Metro Community College Powwow — photo by Bridget McQuillan for Hear Nebraska-150x150

Native American Music Tells Myriad Stories | Feature Story

story, photos and video by Bridget McQuillan

For American Indians, music is one of many cultural details that differentiates one tribe from another. In Nebraska, Native American music is unique to the state. Nebraska is home to the Omaha people and musicians who sing their songs in the native Omaha language.

At Native American gatherings called powwows, music and dance are the focal points. In the center of the arena, dancers move their feet and bodies as a circle of musicians pounds out a steady rhythm on a circular drum. The exhibition is a rich and colorful musical experience. Powwows offer this chance for musicians and dancers to perform in a way that embodies their location, language and culture.

Tobias Grant, who hosts KZUM’s “Native Sounds Native Voices” and “The Drum,” aims to help Native American musicians gain recognition through his two radio shows.

“Natives have interesting stories, and when Indians express themselves through music, it gives me an opportunity to share that message on the radio,” he says.

Grant, who is affiliated with the Sisseton-Dakota, Dineh and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians of North Carolina, frequently performs as a grass dancer at powwows and other events. His position allows him to showcase traditional Native American music, but also shed light on more contemporary native musicians.

“Native Sounds Native Voices” is a radio program that features music by Native American musicians from several genres. Grant’s other program, “The Drum,” features more traditional powwow music, Native American church songs, traditional flute songs, round dance songs and gourd dance songs.

For Grant, the drum keeps Native American culture alive.

“The drums carry on tribal songs which have been sung for generations that are very special and traditional for the people and the drum,” he says. “The drum also gives singers an opportunity to stay connected to their Indian heritage and to the people… it is the heartbeat of the powwow.”

Still, through “Native Sounds Native Voices,” Grant, who prefers native hip-hop, can shed light on up-and-coming Native American artists. “The contemporary genres give Natives a platform to express themselves musically. Native hip-hop musicians can tell stories through their music, and it gives a voice to the next generation,” he says.

Listen to KZUM at www.kzum.org. Catch "Native Sounds Native Voices" on Thursday mornings from 8-10 a.m., and "The Drum" on Sunday evenings from 8-10 p.m.

See our video below of a group of Omaha singers at the Metro Community College Powwow on Sept. 22:

Bridget McQuillan is a Hear Nebraska intern. Follow her example and gain crucial experience in the field of journalism by applying for a spring internship: details are listed here. Reach Bridget at bridgetm@hearnebraska.org.