You can’t help but infer some myth, some heroic quality from a man called Mato Nanji. The name alone sounds powerful—especially in contrast to one’s own white-bread Norwegian appellation—and when you see the big guy wield a guitar, and coax/compel sonic thunder from it and sing as if from the top of Blues Mountain, you really do want to bow down and show some respect, either out of abject fear or genuine worship. (If you happen to be reading this online, open a new browser window, make sure your speakers are on and hit IndigenousRocks.com).
Hear that? Even at a low cubicle-discreet volume, the churning, pulsating “You Turn My World Around” shakes your soul. The thunderous rhythm, the stentorian-but-soulful vocals, the gnashing/wailing Stevie Ray-possessed guitar, it’s the raw sound of music made at the command of nature. It’s Indigenous.
Nanji has a simpler way of looking at it, saying in a frequent quiet chuckle, “We make music.”
Nanji is the centerpiece, the de facto leader, but the band is—and with regard to Indigenous, this is no trite term—a united force. Nanji’s brother Pte Wicasa plays bass, and their sister Wanbdi WastÃ© Win “mans” the drums. They came together on the Yankton Indian Reservation in South Dakota, courtesy of their father, American Indian rights activist and musician Greg Zephier. It was Zephier who helped Nanji tune his first guitar, then bestowed upon him a stack of records—Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Freddie, Albert and B.B. King among them—as instruction manual, saying only “If you listen to it and learn it yourself, you’ll never forget it.”
This freewheeling method, and the mixture of blues, classic- and alt-rock influences would lend a raw immediacy to the band’s debut album, the simply titled Things We Do (released in 1998 on indie Pachyderm Records). Heavy touring in support of that album, two subsequent EPs (Blues in the Morning and Live at Pachyderm Studios) and their sophomore album, the Doyle Bramhall-produced Circle, garnered the band a rabid following as well as copious accolades. The buzz (and sales in excess of 300,000 units) was such that venerable blues label Silvertone snatched up Indigenous in time to release their self-financed, self-titled latest album last year.
The alliance with the Jive Records subsidiary has been a blessing and a curse. Nanji says it has afforded the band the opportunity to tour Europe for the first time and the label’s worldwide reach enabled Indigenous to hit shelves there as well, the first time an Indigenous album has been commercially available abroad. But that appears to be the extent of the label’s assistance; there has been very little push on Silvertone’s part, which has in essence left the band to do indie business as usual, handling its own affairs. But rather than lament the situation, Nanji plays optimist.
“[In the last year], there hasn’t been much promo,” he chuckles. “I don’t really know why. I guess [they were] concentrating more on Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. But even though they haven’t really done anything for the record has received “pretty good reviews so far,” and “it’s almost still like brand new.” Evergreen as Indigenous is, he continues, the band is able to do what has worked for them in the past: tour relentlessly and sell their albums off the merch table.
Truly there is no better marketing tool for a band that is all live power, and has distilled such into their album at the request of fans. Recorded virtually live in the studio, Indigenous is the embodiment of the hyperbolic inference above; from the Delta blues-meets-Big Head Todd & the Monsters lead track “C’mon Suzie” through “You Turn My World Around,” the slow-burn “Hold On,” the Texas-sy “Movin’ On” and the jumpin’ “Shame, Shame, Shame” and the sublime closer “Monkeyshuffle,” Indigenous is larger than life, lightning in a bottle, thunder from the mountain. And with or without support, Indigenous is energized.
“We’ll keep doing what we’re doing whether it’s with a major label or somebody else. That’s what it’s about for us—making music for music fans. And you know, it’s been that way ever since the beginning and it always will be.”
INDIGENOUS, With George Thorogood, Red Butte Garden 300 Wakara Way Wednesday, Aug. 18 7 p.m. 325-7328