Louie Gonnie is the exemplar of such an artist. While very much a part of Dine traditions and very much living its values, Louie has an artist’s desire to find personal expression within the world of his community. His first two recordings – Sacred Mountains and Elements - were explorations of the music of the Navajo people in which traditional experience was the foundation for this artist’s unique music.
Louie’s upcoming album, Songs of the Sacred Circle – Harmony in Eight Parts, is a direct return to his roots in the Native American Church. Even as he lives in respect for NAC values, Louie’s takes the songs for the peyote ritual to a new place. While his song forms are very traditional, the means of producing those songs (extensive studio multi-tracking) is not. Nonetheless Louie’s compositions and layered harmonies are reverent, spiritual, and achieve transcendence.
The recording of peyote songs is always a controversial issue within the Native American Church. Some practitioners feel that the songs, as they are intrinsic to a sacred ritual, should never be recorded, while many others feel that recordings are important for disseminating their songs throughout the community. For Louie, the decision to record this remarkable album was not easy, as he put it in his personal statement for Songs of the Sacred Circle…
My name is Louie Gonnie. I am a Zuni descendant, Tábąąhí (Edge Water Clan), born for Tl'aashchí'í (Red Streak Under the Eye) clan. My maternal clan is the Todích'íi'nii (Bitter Water People) and my paternal clan is the Nát'oh Dine'é Táchii'nii (Tobacco People/Red Streak running in the Water Clan).
I was born in the Diné (Navajo) Nation at a place called Antelope Springs. Singing by the age of 5 under the guidance of my father and uncles, I was taught to respect my elders and the healing ways of my people. A major influence in my life is my grandfather, Haastíín Gonnie, a noted medicine man, for his never ending devotion to humanity. It is his teachings that guide me on this journey through life. The prayer is my canvas and the songs represent the colors that become my art.
It’s been 12 years now since I first dabbled with creating my own melodies. There were many live rehearsal sessions with family and friends throughout the years, and many, many songs were recorded onto tape. Carving a sound and maintaining it, sticking to it, not changing it for anybody is how I compose. I have come to understand certain things in my life. As a third generation singer, with traditional values kept in mind, music has a profound impact on my daily existence. Singing is who I am.
After much thought and consideration, I have decided to collaborate again with Canyon Records. There is a surprise, it turns out. On this recording, I introduce you to another of my many musical sides. This release is a reflection of the growing popularity of Peyote songs. I look back on the Peyote Road throughout the years. A lot of my songs have echoed into the night. People of all ages…even veterans of the scene who won’t admit to it, were attracted to this sound. I did not realize how much these songs were moving around from person to person. When I recorded these songs, it was for family and friends. It was meant to stay within the boundaries of my circle and not for profitable gains.
Unfortunately, bootleg copies of my music have become a hot product at Indian markets, as with many other artists. What started from sitting at home using a home stereo and mic, these recordings turned into something that infected the masses. Singers throughout the four directions obtained or recorded my songs; either personal recordings or “Live” ceremonies. Handheld recorders, mp3 recorders, and MySpace were used and abused. Sadly, many of those recordings ended up for sale at these markets, mostly without permission. Things can quickly get out of hand! People have to understand that they can’t sell someone’s music without authorization. If an artist puts their time into creating and molding something, making sure things are the way it’s suppose to be, it should be respected. Besides, it’s just not right on many levels. Those who record and distribute music without permission are actually exploiting singers for personal financial gain. The way I see it, everyone should be able to enjoy and benefit from this style of songs. My concept and perception on singing is not just as an expression, it goes beyond that. Music is the guide. The songs evoke spirituality. By listening to the words and their meanings you feel connected to the song and to nature. Regrettably, too many people took advantage of this. At this point, I am in defense mode. I want these songs to be protected from exploitation. I also want these songs to be distributed properly. I feel good about my decision to record. I think some people will agree, and some won’t. I am protecting myself, my songs, and the purity in which these songs are created. First and foremost, the ritualistic purpose and spiritual perspective of these songs will always remain strong and intact.