New solo album a soundtrack for indigenous activism

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Oct. 17, 2013

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(Courtesy photo)

Klee Benally, Navajo musician and activist, released his first solo album titled, “Respect Existence or Except Resistance” on Oct. 12.

There are a lot of ways people choose to take action for what they believe in.

Musician Klee Benally shouts out his beliefs in his first solo acoustic album called "Respect Existence or Expect Resistance."

When one thinks of an acoustic album it's usually soft and sweet, but don't let the soft tones of an acoustic guitar fool you.

With Benally's deep rugged voice and strong lyrics, his album is out to prove a point.

Benally has never shied away from voicing his concerns for the issues that Native American people face, and now he gave his words a musical note.

Being no stranger to the music world as the former guitarist and singer for the renowned Native punk band Blackfire, Benally's experience isn't weak, but since the ending of Blackfire Benally took a break from music and this solo album is the first configuration he's done since.

"For me music has always been a tool or tactic in a larger strategy to address the social and environmental injustice that we face on a day-to-day basis," Benally said, adding that many people know of him for the work that he has done to protect Dook'o'oosliid.

"I've always used different forms of media or art to communicate messages about public issues," Benally said.

"This album is an opportunity for me to continue the political musical work that I've done and reach people in a different way."

"It just sort of happened. I didn't really plan on making an album, I've been focusing on community organizing, activism for the past few years," Benally said of his new album, adding that one day he realized he had enough content to produce an album and that's pretty much how this one was born and released on Oct. 12.

This is Benally's first acoustic album, but also his first solo album.

It's just him and an acoustic guitar, an homage to his reverence for folk music.

"I think there is an amazing history of folk music where you just use your acoustic guitar and voice to express your concerns about what's happening in the world," Benally said.

"It's very raw and very, in some ways, intimate experience just playing acoustic," Benally added.

"I like that intimacy and rawness.

It's that realness you could have with just the acoustic."

Benally's acoustic album "Respect Existence or Expect Resistance" has 14 songs that revolve around the issues Native Americans face.

Benally said the theme of the album really ties into the title.

"We have to respect our existence and our life with Mother Earth or we have to understand that things will not work out for us as human beings on this planet," Benally said, adding that "we can't just continue to exploit the earth."

He uses global warming as an example of resistance.

His opening track, "Song of the Sun," talks about the how uranium mining threatens this region.

This song was Benally's music video debut for the album. He shot the video at Red Butte, a Havasupai sacred site 15 miles from the Grand Canyon.

The opening lyrics: "Our mother aches. Iron claws dig until she breaks, and she bleeds for this. How much is enough?"

Another song that discusses issues faced by Native Americans is "Without Water."

"I feel that the lyrics that I write is for a Native audience, especially young Native people, to inspire them to take action and also to inspire them to understand the impacts of the issues that are facing us on a day-to-day basis," Benally said, adding that sometimes his lyrics will be a way to express his frustrations.

"It's sometimes a challenging process for me in writing music because there are a lot of powerful emotions that come into play when you're addressing some of these topics," Benally said.

"In some ways it's very therapeutic for me, because there is a lot that makes me angry in this world," Benally said.

He used the Snowbowl issue as an example.

This is the second year the ski resort on the sacred San Francisco Peaks will produce snow out of municipal wastewater -- a decision Benally fought sometimes by chaining himself to machinery.

"Music has always been that outlet for me to express those emotions because anger is a very powerful emotion, but's a secondary emotion always caused by something," Benally said.

"I'd rather be expressing myself through music, and if I didn't have that I feel like I would probably implode."

Benally is putting his money where his lyrics are.

He is donating part of any sale over $5 from the album toward the Indigenous Action Media and Protect the Peaks.

He is also offering people a "pay what you want" option.

This allows people to donate any amount they can for the album.

They even have the option of getting a free digital download, but under a few conditions.

Benally said he understands that not everyone can afford to pay for an album so he would like people to take it and share, and if they end up loving the album, to come back and contribute what they can later when they have the money.

"There is a growing movement of artists that also believe that music and all information should be as freely accessible as possible," Benally states on his website.

A hard copy of "Respect Existence or Expect Resistance" is available for $10 from Benally's website, and digital downloads can be accessed there as well.

Benally is currently in Europe as part of the "Indigenous Resistance & Liberation Struggles" benefit tour that kicked off on Oct. 9 and will end Oct. 19.

Benally said in the future he looks forward to putting together a flea market tour where he will visit different flea markets on the Navajo Nation and just set up a tent to play music.


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