Interview with R. Carlos Nakai
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Written by Edie Weinstein-Moser   
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Interview with R. Carlos Nakai
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The notes that emerge from the finely tapered flute cascade downward like so many leaves from an early autumn oak. It is easy to understand why the music of R. Carlos Nakai has been so lauded. He has played solo and in collaboration with other musicians  since the 1970’s.“Ancestral Voices” was a Grammy contender in 1994 in the “Best Traditional Folk Album” category. According to the lengthy bio on his website, he has “written and performed scores for film and television including selections for the National Park Service, Fox Television and the Discovery Channel, IMAX, the National Geographic Society and many commercial productions.”

 From his home in Arizona, he offered insights into the diverse musical styles he embraces and the gifts he has gleaned from the experiences of coming to know the instruments he plays as unique energies unto themselves. A delightful laugh accompanied many of his quite simple, straightforward responses to my questions.

Edie: I’ve been familiar with your work for quite awhile/ Your music gets a great deal of airplay on “Echoes,” broadcast on WXPN 88.5 FM in Philadelphia.
What is it that led your interest in the flute?

 R. Carlos Nakai (RC):  Primarily through the education I got before I was drafted, and found that I could play brass instruments, and then transferred all my knowledge and awareness into this instrument.

 Edie:  Is it an instrument you grew up hearing?

 RC: It wasn’t a very present part of the cultural communities that I was part of.

 Edie:  Did you grow up in a musical family?

RC:  No, I gr ew up in a farming family by the Colorado River, in Poston, Arizona, which was also the site of a relocation camp.

 Edie:  Do you sometimes feel like an instrument yourself; that the music comes through?

 RC: All the time. Much of the work I do with the instrument is not me gaining control of it, but it guiding me, in such a way that I’ll arrive at certain answers at various points in time.



Edie:  Is it difficult at times to get ego out of the way and just let the instrument speak?

RC: No, it’s very easy.

 Edie:  How do you feel about education of non-Natives to the traditions, especially the musical traditions that you’re expressing?

RC:  There isn’t very much that they can learn from the Native community, because it’s all passed down through families in that bloodline and the stories vary from one family to the other, so they are very personal in nature.


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