Monday, October 27, 2014

Navajo Peyote Songs

by G. Jack Urso 

Navajo Peyote Songs Volume 1, by Kevin Lewis, is a 1990 release by Indian Sounds that I picked up on cassette while visiting the Little Bighorn Battlefield the same year (then The Custer Battlefield). While I don’t understand Navajo, and they are not indigenous to the Dakotas, I found the recording a nice counterpoint to The Songs of the Seventh Cavalry. The rhythmic chanting provides a meditative space to immerse oneself in another culture. The full recording is provided below.

Lewis, according to, is of Navajo/Cherokee heritage and a medicine man trained to sing peyote songs by his grandfather Bud Lewis, who lived to 116 years. As a result, the lineage of tradition from the Old West to our ears is only one generation removed from that era. Herschel Kaulity, of Cheyenne/Kiowa heritage, provides the drumming. No titles or times are provided for the songs, which allow the listener to get lost in music that feels more like an expression of nature than the typical over-produced commercial effort.

The one break in the spiritual tone comes about 17 minutes into the recording when Lewis, caught up the ritual, begins chanting “Happy Birthday” over and over. At that point, the listener realizes this dude must totally be tripping. Well, they’re not called peyote songs for nothing!

"When Death Comes." Inmate art by Michael A. Nieves, July 22, 1994. Author’s collection.

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