Spotlight in Pinon
(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)
Native stars provide variety of entertainment at Central Navajo Fair
By Jan-Mikael Patterson
PIÑON, Ariz., Aug. 27, 2009
(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)
The Central Navajo Fair's first-ever Comedy & Music Festival was the place to be Friday and Saturday night.
The event took place at the Piñon High School auditorium, a state-of-the-art facility that housed entertainers and performers from just down the road to throughout Indian Country.
Friday night kicked off with Myg Blade, a magician and illusionist, who wowed the sparse audience with mind-blowing illusions that left people in awe.
For a warm-up, he made a card disappear into thin air and then reappear behind the ear of a volunteer from the audience.
Blade's performance highlight involved two separate illusions, "The Scarecrow" and the "Metamorphosis Box."
The Scarecrow is an upright containment unit that looks, well, like a scarecrow. Donning a black trench coat, Blade proceeded to encase himself in the contraption.
His assistant then walked around the containment to show that Blade had no way of getting out. Then he proceeded around the back of it and appeared to enter it from behind, struggling to climb through Blade to get out.
Audience members sat in awe as the assistant struggled, pushing his hands and then his head through the magician's torso.
A third assistant was on hand to assist him in getting all the way through Blade.
The Metamorphosis Box refers to a wooden box, about the size of a two-drawer filing cabinet, which Blade climbed into with his hands handcuffed behind his back. The box was then closed and secured with a rope, showing the audience that the lid was securely fastened.
His assistant then jumped on top of it, using a blanket to obscure the view of the box and himself. Within a second, Blade appeared in place of the assistant, and the assistant was then revealed inside the box, handcuffed.
Blade, a resident of Piñon, has been performing for five years and is looking to take his act on the road.
Up next was Tuba City's own funny man and musician, James Bilagody, who entertained the audience with his down-home rez humor.
He recalled a time when his grandmother couldn't pronounce words with "m" and substituted "n" instead.
"My mom, when she used to call me 'Jimmy,' it sounded like she was saying 'Jenny,'" Bilagody said. "My cousin used to laugh and pick on me about that.
"It was OK though, because she couldn't pronounce my cousin's name either," he said. "His name is David and she would pronounce it as 'Deebe'e'"
For Navajo speakers, that's close enough to the word for "breasts" to embarrass the cousin into keeping his mouth shut about a boy named Jenny.
Bilagody talked about how the Native American Church had become part of his audio library and then invited recording artist Louie Gonnie onstage to perform a harmonized NAC song.
Bilagody also performed nearly 20 minutes of song-and-dance style singing with his hand drum.
On the second night of the festival, he brought out his guitar, Betsy.
"I call her Betsy and I like her because she lets me scratch her in the place where it's not nice to scratch," he said with a devilish chuckle.
With his trusty acoustic, Bilagody took his audience down memory lane with songs like "You're Cheatin' Heart," "Times Marches On," and "Johnny B. Goode."
Next to perform was Navajo songbird Roxyanne Harvey, who wowed the audience with her ever-improving voice and original song compositions that had a traditional song-and-dance flare.
Her singing had evolved at home, where she used songs to help her three children cope with their father leaving.
"I sing to them every morning," she said. "I know that with the beat of the drum it catches their attention and I composed these songs for them. It's not just for them but for everyone out there."
Harvey, though relatively new, has grown quickly as a performer, taking charge of the stage with ease and filling the room with her voice.
Another group that looks sure to rise is Diné Style Entertainment, a rap foursome from Blue Gap, Ariz. The best part of the quartet is their ability to rap in the Navajo language.
The group is led by JD Halkini.
Renowned singer Jay Begaye performed both nights, going solo the first night with only a hand drum and drumstick/rattle.
Without hesitation, Begaye showed why his singing has gained a worldwide audience.
Eyes closed beneath the brim of his black cowboy hat, Begaye's voice took hold of the audience as he sang to the accompaniment of his hand drum.
He began with a vocable, a song in which the singer just harmonizes with a light beat. As the song escalated his voice and the beat grew louder, and he began to bob and sway, emotions strewn across his face.
"I have a new CD out," he said. "It's called 'Horses Are Our Journey.' Many people do not know that horses are medicine. When you're sad, they're sad and when you're happy they know it too. So I ask that you love your horses and in return they will take care of you."
On the second night Begaye was joined onstage by flutist Calvin Long. Long stood in for the scheduled performer, Begaye's daughter Tiinesha Begaye, who was delayed by a late airline flight.
Next to perform was Radmilla Cody, who captured the audience with her voice as she carried a message about the continuing struggle to end domestic violence.
Her performance featured the song "Spirit of a Woman," as well as what seemed to be a prayer where she mentions in Navajo that the horned toad is her grandpa.
