Native Sun News: Indigenous pays tribute to father on album

The following story was written and reported by Christina Rose, Native Sun News Associate Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Greg Zephier, in the jean jacket, 1981, with his family. Zephier is Mato Nanji’s father, for whom Nanji has named his new album. COURTESY/Dick Brancroft 1981

“Indigenous” guitarist Mato Nanji talks about his father, Greg Zephier, and his influence on the new album, “Vanishing Americans.” Courtesy/Mato Nanji

Mato Nanji reflects on new album origins
By Christina Rose
Native Sun News Associate Editor

YANKTON — Mato Nanji, Ihanktowan Nakota, the songwriter-guitarist-lyricist of the ever-evolving band, Indigenous, is home on the Yankton Reservation after an East Coast tour.

The band is promoting their new album, “Vanishing Americans,” which was just released last week. Nanji is resting up for week or so before heading out for a follow-up West Coast tour. He admitted it was good to be home.

“Vanishing Americans” is the group’s 10th commercial album, featuring 13 tracks with songs that run the gamut from love and hope lost-to hope-to love regained and found anew.

The album takes much of its lead from Nanji’s father Greg Zephier, who was a well-known spiritual advisor and spokesperson for the International Indian Treaty Council, a United Nations organization based in New York City. Zephier passed away in 1998, but he left his mark as an influential activist and was, according to Nanji, a musical genius.

“My dad was my biggest influence,” Nanji said in a Native Sun News interview. “He pointed me in the right direction, and I am honored to have had that kind of father.” Reflecting on his father’s activist and musical influence, Nanji said, “I grew up listening to Rhythm and Blues and now I try to mix it all into one.”

As Nanji’s interest in music developed, his father gave him a guitar and tuned it once, “then told me to start figuring it out,” Nanji said. “As long as I can remember, mom and dad had a huge rock collection.” The musical influence has stayed with him. “I think a lot of what I do is what I have always been interested in, rock and blues.”

The name, “The Vanishing Americans," originated with the 1960s, and early 1970s band started by Greg Zephier and his brothers. They toured and played on the same bills with legends such as Bonnie Raitt.

While Nanji credits his father as the biggest influence, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Carlos Santana played a part in Nanji’s style. But whether it was his father’s rhythm and blues or rock, for Nanji, ultimately it’s all about the music. “It all goes back to what my dad taught me. He never said, OH, this is blues, this is rock. He just said, ‘If this is good music, it's good.’ I have been listening to some of it my whole life, but Indigenous’ albums all turn out different.” When asked how his Lakota roots have played a part in his music he said, “No matter what you do, it sounds like who you are.”

Nanji notes that “Vanishing Americans” definitely sounds different than last year’s. “There’s a lot of the riffs... it’s a step in a different direction. We’re kind of doing a little more blues influence but there is also more rock influence, which is what works,” Nanji said.

“Indigenous” rose to commercial success in the late ‘90’s when the original line up consisted of Mato and his siblings and a cousin. After six studio recordings, the family members decided to pursue their own musical paths, which left Mato to carry on Indigenous. Nanji says, "Playing with my family for 10 years was a lot of fun, but it was time to grow and keep moving forward."

Nanji has also been a member of the Jimi Hendrix tribute, Experience Hendrix, since its inception in 2004, touring annually with the group. This past January, Mato even performed at the American Indian Inaugural Ball to welcome in the newly elected President of the United States.

The past two years have turned out to be very busy years for Nanji and “Indigenous”. In addition to a successful tour supporting his last album Indigenous featuring Mato Nanji, and the Experience Hendrix tribute tour, he also recorded two compilation albums with fellow musicians from the Experience Hendrix tour.

Three Skulls & the Truth with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Luther Dickenson of North Mississippi All-Stars was released in September 2012. Also, Nanji was the primary influence of Otis Taylor’s latest 2013 CD release, My World Is Gone in which he appears singing and playing on six of the beautifully Taylor-written album's thirteen tracks. Nanji also toured with Otis in support of the album release this past March.

(Contact Christina Rose at

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