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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 6, 2001 - Issue 46


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 Music that Aims to Fill the Soul


 by Richard Chang-Orange County Register-September 21, 2001

Robert Mirabal wants to do more than merely entertain in concert; he strives toward creating a modern-day ceremony.

The singer, songwriter and flutist from Taos Pueblo, N.M., has assembled a large company of musicians, singers and dancers for his fall tour, which appears at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Tuesday. Through music, dance and storytelling, Mirabal aims to fill the voids in people's souls.

"The whole show is about the memoirs of people and the things that they've gone through," he said in a recent interview. "People go to the theater to get enlightened. Those are the churches of today. You go there to release this pressure inside of your mind and body."

Mirabal, 34, has captured the energy and ceremony of his live performances on his latest album, "Music From a Painted Cave" (Silver Wave Records). A compilation of old and new songs, the album is a condensed version of his PBS-TV special of the same name.

Along with his band, the Rare Tribe Mob, Mirabal mixes traditional American Indian sounds with rock, classical and world music. Instruments include flutes, cellos, electric guitars, powwow drums and aboriginal didgeridoos.

So far, the album and concert have received excellent reviews. Some have called Mirabal's production a "Native American rock opera."

"It's one man's vision of the way he grew up," he said with a subtle lilt in his voice, common among many American Indians. "I know that there's very few (American Indian) performing artists out there. I'm trying to push the envelope into a whole 'nother level of performing."

A longtime flutist with several mellow instrumental albums under his belt, Mirabal broke into the contemporary pop scene with his impressive 1997 album, "Mirabal." The Warner Western release combined rock with spoken word, techno and African influences, along with a distinctly "alter-Native" perspective.

"That was a turning point," he said. "People had been asking me about my stories, including a record label president. I gave him a short-story book, and he told me I should turn it into an album."

For that effort, the flutist-turned-rocker won Songwriter of the Year at the 1998 Native American Music Awards.

In 1999, Mirabal changed labels and recorded "Taos Tales," released by Silver Wave Records. That album returned to his roots, the ancient Taos Pueblo in northern New Mexico, where he was born and still resides. Throughout the album, Mirabal sings in Tiwa, the native language of his people.

"Taos has always had its magical qualities. It's been a trading center for a long time. It's always been some sort of attraction. It has always drawn, to some extent, artistic people. Taos is an awesome place to live."

Mirabal won Songwriter of the Year for that album at NAMA's 2000 awards.

Mirabal took an odd turn in his career in 1999 when he collaborated with John Tesh, former "Entertainment Tonight" host and king of fluffy piano music. Mirabal played flute on Tesh's album "One World" and appeared in a video promoting the record.

"He's a pretty damn good musician, to be honest about that man," Mirabal said. "He runs a business, composes music. He's created something that's very unique for himself, and I admired him for that."

Mirabal admits some of his peers have given him a hard time. "It's funny, once you do something, you gotta live with it. It was a fun project."

This year, Mirabal has been nominated for four NAMA awards, as many as any other musician: Artist of the Year, Record of the Year, New Age and Songwriter of the Year. The Native American Music Awards will be held Oct. 20 at the Sandia Casino Amphitheater in Albuquerque, N.M.

Over the years, Mirabal's work, like that of other Native American artists, has been placed in various categories, from New Age and world to folk and instrumental. Only recently has it found its way in bins specifically marked "Native American." Mirabal says he doesn't care where his music winds up, as long as it gets out there.

"I think I'm going to do what I want to do," he said. "People are going to find it. As a genre, I can't say where (Native American music) is going to go. We all need to be very honest about our dark sides, and very honest about the sides that are very beautiful. We need to be respectful to ourselves.

"I'm always experimenting, exploring that part of myself, where my limitations are. All things are a learning path."

Robert Mirabal Official Site

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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