Her personal warmth easily won over the audience as she shared her own story of a wardrobe malfunction, sort of.
"Can you all see my feet?" she asked.
"No," the audience responded.
"Good," she said, "I don't have to tell you now. Oh well, I still have to explain myself to you."
Speaking in Navajo, she told about rushing to get ready for the show and finding that she had forgotten her leggings. So instead of the traditional footwear with her traditional outfit, she wore sandals.
For her last song, a deeply emotional number called "Tears," she told a story about reconnecting to her African roots (her father is African American) when she had the opportunity to visit Kenya.
She said the struggles people face there are the same as in Indian Country, but the reality is harsher in Kenya because there are no laws to protect women.
The Plateros delivered blues music with so much soul that lead guitarist Levi Platero could barely contain it all as he ripped into solos as if in a trance.
With a baseball cap hiding his new haircut - yes, fans, Levi's long hair is no more - Platero and the band performed cuts from their debut CD, "Hang On."
He was backed, as always, by his father, Murphy Platero, on bass and cousin Douglas Platero on drums and together they awed the audience with an unforgettable performance.
The band performed "You're All I'm Dreaming of," "Where, Where Would I Be?" and "I Found You" among other cover songs that roused the audience.
For many, it was the first time they'd seen the Plateros perform and they showed their appreciation by cheering, whistling and seeking out the band members for introductions afterward.
Grammy-nominated artist Jana Mashonee, Lumbee, took charge of the stage for the final performance Friday night, accompanied by the Sampson brothers, Samsoche and Lumhe, dancing in full powwow regalia.
She performed songs from her new album, "New Moon Born," as well as some covers, including "Solid Ground," "Miracle," "Natural Woman," "Never Fall," "Ain't That Peculiar," "Change is Gonna Come," and her hit single from 2001, "More Than Life."
"It feels great to be back on the Navajo Reservation," Jana told the Navajo Times. "The audience was very loud and they really enjoyed the music."
Her last visit was a Fourth of July performance at the Fire Rock Navajo Casino, where she recalled making sure everyone who wanted an autograph got one.
Comedian Pax Harvey Jr. dominated the stage as he showcased his brand of humor on the second night of the festival.
The night's biggest laugh came when he shared his secret test to learn if the woman a guy is with is truly the one for him.
"I guarantee you this will work," Harvey confided to the men in the audience, and then he advised them to pass gas in front of their girlfriends.
"If she goes, 'Eww, that's sick,' and she walks away, dude, let her go," he said. "If she sits there and acts like nothing happened, dude, she was meant for you."
The audience was left squirming with laughter in their chairs.
Boarding school survivor
Few BIA boarding school survivors have as unique a take on the experience as Vincent Craig.
On Saturday night, he was an old-fashioned storyteller, recounting the story of "Henry," a boarding school student who finds his calling when his aunts exchange their S&H Green Stamps for a guitar for him.
Craig deftly shifted between characters as he described Henry being taken off to boarding school, where he was forced to learn English or suffer the slap of a ruler across the hands.
He also told of the Navajos who went to Camp Pendleton and learned the Navajo language-based code that played such an important role in World War II, evoking cheers from the audience.
"I'm a boarding school survivor," he sang, as he strummed his guitar. "And I've seen a lot of stuff. I've seen them try to break the will of little boys, like me."
Once the listeners heard that verse, they cheered, clapped and stood to honor Craig.
Of course it wouldn't be a Vincent Craig show if two things didn't happen.
At the request of a young fan, Craig performed the popular "Alien Rap Song," and the audience demanded to hear "Rita," his hilarious song of boarding-school love gone wrong.
Yaiva and JayNez took the stage Saturday night as the audience screamed its support for the local kid (Yaiva is originally from Piñon).
Yaiva delivered a strong performance, his emotions clear as he moved about the stage. JayNez accompanied him on several tracks.
Yaiva, the hyper-kinetic performer, put his all into the performance while JayNez soothed with his soulful voice - a performance of pure energy that the audience received with cheers.
Indian Country's first
Native America's first rap artist, Litefoot, took the stage next as the audience stood and gave the weekend's loudest cheer.
Litefoot didn't disappoint as he appeared in a black baseball cap, sunglasses and sporting a shirt from his clothing line, Native Styles, that read, "Living the Native American Dream."
His fancy footwork and body movements rocked with experience and his words told stories about daily struggles and obstacles overcome.
Midway through his performance Litefoot took some time to address the audience about how distasteful it is to see Native Americans killing Native Americans, and how problems with drugs and alcohol continue to escalate.
He implored the audience to remember the Creator and to find their purpose in life because only then do they realize there is a reason the Creator put people on this Earth.
With sweat dripping from his face, Litefoot encouraged the audience to remember their history and to be proud because, when it comes down to it, the ancestors and the Creator will be the ones to answer to when your time comes.