Robbie Robertson, a Mohawk guitarist, was featured in the Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Photo: John Wisniewski

Peter d'Errico: Indigenous music shines through despite invasion and colonization

How is music connected to indigenous sovereignty and self-determination? Retired professor Peter d'Errico offers a look through the acclaimed documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World:
The new music documentary from Rezolution Pictures, Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, provides a lesson in what Felix Cohen called “Americanizing the White Man.” As Alex Jacobs wrote, “The film tells the story of a profound, essential, and, until now, missing chapter in the history of American music: the indigenous influence.” “Rumble” explores indigenous roots of American music—blues, country, jazz, rock, gospel, funk, R&B, and more—through interviews with contemporary music icons remembering formative encounters with Native artistry, archival footage of legendary artists, and clips of major bands working from these roots. The global influence of American popular music justifies the film’s subtitle—”Indians who rocked the world.”

Put Rumble at the top of your must-see list. I was fortunate to see a pre-wide-release screening, and can vouch for the rave reviews. You can check playdates and request bookings from Kino Lorber. The thread I want to explore arises from words and phrases used by reviewers—”revelatory,” “profound and overlooked influence of indigenous people,” “often-underappreciated role of Native American tradition,” “often-unheralded contributions of Native Americans.” As a New York Times reviewer said, “One of the most striking aspects of the documentary is how few people, [even Native artists] like [Robbie] Robertson, knew that these artists were Indians….”

Felix Cohen, widely known for his Handbook of Federal Indian Law, a compilation of U.S. laws affecting Native peoples, also authored numerous essays, including a 1952 piece, Americanizing the White Man. Cohen asserted, “few Americans … realize that America is not just a pale reflection of Europe – that what is distinctive about America is Indian, through and through.” He criticized the notion of “the vanishing Indian, …the theme of song and folklore, of sculpture, of fiction and of the special sort of fiction that sometimes passes as American history.”

Read More on the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Indigenous Music: Rocking the World, Americanizing the White Man The Rumble Way (Indian Country Media Network 8/7)

Related Stories
Acclaimed 'Rumble' documentary shares Indian influence in popular music (August 1, 2017)

Join the Conversation