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Navajo Culture > Music

A woman wearing a dark dress and turquoise jewelry plays a drum and sings into a microphone

Traditional Navajo Music

Music is a central part of Navajo religious and secular cultures. Traditional Navajo music is always vocal and is sometimes accompanied by instruments such as rattles, flutes, whistles, drums and other percussion.

Sacred music is performed in ceremonies and rituals that are not to be recorded, filmed, written down or made public. In song ceremonies called “ways,” vocalists perform prayers to create or reinstate harmony, health and balance. Singers must be qualified to perform prayers. Longer ceremonies might also include dancers and sand painting.

The lyrics in traditional Navajo music can last for more than hour. Sung in groups, these song cycles involve narrative epics such as the origins of the Navajo and stories of deities like Changing Woman.

Popular Music

Not all Navajo music is sacred. Contemporary, or popular Navajo music contains broad melodic octave ranges and bridges genres from punk and hip-hop to reggae and country. Bands and artists such as Blackfire, Downplay, Tribe II Entertainment and Lil’Spade and Shade have made the Navajo music scene one of the most prolific in today’s Native music world.

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