How Navajo Country Music Is Defying Stereotypes

"This music touches our people inside."


Country music is perhaps most commonly associated with rural, white America, but as a new New York Times piece points out, the genre is thriving among members of the Navajo Nation, “shattering long-held stereotypes about cowboys and Indians.”

The piece mentions bands like White Cone, Arizona’s Stateline and Halchita, Utah’s The Wanderers, as well as legendary Navajo country groups like the Wingate Valley Boys and the Navajo Sundowners.

“I’m not silversmithing or painting but the music I make is still a kind of art,” Wanderers vocalist Travis Mose told the publication. “This music touches our people inside.”

The connection between country music and Navajo culture is a natural one, according to anthropologist Kristina Jacobsen. “They’re singing about mama, trucks, ranching, nostalgia, things the Navajo happen to know a lot about,” she said. “But remember, this is dance music.”

Of course, the Navajo ranching culture pre-dates that of Anglo cowboys, so their connection to country lifestyle — music included — makes sense. It’s just another example of the lasting contribution to American music natives people have made over the last century. The 2017 documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World, showcased a similar story, of how musical pioneers from bluesman Charley Patton to rocker Link Wray used their Native American roots as influence. These Navajo country musicians are part of that conversation.

“To put it simply, we’re the original cowboys,” Travis Friday, the leader of Stateline, told the Times. “Now we walk this line between Anglo ways and our own culture. You could say our music tries to bridge worlds a little.”

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