Eyapaha Today: Oneida singer follows in her mother's footsteps

The following story was written and reported by Noel Chrisjohn Benson, Eyapaha Today Correspondent. It appears in Eyapaha Today, a monthly publication of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

NAMA nominated recording artist, Kahawitha Shenandoah, is following in her mother Joanna Shenandoah’s footsteps. Photo courtesy of Michael Worthington

New sound with old school flair
By Noel Chrisjohn Benson
Eyapaha Today Correspondent

Kahawitha Shenandoah, known affectionately as Leah, has been singing since she can remember. Following the art form done so well by her mother, Grammy winning singer/songwriter Joanne Shenandoah, Leah has definitely found her own voice in the music world.

Being brought up just outside her reservation in Oneida Castle, Shenandoah was influenced by many different styles of music, including R&B, Motown, hip hop, and eventually drum & bass, downtempo, trip hop and overall electronica. Her style has a unique resemblance to the unlikely combination of Billie Holiday and Bjork with a Portishead trip-hop feel to it.

Sculptor and Eyapaha Today correspondent Noel Chrisjohn Benson, who is also Leah’s cousin, took time recently to sit down with musician Leah Shenandoah and asked her to elaborate on what music does for her and what she believes it does for other people.

ET: When did you start performing?
Shenandoah: “I started performing in front of people when I was five years old at the Milwaukee Summer Fest. It was a pretty big deal because it was in front of five thousand people. My first solo performance was at “Juneteenth” in Utica this past July”.

ET: Was there any circumstance or epiphany you had to kick start your drive to be an entertainer?”
Shenandoah: “I live for getting chills from a melody or drum beat. I remember the first time I heard an Aztec group at a pow wow play their drum, it was like it hit me in my heart. I was mesmerized!

ET: So, I had to ask, why electronica? Why did you drift toward electric beats and electronic music production?
Shenandoah: “My first rave was when I went to Germany at 8 years old; the lights, beats and atmosphere had me hooked for life!”

ET: I see, so what do you think music does for others? I mean, the audience and the listener are there to be entertained, what do you think it does for them?
Shenandoah: “I think music has the potential to bring people together and be a catalyst for momentous, positive change. I have dedicated much of my life to help raise the vibration of Mother Earth and her inhabitants through my art and music.”

Aside from music, Shenandoah is also an avid, accomplished visual artist. Graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), she expresses her talents through jewelry, textiles, welding and sculpture as well as mixed media. She has shown her work in such places as the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, The National Museum of the American Indian, The Fenimore Art Museum, as well as many galleries and shows including a first place ribbon in Contemporary jewelry at the Schemitzun Native Art Exhibition in 2007.

In fact, Shenandoah is such a versatile and diverse artist and works in so many different mediums that it is hard to believe that all that work comes from the same talented individual. Leah continues to work at her shop in Oneida Castle, making one of kind pieces including sterling pendants and rings.

Shenandoah is also happy to announce that her CD “Spektre” is available from CD Baby as well as her downloadable tracks on Itunes. Also, an autographed CD from the artist is available for purchase on her official website www.leahshenandoah.com.

The artist feels very fortunate to bring aboard musician JJ Boogie from the hip hop group Arrested Development to work on this project with her. Arrested Development’s front man describes Shenandoah’s music as “Poetic, sweeping and vivid, music for the soul.” Songs such as “My Spine is Tingling” is a gentle swaying symphony of violin sounds and with a dreamy element that gives the listener the feeling of being a ghost in a beautiful haunted mansion from down south.

Shenandoah states: “I thrive when creating from divine inspiration, combining a Native American aesthetic with contemporary design. My passion is intense for making art rooted in my aboriginal heritage. As an Oneida Iroquois Wolf Clan member, I consider and incorporate the healing properties of color, materials and intent when creating. The art I create is an expression of my love for the universe and earthly (and otherworldly) beings. My creations are homage to the experience of love and life givers. I am attempting to capture an emotion, a moment in time of pure love. As humans we are blessed to experience the divine flow of creation. When creating, I feel myself in a place where time and space do not exist. I am happiest in this space, channeling visions of future works. I consider myself a radical compassionate in a world filled with suffering. I am creating tools for healing, manifestation and enlightenment. My art becomes a new symbolic language that surrounds my being with the manifestation of the divine.”

Listen to Leah Shenandoah at: www.leahshenandoah.com. Her CD “Spektre” and track list is also available at Itunes. As we go to print, it has been announced that Shenandoah has been nominated for two Native American Music Awards for “Best Debut Artist” and “Best Pop Recording.” Vote at www.nativeamericanmusicawards.com/vote-now.

(Noel Chrisjohn Benson is a member of the Oneida/Iroquois tribe (Wolf Clan) from New York. He is a sculptor, jeweler, artist, actor and writer. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts and can be reached at bensonnoel@yahoo.com)

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