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Joy Harjo\’s Latest CD "Winding Through the Milky Way" Soars

One of my favorite poets is Joy Harjo, whom I first met in 1976 or 1977 in El Paso, when she came to give a reading at the invitation of Leroy V. Quintana. Quintana and I both taught at El Paso Community College around that time, if I have the years correct.

Anyway, Harjo struck my fancy because up to that point I had not met someone who identified herself as an American Indian and a poet. Obviously living in El Paso, one can\’t avoid knowing or meeting American Indians and in fact many El Pasoans and Southwesterners either know or simply don\’t know or have forgotten that perhaps an ancestor was an American Indian or partly American Indian. I mention this because I knew my maternal great-grandmother was Comanche but I had never met someone who identified herself as an Indian poet–to me at this time Harjo was a novel concept. After meeting Harjo, I began to ask my mother and maternal grandmother more about my great-grandmother, whom I had met but who died in the 1960s. There was always a mystery about her and she insisted on living in her own home nearby a younger daughter. What many people might not know is that many Americans of Mexican descent actually have Indian ancestry though they have adopted the Spanish-language culture of Mexico long before it became the United States.

Sorry to get off topic, but perhaps this is why Judge Sonia Sotomayor is still causing such a stir in the news. She is a Latina but we don\’t know what her ancestry is. Though few Puerto Ricans have American Indian ancestry, many have other ancestries. And as with some Spanish of Spain, perhaps many have forgot or simply don\’t know that their fore bearers were either Moors and/or Jewish but after the Spanish Inquisition they simply became Catholic. In fact, growing up in Nebraska and then moving to El Paso at a young age, I still remember telling people I was Catholic when I was asked what I was–they wanted to know my lineage but for me only my religion was important. In truth, it would be many years later that I would discover the multi-ethnic background of my fore bearers: French, Spanish, Mexican, Bavarian, Comanche and only God knows what else. I only know that when I heard the Kaddish the first time I was touched to the core in the same manner as when I hear ancient Arabic love music. Perhaps that is why I love the Gypsy Kings so much, I don\’t know–it\’s in my blood.

This brings me back to Harjo. Harjo is getting back to her roots and when she does, her music soars. Though I have no clear idea why the songs No Huli and Witchi Tai To speak to me, I feel lifted. In fact, I have listened to the CD numerous times now and have gone back to her previous CD Native Joy For Real to hear the difference between the two; the Fear Song is one of my favorites from this CD–there is something Buddhist about it that speaks to me as a spiritual person.

Sadly, Harjo informs us that folks don\’t seem to buy her music as much as her poetry. Her interview speaks to this issue of the spoken word via music and its relationship between the word. Whatever is going on is truly amusing in a way, for Bob Dylan is doing something similar with his music and the lyrics. I suppose the purists aren\’t able to see the beauty in the mixture. The culmination of this rich fabric comes through in the song Goin\’ Home and her saxophone is that unusual instrument that brings all the ancient forms home.

I encourage you to visit Joy Harjo by listening to her interview via the link below and her webpage also listed below: Joy Harjo\’s Interview on You Tube

Joy Harjo doesn\’t disappoint in her latest CD. There are many tunes that I simply found myself going back to listen to because of the mixture of music and the lyrics.

For those of you out there who only read poetry, I encourage you to give Harjo\’s music a listening to and to those of your out there who only listen to music, I encourage you to read Harjo\’s poetry. Perhaps one day, you will realize the link between them; it\’s up to you.

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