Hopi Clansmen celebrate life with music

By Jan-Mikael Patterson

Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 18, 2008

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(Times photo – Paul Natonabah)

Ivan Sidney, left, and Wally Youvella Sr., members of the band the Hopi Clansmen, have revived the band with new members and are finding that fans from years back still remember them.


F ormer Hopi Chairman Ivan Sidney is fighting for his life and his band, the Hopi Clansmen, is there to help him.

Sidney suffers from lymphoma, a potentially fatal cancer. It is in remission following medical treatment but that doesn't mean he is in the clear -there's still a chance it could flare up again.

"Right now I'm living to enjoy life," said Sidney, who stopped by the Navajo Times on his way to a gig last Friday. "That's one of the reasons why the band is back together."

The Hopi Clansmen began as four Hopi boys in the sixth grade at Intermountain Boarding School in Brigham City, Utah. This was in the 1950s, and they were budding musicians. They chose their band name because the Hopis, like the Navajo, belong to clans.

The band consisted of Ivan Sidney on guitar, Wally Youvella on drums, Richard Twotsie on bass, and the late Buddy Kooyquaptewa, who also played guitar.

"We all started at a very young age," Sidney recalled. "It was when we were going to school at the Phoenix Indian School in 1962 when we started playing down in the Valley. We played at all the Valley high schools back then."

"The popular music back then was surf music, and Beatle-mania was big," Youvella added.

"We played anything from rock to surf but we had originally started out as a country band," Sidney said.

They looked up to Navajo bands of the era, like the Fort Wingate Valley Boys and the original Fenders, which were making a name in the chapter houses while the Clansmen performed in the Phoenix area.

The Clansmen released their first album, "The Best of the Hopi Clansmen, Vol. 1," in 1965 on vinyl.

"That's what we recorded on back then but now we have CDs," Sidney chuckled.

The album was recorded for Indian House Records, a Taos, N.M., music publisher, and it did well for the band, he added.

"Music has been a part of Native American lives," Sidney said. "From the time you're born to now, it's a part of Native culture."

The band enjoyed steady popularity on both the Hopi and Navajo reservations, and even performed on "Teen Beat," a locally produced show on Channel 5 TV in Phoenix.

The band members all graduated from high school in 1966, but kept performing as a group for about a year before going their separate ways.

Twotsie enlisted in the Marines and served in Vietnam. Youvella moved to Salt Lake City, while Sidney and Kooyquaptewa stayed in Arizona, found jobs, and raised families.

Kooyquaptewa passed away in 1992 after a life devoted to his music and his family, said his band mates.

Youvella became a noted potter and Sidney entered politics and was elected chairman in 1981 at the age of 31. He continued in and out of government, but in 2006 he was ousted from his seat as chairman after an alcohol-related incident in Winslow, Ariz.

Sidney has maintained that it was his cancer treatment, not alcohol, which caused the objectionable behavior. And music, as always, was his refuge during that terrible time.

"I was going through chemotherapy and it was painful," he said. "Music was the only thing that comforted me."

As early as 2001, he took steps to re-form the Clansmen after playing informally for a time with Wally Youvella Jr., the son of his old friend and original band member, and Kyle Mali, another young Hopi musician.

Sidney got in touch with Youvella Sr., who was up for the idea of resurrecting the Clansmen.

"We really surprised ourselves, it's like the band had never ended," Sidney said of that first practice session.

And they've been flattered to find how many fans they still have from the old days.

"There are a lot of people that come up to us and ask us things like, 'You remember me?'" Sidney said.

The Hopi Clansmen now consists of Wally Youvella Sr. (drums), A.T. Sinquah (guitar and saxophone), Mark Tawahongva (guitars), Ivan Sidney Jr. (guitars), and Ivan Sidney Sr. (bass).

Music to inspire young people was always their focus, Sidney and Youvella both said. They want to show that artistic mediums like music can be used as a tool for life.

The men believe adults too often don't take the younger generations seriously enough, and make too-quick judgments based on appearance.

"The youth today are just going through the growing pangs that we all went through," Youvella said. "There are a lot of talented (young people) out there."

The Hopi Clansmen appeared most recently before Navajo audiences at the annual tribal fair and in a battle-of-the-band competition. Their dream gig is to perform at the Navajo Nation Fair on a main stage, even opening for a major act.

The band has just released volume 4 in its "Best of" series on the Alta Vista label, and will soon be selling it at live performances or through the record company, which is based in Albuquerque.

Information: Ivan Sidney Sr., 928-734-2580, or isidney@wildblue.net or hopiclansmen@wildblue.net.

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