Clayson and Jeneda Benally of Sihasin crank out their percussive brand of Native rock in the video for their single 'Take a Stand.' That's their father, Jones Benally, in the foreground.

Sihasin and Trudell Are Eager to Rock the Crowd at SXSW, Native Style

Jason Morgan Edwards

This year's South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, an annual showcase of music and film that takes place in Austin, Texas, features the return of the Native American Showcase, Remembering The Ancestors, giving a few successful Native acts a chance to wow the cultural cognoscenti. The 2015 Showcase features John Trudell and Bad Dog, Sihasin, and Scatter Their Own; with special guest appearances by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Mexico's Huichol Musical. Sihasin's members, siblings Jeneda and Clayson Benally, first performed at SXSW some twenty years ago, as Blackfire. "It was the first ever Native American Music Showcase. We had blues, hip-hop and rock represented. But, we thought, maybe it's not such a good idea to limit ourselves to the Native American Showcase. We didn't want to pigeonhole Native artists—we thought they should be within all these other showcases. But when we went back last year as Sihasin, we saw that every country had their own Showcase; we thought Now is the time for Native Americans to have our own Showcase."

"Several years back, we performed at the Crowville Folk Festival in Texas and connected with Eve McArthur," Clayson Benally adds. "She helped form the first Native Showcase. Recently, she passed away from cancer. We wanted to honor her. So, we're calling this an EVE-nt."

"This is an amazing opportunity for so many different musicians and artists," Jeneda says. "We're excited to be having the Native American Music Showcase to get Native music out there. The industry doesn't realize that there are incredible indigenous musicians, of all genres. We're hoping that the Showcase can open the door for Native musicians." Clayson continues "SXSW is a Mecca for music and film. Everybody comes to SXSW. Last year was our first time performing as Sihasin. It was an amazing opportunity to network. But, it was eye-opening to see that there were only two Native groups, A Tribe Called Red and Sihasin, performing, out of all these thousands of entries. This is [a venue] that we need.  We have to have that representation."  Sihasin is representing the world/rock music genre.  Clayson describes their sound as "very unique.  We fuse our traditional songs into contemporary techniques. It's hard to describe. For us, it's a form of communication. Sihasin is Navajo for 'hope.' It's part of our philosophical foundation."

Scotti Clifford of Scatter Their Own says of the Showcase "we're stoked. We feel we have arrived and accomplished where we wanted to be. I'm not nervous. I'm just really, really excited. To share the stage with John Trudell, to play with someone we really honor and respect so much—we'll love it. To be in that same light, we're very, very happy. Last year, we did a couple unofficial appearances. This year we were asked to be a part of the Showcase. We feel like that is an achievement. It's my favorite time of year. SXSW is my new favorite pow wow. Music is my number one passion. The energy is tremendous."

'We've all agreed we want to use this showcase as our way of remembering the ancestors,' says Trudell. 'It's like a different type of musical ceremony.' Photo by Jason Morgan Edwards.

Bad Dog will close the night. The quintet will be representing the rock/blues genre, as well as some spoken-word poetry. This will not be Trudell's first time at SxSW. "I was there in the early 90s," he recalls. "I'm an old guy. So, I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to play with these younger Native artists, Sihasin and Scatter Their Own. We've all agreed we want to use this showcase as our way of remembering the ancestors. It's like a different type of musical ceremony. It's inter-generational, there's no leader. We're here as equals. We're bringing our art and our music and our songs. I'd like to do more Remembering The Ancestors shows in the future." The theme of the evening is not unfamiliar territory to Trudell. "I've been paying quite a bit attention—the high suicide rates, everything that's going on within our Nations. We're forgetting who we are. Maybe we need to find some kind of way to start remembering. Maybe this will help us." 

Remembering The Ancestors will be held on March 21st, at St. David's Episcopal Church Historic Sanctuary, and Gregg McVicar will be the MC. For complete details, see the Native Showcase page at the SXSW website. The Showcase will stream live on UnderCurrents Radio

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
It's been years since I've seen a photo of John Trudell. He's looking his age, but then the years have never been kind to my modern hero. I wish him well and encourage all Native in the Austin area to take advantage of this spectacular show.