by Thomas Vennum, Jr.
Keith Secola was born in Cook in 1957, the son of Orlando Secola, whose father immigrated to Minnesota's iron ranges in 1905, and Florence Webb, a member of the Koochiching band of the Bois Fort Ojibway. I first met Keith in 1979 when he attended Mesabi Community College, where I was lecturing on Indian song styles. At the time, Keith was developing his considerable skills as a guitar player and songwriter, though his interest in traditional Ojibway music was strong. He later took up the harmonica and today can be heard in Phoenix-area nightclubs playing excellent renditions of the blues on his "harp." He performs nationally at music festivals.
Keith freely acknowledges the non-Indian popular influences on his music- apparently a family tradition, as his Indian grandfather was a champion fiddle player. Especially influential in developing his musical style have been such non-Indian American "folk" and "pop" singers as Bob Dylan--himself an Iron Ranger by birth-Neil Young, and Woody Guthrie. But Indian artists have had an equal share in shaping Keith's style, men such as Peter La Farge, the comedian Charlie Hill, and perhaps the best known, Floyd Westerman, with whom Keith has performed on occasion.
Keith wrote the love song "Zogipoon" as part of a language requirement for his Native American Studies major at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Although raised speaking English in a non-Indian community, Keith has gained increasing fluency in the language with the assistance of Red Lake instructors Angeline Northbird and Collin Oakgrove, who helped with his text for the song.
Although performed in a modern popular style with instrumental accompaniment, "Zogipoon," writ-ten in about 1982, is very much in the tradition of Ojibway love songs. The feelings of unrequited love and nostalgia brought on by images of nature, as well as the admixture of romance and drinking in the second verse, are all typically Ojibway. In translation, it reads:
Today it snows outside,"Indian Car" is one of Keith's most requested songs. Written in about 1985 and sung in English, it is in the same vein as the popular intertribal "49" songs, which are usually performed after an evening powwow, long into the night. They, too, have English texts; a favorite "49" song refers to an Indian car much in the same tongue-in-cheek manner of Keith's song: "When the dance is over, I will pick you up in my one-eyed Ford, he-ya, he-ya." The Indian car, which Indian people often call a "rez[ervation] car," is an ironic commentary on their general impoverished economic situation. Typically, it is a battered and rusty early 1950s General Motors product, barely running and held together through improvised means. Keith's car is kept from falling apart by a bumper sticker proclaiming "Indian Power." For his studio recording, Keith enlisted the help of Sand Creek, a back-up band from Ethete, Wyoming. Keith first met these Arapaho musicians at a Black Hills gathering and later played with them in Phoenix sessions.
Despite the many changes in Ojibway culture over the past century and the disappearance of many traditions, music continues to be a vital part of tribal heritage, kept alive and flourishing by many older and younger singers. The revival of the moccasin game, the continuity with the dream songs of former times, the ever-increasing number of singers and dancers at powwows all attest to the central role of music in maintaining Ojibway identity. Facing external forces of acculturation, Ojibway people can continue to point to their musical tradition with pride.
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