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This is the third in my series on inspiring music for writers (for those who haven’t been paying attention). The third musician I regularly listen to while working is the Navajo/Ute flutist, R. Carlos Nakai. (The R stands for Raymond, although he doesn’t seem to use it.)
Some consider both Deuter (see my earlier post) and Nakai as new-age artists, but real differences between them exist. While Deuter’s music ranges wide and has Asian influences, Nakai sticks (primarily) to his roots and to his desire to communicate Native American culture to a larger audience. That being said, he also plays jazz and classical music and has performed with Philip Glass, Paul Horn and Keola Beamer, among others.
Nakai has also performed with the Tibetan artist Nawang Khechog. It was actually through Khechog (another flutist) that I first discovered him – I’d bought one of his CDs in a Palm Springs health food store many years back. If you’re interested, check out the latter’s 2002 release (my favourite) Tibetan Meditation Music.
Parallels do exist between the careers of Nakai and Deuter – both have been long (more than forty years each!), incredibly prolific and successful. And the musical career paths of both were affected by accidents, in Nakai’s case, one that left him unable to play his original choice, the trumpet, and led to his picking up the flute.
Most of his music has been released on Canyon Records, a label devoted to Native American music. The Phoenix-based owners took a chance on him after he’d been turned down by several other companies (a familiar story of success and failure in the arts). Canyon Records’ confidence has been rewarded by considerable recognition as well as sales — the only two gold records for Native American music, as well as a slew of Grammy nominations.
According to his personal website (see above), Nakai is “the world’s premier performer of the Native American flute. Originally trained in classical trumpet and music theory, he was given a traditional cedarwood flute as a gift and challenged to see what he could do with it.” Since he first began playing the flute in the early 1980s he has released more than fifty albums in his career. Forty of these were released through Canyon Records, selling and more than 4.3 million albums. He has earned two gold records – for Canyon Trilogy and Earth Spirit – and in 2014 Canyon Trilogy reached platinum status (over a million units sold), a first for a Native American artist performing traditional solo flute music.
I love all of Nakai’s music, but one song in particular stands out: “Ancestral Home,” from Canyon Trilogy. I’d love to use it if a movie were ever to be made of my books. What a wonderful thought!