SANTA FE, N.M. – If music serves as a form of emotional redemption for the soul, then Star Nayea fits that niche due to her passion for singing, songwriting and stark honesty. She released her sixth album, titled “Silenced My Tongue,” in April.
But this rock and blues singer is anything but silent when it comes to paving her own trail as a Native artist. For listeners looking for the background harmonies of flute, rattles, drums or Native chants, this album will disappoint you.
Those looking for a soulful and powerful voice by an artist who happens to be Native are in for a satisfying audio journey that tells the story of Nayea’s troubled childhood. The all-acoustic album rips straight to the emotional core with the song “Homeland.” Nayea begs to know, “Why did you let them take me?”
Her feelings of abandonment are valid and heartfelt. As an infant, Nayea was taken from her home and placed with a dysfunctional and abusive non-Native family. She grew up in Detroit and, despite her misfortune, grew up with the influence of Motown and the burgeoning rock ’n’ roll scene in her hometown. These influences helped her sing her way out of the pain.
“I used music as an outlet to release myself, to purge,” she said. “It was my survival tool.”
Nayea’s said her search for her biological parents reached a stalemate when she discovered that her birth certificate was a forgery and the agency that placed her kept no records of her birth parents. All she knows is that she is Native, and her family likely comes from a tribe somewhere in the northern United States, or possibly Canada. She lives the “needle in the haystack” idiom: “I am still searching.”
Unfortunately, she was not the only infant stolen from her mystery birthplace. Prior to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, countless Native children were removed from their families through shady adoption practices, and often placed with non-Native families.
The cover song, “Silenced My Tongue,” outlines her life story and samplings of the entire album are available from CD Baby on Nayea’s MySpace page.
To pass on her love and passion for music, about seven years ago she started the Healing Power of Music program for children and teens. Since its inception, she has traveled to schools in and outside of New Mexico, conducting her workshop.
During the workshop, she finds out the type of music that moves the youth. From there, she encourages students to tap their ability to write verses, and even get on stage and perform. The program’s goals are to educate students about the music they listen to and provide a creative outlet that will help to keep them from giving into peer pressures.
“Kids turn into the music that they listen to,” she said. “There is a huge need for mentorship.”
Prior to going solo in 2000, Nayea collaborated with an array of both Native and non-Native artists. For two years, she sang backup for flutist and New Mexico Native Robert Mirabal. She also performed with Robbie Robertson, Keith Secola, the Native rock band Indigenous, and a long list of mainstream artists. She even had the opportunity to perform in the Broadway play “TRIBE” when she lived in New York.
Nayea said it was all of her experiences that have helped shape her into the artist that she is today. She has turned down record deals that she felt would compromise her own style by the addition of Native drums, rattles and flute to the background. Over the years, she has allowed minimal traditional elements, but only when it feels right for her, not a record label. In fact, she is still unsigned to this day.
“I don’t walk this Earth to conform to who they want me to be; I walk this Earth to conform to who I want me to be.”
By sticking with what works best for her, Nayea has garnered noteworthy accolades. She was recognized as a 2006 GRAMMY recipient for the contribution of her song “Mountain Song” to the album “Sacred Ground.” The album features various Native artists and was produced by Silver Wave Records. Back in 2001, she clenched a NAMMY for Best Independent Recording.
Even with a stellar resume, Nayea said that she has experienced challenges getting booked at New Mexico venues. Despite that challenge, she has garnered booking from all across the United States and Canada.
About two years ago, she helped to form Little Big Band with Tlingit glass blower Preston Singletary. She met Singletary at the Santa Fe Indian Market more than a decade ago. He tried many times to convince her that he was a serious bass player before she heard him play. “I would just giggle and say, OK, but he is a great funk bass player.”
In fact, her future plans include moving to the Northwest within the next two years to pursue some goals that she has made with the band. Meanwhile, Nayea and her 11-year-old son, Tahee, embrace the mystical landscape of New Mexico. She has lived in Santa Fe for 12 years. “This is the most beautiful and sacred land.”