Reggae in Hopiland

Kykotsmovi, AZ – Reggae music was born on the tropical island of Jamaica. But it's found an unlikely home away from home on the high desert mesas of the Hopi reservation. Over the past two decades more than 50 international reggae acts have made the long trek to Hopiland. The latest? Stephen Marley and Junior Gong, sons of the legendary Bob Marley. Daniel Kraker with KNAU's Indian Country News Bureau was there, and has this story on the long connection between the Hopi and reggae.

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It's a Sunday evening on the Hopi reservation. Sagebrush and sand blanket the parched earth for miles. And the sun is just setting over the rocky mesa tops the Hopi have called home for a millennium. Reggae fans, resplendent in red, green and gold, have been waiting for hours for a chance to see Bob Marley's children perform.

AX 1: It's a gift. For them to want to even think about wanting to be here and coming here, because I love his dad's music, the messages that he brought.

That's tribal member Rachel Povotah. She's seen nearly every big reggae show on the rez, from Steel Pulse to Burning Spear. Fern Talayumptewa is also a longtime fan. She says it's the message that attracts her to reggae; a message also found in traditional Hopi songs.

AX 2: It's very spiritual to me, and that's what I like about it. With the lyrics especially, they express their feelings for everybody to have a good life. As far as the Hopis, when they go through their traditional songs, they basically express the same things, there is that connection there.

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When the doors finally open, more than two thousand people cram inside an old gymnasium to see Bob Marley's sons strengthen that cultural connection.

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Hopis say they're not only attracted to the music's call to freedom, but to the slow, easy going beat, reminiscent of traditional Hopi music.

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Karen Abeita is a music promoter on the reservation. She convinced the Marleys to perform on Hopiland. Over the years she says she's befriended just about everyone in the reggae world.

AX3: This year my daughter and I spent Christmas and New Years down in Jamaica, this lady goes by and she recognizes me as a DJ from the Hopi radio station. I finally started telling her one of the things I always wanted as a promoter out here on Hopiland was to bring the Marley children out here. I knew it was impossible but I always wanted to make that effort to try to get them out here.

When she returned home, Abeita got a call from the Marleys' booking agency. They'd come to Hopiland for a reduced fee. Burt Poley, who was part of the group of Hopis who began bringing reggae acts to the rez in the early 80s, says bands have done that since the beginning.

AX4: Because of our culture, and being I guess Native Americans, oppressed people, third world nations, as well as what their people went through in Jamaica, they really kind of looked at that as something that was familiar. From there on out most of the groups that we brought to Hopi did it for free or at a very low cost.

It began with Freddy McGregor, the first Jamaican to play the reservation. And it's continued with performers like Mikey Dread, who's appeared several times on Karen Abeita's radio show, Rez, Rasta, Riddums.

AX5: Mikey Dread singing I can see all the native on the reservation, listening to their most popular radio station, 88.1, number one, 88.1, in Hopiland.
Then go to this actuality:
AX6: I love the people from the reservation, I share their culture, their history, it's a pleasure always to work with them and I'm looking forward to being there again too.

That's an attitude shared by reggae acts across Jamaica. Casper Lomayesva is the only prominent Hopi who's moved from reggae fan to reggae artist. He's cut three albums on his record label in Phoenix, Third Mesa Music. He's asked Jamaican artists why they feel so strongly about playing on the Hopi reservation. After all there's only one small hotel there, a handful of restaurants, and it's hours away from a decent sized city.

AX7: The word is that Hopiland is the best place to play in Arizona if not in the States. What these people really, really appreciate is the way they're embraced, on top of the vibe they bring blessings, native peoples are really passionate about reggae music in general.

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Hopis won't have to wait long to get their next reggae fix. Casper is scheduled to open for Ziggy Marley in Flagstaff later this month.

For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Daniel Kraker