Navajo talent: Growing recognition, new directions

By Jan-Mikael Patterson
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Dec. 30, 2010

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(Times photo - Leigh Jimmie)

Levi Platero, lead vocals and guitarist for The Plateros, performs at the 4th annual Monument Valley Film Festival in Kayenta on Sept. 17.

So much has happened in terms of entertainment on the Navajo Reservation, but these are my picks for the top stories from the year.

The Plateros

Not long after releasing their debut album "Hang On," the band has gradually seen an increase in business to the point that now the Plateros may perform in Albuquerque one night and in San Francisco the next.

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To accommodate the growth in bookings, father Murphy Platero stepped down as the band's bass player and took over managerial duties. Levi's cousin Bronson Begay took over on bass and along with drummer Douglas Platero, the trio is on the road much of the time now.

Aside from "Hang On," the Plateros also released a live album, comprised of originals and cover songs, and a Christmas album "Christmas Blues." Both are available at the band's performances.


Navajo humorist, folksinger and activist Vincent Craig died May 15 after battling a form of cancer called a gastro-intestinal stromal tumor.

Craig faced his last days like he lived his life, with humor, wisdom, and a heart big enough to embrace everyone in its warmth. When he learned that news of his death was circulating, he allowed an interview with the Navajo Times and sent reassuring words to his many well-wishers.

Friends, family and relatives got to pay their final respects to Craig on May 20 in Pinetop, Ariz.

Blackie rises

Navajo country singer Victoria Blackie is going to the top and she's on a mission to do it all alone - well, almost. She's blessed with a supportive husband and family, a big help to anyone starting such a journey.

Her debut album "Wanted Man," is a gotta-have, featuring vocals that blend Loretta Lynn with Lorrie Morgan.

Blackie earned Debut Artist of the Year at this year's Nammys and was nominated in eight categories. It feels like the Salt Lake City-based songbird is on the verge of breaking into the mainstream country music scene.

Chucki Begay & The Mother Earth Blues Band

Sultry Chucki Begay sings to her own tune and maybe that helps to explain why she's attracting a growing legion of young female fans - and she sends all the right messages to them.

Whether backed by her band or just her husband, Richie Anderson, on acoustic guitar, Chucki has the voice to go with any instrument.

And whether it's in front of 20, 200 or 2,000 people, she and the band put on a show of consummate professionalism.

49 Laughs Comedy

The rumor that beloved comedy duo James Junes and Ernest Tsosie III had split up was sort of true, but another way to look at it is that audiences now have twice the comedy in one fun-filled show.

As James & Ernie they brought laughter to homes, schools and many other places since 2001 after the two solo comedians were thrown together by chance at the Stars in the Desert show in Tuba City.

They have since released two full-length DVDs and done hundreds of performances nationwide, as well as emerging as dramatic artists in films such as  "Mile Post 398" and "Blue Gap Boyz."

Now they've teamed up with two comedians on the rise, Pax Harvey Jr. and Tatanka Means, performing as a quartet of stand-up comics.

The foursome has been on the road doing the "Laugh Now, Cry Later Tour" since February and with bookings on the rise, it's a safe bet they'll be entertaining us with their unique insights into Native life for a long time to come.

"Pete & Cleo"
Ernest Tsosie III and Beau Benally, the stars of "Mile Post 398," this year teamed up with director Travis Hamilton for a witty, whimsical journey of estranged siblings who rekindle a relationship only two brothers on the Navajo Reservation would understand.

The film debuted July 9 at the Navajo Nation Museum and was screened at local theaters as well.

The dialogue captures Navajo humor to a "T" and made for good laughs along with a hope-filled message.

Navatone tunes up

Kayenta-based filmmaker Shonie De La Rosa moved from behind the camera to his workbench, where he started to build and customize electric guitars under the brand name "NavaTone."

Guitar virtuoso Levi Platero received one of De La Rosa's earliest creations, a customized Apple Green Navatone guitar that he now uses in performance. It is one of about four guitars that De La Rosa handcrafted this year.

Next month, De La Rosa, his wife Andee and daughter Audrey will travel to Anaheim, Calif., for the 2011 National Association of Music Merchants convention where many big-name instrument makers and musicians will be on hand to see the latest products and trends.

De La Rosa plans to craft a Navatone guitar in honor of the Navajo Code Talkers to display at the convention.

DJ Abel rocks Coachella

Fort Defiance's own DJ Abel Roc was invited to perform in this year's Coachella Music Fest in Indio, Calif.

The event took place in April and he shared the stage with some nationally known DJs and musicians like Jay-Z, Passion Pit, Phoenix, Edward Sharpe and many others. That's not the only thing with Abel.

Podcasts of his mixes are available free through his Web site, Currently he has uploaded 42 different podcasts with 23 hours of music.

Meanwhile, Abel continues to spin at clubs in Farmington, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Gallup, where he has brought in some nationally known DJS to entertain local fans.

If you haven't heard Abel's mixes, you better make it a resolution for 2011 because at the rate he's going, he could be moving onto bigger and better stages soon.

"Rainbow Boy" shines ... dimly

The Norman Patrick Brown film about a Navajo warrior of old who teleports to the modern era is still in production as of this writing. Stars Pax Harvey Jr., Jason Allison, Ernest Tsosie III and Reginald Mitchell, so we'll be looking forward to it!

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