Eddie Mahseet: Rockin' the Mic, From Powwows to Motown
On Saturday mornings, the twang and heartache of country music over southwest Oklahoma’s airwaves is switched to the uplifting pounding of a drum.
After a few songs, Eddie Mahseet says “good morning! I hope you’re eating your biscuits and gravy and getting ready to powwow.” The music comes back on: Gourd dance, tribal Christian hymns, Northern contest songs, handgame songs; and then, 49 songs with Mahseet emphatically stating at the end, “Indian love is tough love.”
“I enjoy being on the radio,” said Mahseet, who is a Comanche Nation tribal member. “I’m not looking for any notoriety. I just enjoy what I do.”
Mahseet’s involvement in radio began during his service as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1964-1970. Trained in radio communication, he learned to transmit military phonetic alphabet as well as sea-to-ground and ground-to-air broadcasts. This training—as well as 26 major encounters with the North Vietnamese Army—taught him about “not being afraid to talk.”
In the late 1980s, Mahseet started co-hosting and occasionally guest hosting “Indians for Indians,” a Native-themed radio show that began on the University of Oklahoma campus in 1941. When Mahseet was brought into the program by Kiowa MC Sammy “Tone-kei” White, the show was broadcast out of Moore, Oklahoma and they used vinyl records. Eventually, the program moved to Anadarko, Oklahoma, and Mahseet inherited the program in 2000 from Jesse Hamilton. Currently, the show airs for three hours on Saturday mornings with Mahseet and co-host Carla Whiteman.
After signing off, most Saturday afternoons and evenings will find Mahseet and his family driving to a powwow somewhere to fulfill MC duties, where Mahseet said his job is to “keep the crowd moving, entertained and not being idle.”
It was Mahseet’s formative years, being raised among his grandmothers, where the roots of his MC work began. As an adult, Mahseet traveled to powwows gaining experience, whether it was as an arena director or sitting in with a Northern drum such as “Mighty Good Music” (MGM) Singers.
“Whenever I’m invited, I respect their arena,” Mahseet said. “I don’t do anything is out of the way for them. I don’t go in and say ‘Down South, we do it this way. Over here, we do it like that.’ I respect what they have in their arena,” he said. “I respect their culture.”
Mahseet said his first MC position came in the early 1980s at the request of a brother-in-law, Clinton Youngbear of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes, who asked Mahseet to fill in for him.
“One day, [Youngbear] got sick,” said Mahseet. “He said, ‘this weekend, I’ll probably be in the hospital. I want you to stand in for me.’” Mahseet said that at first, he wasn’t sure how to react. “But it was for my brother-in-law, and I said ‘sure, I’ll do it.’”
Since then, Mahseet has emceed from Saskatchewan to south Texas. From the speaker’s stand, he said the best time at a powwow is when the crowd and the dancers can “feel the music.”
When not on the radio or on the mic, Mahseet also enjoys the “laid-back” atmosphere of being a DJ for “oldies” dances, where he can play blues, rock and R &B from the mid-1950s through the 1970s. Mahseet also enjoys carving alabaster sculptures.
He gives this advice for those in the powwow world who feel the urge to try out the speaker’s stand, “don’t be afraid of getting on that mic,” Mahseet said. “Once you’re there, things come out that you may not know you have. Get in there and help your people.”