to sound Navajo we can better understand the complex tensions between authenticity, tradition, and innovation that are at the heart of Navajo identity and social citizenship. Unlike political citizenship, as defined by tribal enrollment status and requirements such as "blood quantum," Jacobsen offers the term social citizenship to describe tribal citizens' own sense of belonging (1). Social citizenship encompasses a set of social features and practices, including language, aesthetics, physical appearance, and phenotype, that mark individuals as authentically Navajo to other Navajos. By examining how Navajo actors use sonic practices to negotiate the boundaries of these constructions of Navajo identity, Jacobsen provides an innovative take on classic questions about the politics of indigenous identity. In this way, Jacobsen's nuanced analysis of Navajo voice will be of great value and interest to scholars of Native American and Indigenous [End Page 817] studies as well as linguistic anthropologists, sociocultural anthropologists, and ethnomusicologists.

In Chapter 1, "Keeping Up With the Yazzies," Jacobsen makes the case for considering country music as a Navajo cultural practice. Building on Geoff Mann's work (2008), she contests the over-determination of country music as a genre solely about whiteness. Instead, she argues that the history of country music performance on the reservation, coupled with its emphasis on place and class based identities, makes the genre a particularly powerful one for producing and expressing an indigenous Navajo identity.

She explains that the New Mexico side of the Navajo Nation reservation is marked in opposition to the Arizona side as somewhat less authentically Navajo. This is due, in part, to the fact that New Mexico territory was added later to the originally recognized Arizona reservation, and, in part, to the ways that land is allocated on either side of the state line. The eastern side of the reservation is understood to have less cultural continuity with Navajo forms of community organization via collective land use. This, in turn, leads to the perception that Navajo ways of being, including cultural practices like language and music, are also less developed in this region. While these spatially mapped ideologies about Navajo authenticity seem to undermine eastern residents' claims to Navajoness, they are often mobilized in a derogatory manner against Arizona residents through the figure of the jaan, or "Navajo hick." Jacobsen traces the origins of this term to the late 1940s when rural Navajos left the reservation to work for white settlers who could not pronounce their names. Jaan, adapted from John, became a default term used to describe rural, monolingual, or primarily Navajo speaking, poor and working-class Navajos. The term carries connotations of "uncultured" backwardness, similar to the term redneck for white, non-native Americans. While connection to place, language, and the land are important to Navajo identity, jaan, Jacobsen says, is "the wrong sort of rural" that cannot be easily romanticized (42).

Jacobsen shows how country musicians from the New Mexico side of the reservation draw on the rural authenticity of this "deep rez," jaan stereotype in their performances of an authentic working-class, reservation-based indigenous identity. Through these performances, the rural backwardness of jaan becomes a point of Navajo cultural intimacy. Musicians embrace certain aspects of the stereotype as nostalgic ties to...


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