Standing Horse wins Powwow Idol contest.
By Gale Courey Toensing -- Today staff
RAPID CITY, S.D. - Decades of experience accompanied the first Powwow Idol contest winners. Yet, they have been performing together less than a year.
Standing Horse, a Rapid City-based group, came out on top in a seven-month national online contest involving drum groups from the United States and Canada. The contest goal was to find the best unsigned drum group on the continent.
Although its members collectively have had decades of experience as singers and drummers in various groups, Standing Horse formed only last May, said Whitney Rencountre, one of the group's lead singers.
''What this win does for us as a group is it's basically a tribute to the singers that have taught us. My grandfather, Whitney Rencountre the first, taught me how to sing as a young boy, and all our singers also have teachers who taught them the importance of being a singer and the role you have to provide to your people as a singer; and we carry ourselves as a drum group with those teachings in mind so this win, as I said, pays tribute to all those singers who have carried on the tradition and have passed it down to us. It's a celebration of them,'' he said.
Rencountre is Dakota and lives at the Yankton Sioux reservation where he teaches Indian studies at the high school. All the members of Standing Horse are Sioux, the majority being Lakota.
The Powwow Idol contest was sponsored by DrumHop Productions, a production company that specializes in producing high quality recordings of pow wow drum groups. Modeled on ''American Idol,'' the contest was hosted online at www.powwows.com.
As the winner, Standing Horse will record a live CD produced by DrumHop Productions at the 2008 Red Earth Festival in Oklahoma City, where the group will be host drum. Standing Horse will also perform on a pow wow cruise, and will be interviewed and have its music featured on a podcast at www.powwowcast.com.
In addition to Rencountre, who is known as ''Witt,'' the singers are Luke Cloud, head singer; Grant Weston; Jonas Taken Alive; Jeremy Claymore; Joe Picotte; Damen Rooks; Dallas DeCory; Chris Condon; JJ Weston; Isaac Weston; Dave Lone Elk; and Austin Ducheneaux. The backup singers are Jessie Rencountre; Jenny Lee Rooks; Tiffany Weston; Erin Taken Alive; and Nola Claymore.
The female backup singers are called the wicagdata in the Lakota language, Rencountre said. As the third circle of singers - the drum being the first - the women's voices add power to the drum, Rencountre added.
The drum itself was made by Gary Middle Rider, a drum-maker from Montana who makes drums for drum groups and for educational purposes, Rencountre said.
The Powwow Idol contest began in early August 2007 and had 10 rounds. For each round, drum groups were required to submit songs in the categories of Intertribal; Victory/Veteran Song; Fancy Shawl or Fancy Feather contest song; Northern: Crow Hop, Southern: Trot; Northern: Sneak Up, Southern: Ruffle; Trick Song; Singer's Choice; Flag Song; Round Dance; and Singer's Choice again for the finals.
The groups recorded their songs and sent them to DrumHop Productions, which posted the recordings at www.powwowidol.com for the public to vote on. The group with the fewest votes was eliminated every couple of weeks.
In the last round, Standing Horse beat Wind Eagle Singers of Keshena, Wis., with a vote of 298 - 173.
Standing Horse sings traditional songs handed down as well as songs group members compose. The winning song in the final contest was written by Standing Horse member Luke Cloud, who composes many of the group's original songs.
As happy as Standing Horse was to win the Powwow Idol contest, it's all about the traditions that stand behind it, Rencountre said.
''In mainstream society, as we all know, it's about the individual. In our culture and belief system, the people come first. So this is a tribute to our people; this is a win for our nation. That's how I was taught and that's how I view it. It's important to recognize our elders and the singers who led the way for us to do this - to take on the role of being singers and to be able to become song-makers.''
Standing Horse was expected to perform at the Denver March Powwow March 21. For more information and to hear Standing Horse, visit www.myspace.com/standinghorse.