- Powwow Times ThreeIntertribal Powwow Music from Three Perspectives
By John- Carlos Perea. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. xxviii + 132 pp. Accompanying cd (16 tracks), illustrations, maps, glossary, bibliographical references, resources, index. $34.95 paper.
By Christopher A. Scales. Durham nc: Duke University Press, 2012. xi + 338 pp. Accompanying cd (11 tracks), photographs, appendix, notes, bibliographical references, index. $70.00 cloth, $24.95 paper.
By Elaine Keillor, Tim Archambault, and John M. H. Kelly. Santa Barbara ca: Greenwood, 2013. l + 449 pp. Illustrations, bibliographical references, index. $89.00.
I have chosen to focus on the parts of these recent books that deal with intertribal powwow music, aiming to search out answers to the following questions: How do their authors define “powwow”? (For starters, they spell the word differently: “powwow,” “powwow,” or “pow wow.”) What aspects of powwow music do they focus on? How have they come by their knowledge of powwow music? How much of a Native voice comes through in their work? How are the authors’ own cultural backgrounds reflected in what they write? Since my rule of thumb is never to ask a question I am unprepared to answer myself, I have included occasional comments drawn from my own powwow experiences in Oklahoma since arriving in the state in 1996 to teach Native American and world music at the University of Oklahoma.
While John-Carlos Perea prizes his various cultural heritages (Mescalero Apache, Irish, German, Chicano), he identifies himself primarily as an urban Mescalero Apache, having lived most of his life in San Francisco, California. Many genres of Native American music could be considered intertribal, but in Intertribal Native [End Page 103] American Music Perea focuses on those he participates in as an ethnomusicologist and a powwow singer, Native American flute player, and performer of folk, rock, and jazz.
In the opening chapter of this contribution to Oxford University Press’s Global Music Series textbooks, Perea states that he initially defines powwows in his Native American music classes at San Francisco State University (sfsu) as “intertribal Native American social gatherings built around a shared repertoire of songs and dances,” confessing immediately the need to flesh out such a bare-boned definition with an acknowledgment of the spiritual component many powwow singers, dancers, drummers, and spectators bring with them as well as the fact that powwows “have become interactive spaces for Native and non-Native communities to educate each other and, as a consequence, to create new forms of culture relevant to the needs of the people who attend pow-wows” (18). Ultimately, for Perea, a powwow is “a system of interrelated Native communities that is sounded into being by social interaction,” communities that “interact to create the fluid, constantly changing nature of contemporary pow-wow experience” (55). While passing on cultural traditions from generation to generation, powwows simultaneously evolve through the influence of the contemporary circumstances in which they take place.
Perea uses the concept of “soundings,” “a theoretical lens through which to look [at] and listen to [performances and] recordings not as objects but as the product of social relationships between groups of people” (115) as the framework for his book. He recalls in chapter 2, “Sounding Communities: Intertribal Powwow Music,” that his most forceful memory as a child entering sfsu’s student center with his parents for his first powwow was hearing and feeling the powwow’s sounds—the high-pitch singing of the Northern Plains singers (cd tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9), the lower-pitch singing of the Southern Plains singers (cd tracks 3, 5), the dancers’ bells, and, most stirringly and insistently, the pulsing drum—all making him feel “small in the face of their power” (17).
As the chapter title suggests, “soundings” is a dynamic concept for Perea, both affirming and celebrating the communal ties that emerge through the social activities of all powwow participants, spectators included. Indeed, his definition of “powwow” expands throughout the book to emphasize this dynamic: a...