Back on their home reservation in northern Wisconsin, members of the drum group Pipestone are still reeling from their recent Native American Music Awards win. Though it was back to work and their normal daily schedules, Pipestone members can’t deny that their win for Record of the Year at the 2007 NAMMYs has elevated them to a new category of fame.
Following their win, the group was swarmed by fans happy to share in their celebration and asking for autographs and photos.
”We aren’t really used to the attention like that night,” said member Mike Sullivan. ”Everybody was overwhelmed by it all, but enjoyed it at the same time. Pow wow drum groups oftentimes don’t get that kind of attention, so it was definitely something different for us.”
While the group might not be used to the attention, the audience isn’t used to the kind of entertainment that Pipestone provides. Part traditionalists in the sense of singing old-style pow wow music, the group’s claim to fame (and a NAMMY) might be attributed to their unconventional lyrics that can make a formal audience burst into laughter.
At the NAMMYs – held in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Oct. 6 – Pipestone performed two hits off its nominated CD, ”Good Ol’Fashioned NDN Lovin’.” Six men from the 14-member group sat on the stage playing hand drums and singing a melodic Round Dance song called ”Cuzzins.” Partway into the song, the men let loose a burst of English lyrics that was unexpected and equally as comical.
They sang, ”You and me we took our chances/trying to hide our secret romances …/Good ol’ fashioned NDN lovin’/no I can’t be your husband/just found out that you’re my cousin!”
The NAMMY audience broke into laughter, which was the singers’ intent.
”When the punch line rolls around, it surprises the listener and really makes them laugh,” Sullivan said. ”Ojibwe people are known for their humor and we carry that well with our group and our songs.”
While Pipestone said their music is typically intended for any pow wow audience, their latest release is ”modern reservation pop culture” and is geared at a younger listening group.
”We recorded ‘Good Ol’ Fashioned NDN Lovin” to reach a larger audience, to make an impact on people and give them something to laugh at, and make them feel good,”
Sullivan said. ”The humor is something else in that album, and I think we succeeded at reaching the larger audience and entertaining all those who have heard it.”
Pipestone’s second song performed at the awards ceremony, called ”Wally World,” begins as most pow wow songs do, but a short way into the performance the men sing a line in English about going to Wal-Mart.
”It also is a very popular song of ours, since it applies to almost every Native community throughout Indian country,” Sullivan said. ”No matter if you are in Billings, Montana, Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, if there is a Wal-Mart close by, chances are you might find some Natives there.”
Pipestone was formed in 1990 when the men were just boys in the fourth and fifth grades at the tribal school on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe reservation. The core group has remained the same ever since, with a few new members.
”Seventeen years later, we are still jamming out and having fun,” Sullivan said.
Pipestone’s current roster includes Sullivan, Mike Demain, John Morrow, George Morrow III, Mat White, Tom Cain, Ahsinees Larson, Nick Hansen, John Andersen, Jerome Powless, Martin Powless, Wendall Powless, Opie Day-Bedeau and Cetan Wanbli Williams.
The group members are friends, and some are cousins and brothers. They all grew up together, attending tribal and public schools, and most have known each other since infancy.
The group has released five CDs throughout their career: ”Pipestone” in 2001, ”L.C. Ol’Style” in 2002, ”Pipestone Singers” in 2003, ”Live at Fort Washakie” in 2005 and ”Good Ol’ Fashioned NDN Lovin”’ in 2006.
While Pipestone can enjoy a sense of celebrity within the American Indian music circuit, members remain grounded and committed to their culture first and foremost.
”Our culture is very important to us, especially our Ojibwe language,” Sullivan said. ”We all partake in ceremonies at home and help out in our communities. Our gift to sing and make songs comes from someplace else, and is a gift that we feel is bestowed upon us by participating in our old-time ceremonies.”
Pipestone’s latest CD is available at at www.canyonrecords.com.