Monday, November 06, 2017

The Music of Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Uprooting the Sources of Disenfranchisement”

The Wild Reed’s countdown to the November 10 release of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s new album Medicine Songs continues with an appreciation by Andrea Warner of Buffy’s 50+ year-long career and her unique contributions to music, including “the vast wilderness of [her] interests and influences, and her fearless cross-genre experimentation.”

Warner’s appreciation serves as a preface to her “essential guide” to the music of Buffy Sainte-Marie, published September 13, 2016 by Exclaim!

After spending years delving into Buffy Sainte-Marie's pan-genre discography — seriously, she's done it all, and she's done it better than most — there’s no good reason why Sainte-Marie shouldn’t receive the same level of worldwide recognition and acclaim as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Why isn’t she revered as a powerhouse, like Janis Joplin, or as the voice of the folk movement, like Bob Dylan? Systemic racism has played its part; Sainte-Marie, a Canadian-born Cree woman who was raised in America, has always used music as a tool of passion, protest, advocacy, resistance and decolonization.

All of the things that folkies were supposedly singing about and protesting, Sainte-Marie sang those things, too, but she went deeper, digging in and uprooting the sources of disenfranchisement: white supremacy, patriarchy, racism, sexism, colonization. Massive inequality is, or should be, a universal concept. But even if record executives and music fans were put off by her political side, Sainte-Marie also tackled all the “softer” things, too: love and loss, sex and desire, grief and joy were common thematic explorations of hers, and they co-existed alongside narratives of protest, Indigenous identity — past and present — and Native American rights, of folklore and nature and spirituality, and all the metaphors between heaven and hell.

The thrilling thing about a Sainte-Marie record, particularly through the late ’60s, ’70s and this decade, is the multiplicity of possibilities, the vast wilderness of Sainte-Marie’s interests and influences, and her fearless cross-genre experimentation. Despite two lengthy breaks from recording, from 1976 to 1992 and then again from 1992 to 2008, Sainte-Marie’s career spans more than 50 years.

– Andrea Warner
Excerpted from “An Essential Guide to Buffy Sainte-Marie
September 13, 2016


Following is “The Uranium War” by Buffy Sainte-Marie, from her award-winning 2015 album, Power in the Blood. When being interviewed in May 2016 by The Huffington Post's Mike Ragogna, Buffy acknowledged that the song was the “official prequel” to her earlier song, “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” (from her 1992 album Coincidence and Likely Stories).

It is, really. It’s about the same people, there really is a Cordell Tulley and there really is a Norman Brown and Annie Mae really was a friend of mine. It’s the same story but it’s before “Bury.” I actually dedicate it to the family of Annie Mae. I know her daughters. It’s such a tragic story, but I wrote it almost like a little three-act Broadway play. It’s a little bit different.

The Uranium War
By Buffy Sainte-Marie

Ay ha ay ha yo ho

There was a Cree and a Sioux and a Navajo,
and an Arapaho and a Hopi hiyo
We were stranded, snowbound, eh-ho well I don’t know
Sleeping on the floor like the best of friends
Living on tea and odds and ends
Ah, were we lucky? Now it all depends

There was Cordell and me and Norman Brown
sittin’ around away from town
And me I’m listening, hey ho, Big Mountain guys
Watch the sunrise in your eyes;
taking care of the Elders' pride
Hey hey, Mother Earth; Hey hey, Father Sky

And me I watched it grow:
corporate greed and a lust for gold
and coal and oil and, hey now, uranium
Keep the Indians under your thumb;
pray like hell when your bad times come
Hey, rip ’em up, strip ’em up, get ’em with a gun

She was a friend of mine –
Annie Mae in the snows of the wintertime
We were running cross the fields of Indian land
Ducking bullets from the guns of the pale men
Ay hey ay hey ah

Patriot Woman, hunted in the land
– what did you say about uranium?

She come to see me one day I was living in a little place in L.A.
She was running from the feel of the jailor's touch
Singing Heyo ha ya I think I know too much about uranium

Ay ha ay ha yo

And me I watched it grow:
corporate greed and a lust for gold
and coal and oil and, hey now, uranium
Keep the Indians under your thumb;
pray like hell when your bad times come
Hey, rip ’em up, strip ’em up, get ’em with a gun

NEXT: Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Things Do Change
and Things Do Get Better”

For previous posts in this series, see:
For Acclaimed Songwriter, Activist and Humanitarian Buffy Sainte-Marie, the World is Always Ripening
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “I'm Creative Anywhere”
Buffy Sainte-Marie Headlines SummerStage Festival in NYC's Central Park
Buffy Sainte-Marie, “One of the Best Performers Out Touring Today”

For The Wild Reed's special series of posts leading-up to the May 12, 2015 release of Buffy's award-winning album, Power in the Blood, see:
Buffy Sainte-Marie and That “Human-Being Magic”
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Lesson from the Cutting Edge: “Go Where You Must to Grow”
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “Sometimes You Have to Be Content to Plant Good Seeds and Be Patient”
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Power in the Blood

For more of Buffy Sainte-Marie at The Wild Reed, see:
A Music Legend Visits the North Country: Buffy Sainte-Marie in Minnesota and Wisconsin – August 2016
Two Exceptional Singers Take a Chance on the “Spirit of the Wind”
Photo of the Day – January 21, 2017
Buffy Sainte-Marie Wins 2015 Polaris Music Prize
Congratulations, Buffy
Happy Birthday, Buffy!
Actually, There's No Question About It
For Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Well-Deserved Honor
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Still Singing with Spirit, Joy, and Passion
Something Special for Indigenous Peoples Day
Buffy Sainte-Marie: “The Big Ones Get Away”

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Unbreakable Buffy Sainte-Marie: A Candid Conversation with the Resilient Songwriter and Activist – Whitney Phaneuf (Acoustic Guitar, January 18, 2017).

Opening image: Justine Edwards.

No comments: