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Shadowyze, Native America’s Hip-Hop Activist, Advocate

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Shadowyze is not the typical Grammy-nominated hip-hop celebrity. Though his dress may be in the current urban fashion his attitudes certainly are not. Upon first meeting him, many hip-hop officiandos take immediate note of his lack of gold. In fact he has been accosted for not sporting more ‘bling.’

“Some people just want to challenge your hip-hop credentials” Shadowyze explains; “for not being absurdly materialistic or boastful. But I want my listeners to be inspired to do more than just be showy and greedy. I mean, financial success is a good thing, but with the more bling you can afford, I think the more you should be focused on making your community better. Besides, gold really bothers me. I relate so much negative history to it regarding conquistadors pillaging Indian communities for gold throughout the Americas. That’s what greed does to people and I don’t want to encourage that.”

From a background of Muskogee Creek and Scots-Irish heritage, as a writer and producer Shadowyze represents in many ways an atypical strain within an extremely active and empowering social dynamic called hip-hop. Not only does he produce bumping’ tracks and deliver catchy hooks’ but he also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology from the University of West Florida. His lyrics are woven within a fabric of insight and social awareness.

Shadowyze was born in San Antonio, Texas as Alvin Shawn Enfinger and relocated with his family to Pensacola, Fla. at the age of eight. He began rapping as a means to express his ideas on the many issues he witnessed growing up. “My mother was really poor and as a kid a lot of times we weren’t sure if we could afford enough to eat. We were always about one paycheck away from living under a bridge. Some days I’d see cops abusing suspects and on others I’d see street criminals shooting at cops. Through rap I found a way to express my views on these things.”

When he was eighteen, Shadowyze launched his hip-hop career in 1989 when his group, Posse In Effect, released the official theme song “Knock em out the Ring Roy” recorded for then Olympic boxing Silver Medalist Roy Jones Jr. This song received strong support on regional radio as well as NBC Sportsworld. But the big turning point in his career came after spending ten weeks in Central and South America and Mexico in 1998 where Shadowyze witnessed the cruelty of the “low intensity war,” military oppression and poverty imposed upon the Mayan Indian population in Chiapas, Mexico. This life lesson inspired him to speak out and compose his 1999 multi-single Murder in Our Backyard which received a lot of media attention and an endorsement from Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams of Ireland.

In addition to the music Shadowyze delivered on this subject, he also involved himself directly by assisting Ricky Long with his Mayan Indian Relief Fund, taking supplies of clothing, books and medicines to the Indians in Chiapas Mexico where Shadowyze was called Corazon de los Zapatistas or Zapatista’s Heart.

Many publications vigorously supported Shadowyze during this point in his career by running stories on his causes and endeavors. By 1999 Shadowyze was featured in such international Native American Centered periodicals as Native Peoples, Aboriginal Voices, Whispering Wind, News from Indian Country and Talking Stick as well as magazines focused in the musical world such as the underground hip-hop magazine; Insomniac, Word Up and Trace.

In the United States Shadowyze has spoken on Native American issues and performed his music on many reservations including Poarch Creek in Alabama, Big Cypress Seminole Res. in Florida, Shennicock in Long Island, The Pueblos of New Mexico and others. But his experience is by no means limited to domestic affairs. As a performer Shadowyze has appeared in Germany and at the Montrose Jazz Fest in Switzerland and his anthropological callings have led him to visit several different Indian communities in Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Belize and Guatemala.

Shadowyze sums up his experiences with this description; “Even though there is a lot of poverty and despair in some of the areas I’ve been to, it never brings me down. I see a lot of great accomplishments made by Natives throughout the world. It’s really very inspiring to see how many of the communities have adapted to their current surroundings often for the betterment of their societies. And far back in the jungles I’ve gained a lot of insight from experiencing their ancient ways of life. It’s like seeing how my own people lived just a few centuries ago.”

          

Since his musical career has taken off with Murder In Our Backyard, Shadowyze has appeared on over a dozen compilations and released three full length albums; Spirit Warrior (2001), World of Illusions (2003), and his current 2005 release; the self-titled Shadowyze. This newest album features such respectable names in the music business as platinum Latino recording artist Baby Bash, and the production wizardry of Nashville’s DJ Dev of Devastating Music; production engineer of the triple platinum selling album 400 degrees by Juvenile.

2005 was a good year for the 33-year-old artist. Shadowyze won both the Native American Music Awards and the Pensacola, Florida Music Awards for best hip-hop and has been the focus of several stories appearing in Rolling Stone, Vibe, XXL, Billboard, New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Through Backbone, Records; Shadowyze’s personally owned and operated record company he also released Guerillas in the Mixx, a compilation in cooperation with Big Lo featuring Public Enemy, The Coup, Michael Franti, Spearhead, Afrika and Litefoot. For 2006, there are plans for the production of several compilations including Dirty South Radio and The Best of Florida Hip Hop vol. 1 that promise to be more insightful glimpses of a mixture of funk-driven rhythms and enlightening lyricism.

Though Shadowyze is always the musical businessman, his humanitarian side is never stifled. Recently Shadowyze has attracted national attention once again by helping to organize and coordinate a Hurricane Katrina relief effort delivering several thousands of dollars worth of supplies to the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. This reservation was ravaged by the great storm and the people have gone mostly unnoticed by the media. Shadowyze explained the frustrations he felt that encouraged him to organize this effort; “While there were TV commercials asking for relief efforts to go to the abandoned house pets in New Orleans, the Choctaws in Mississippi were going hungry.” In fact the load of supplies personally delivered by Shadowyze was the first, large, independent delivery the Choctaws of Philadelphia received.

Shadowyze is not the typical Grammy-nominated hip-hop celebrity. With one foot in the music industry and the other in indigenous socio-political activism, Shadowyze has established himself in a world much richer than the standard glamorization of sex, drugs and violence. Not only does he orate on the social issues he is impassioned to inform the public of, but he has also been a first hand witness to many of them. Well traveled, well rounded and gifted with the ability to poeticize nearly any idea that comes to his mind, Shadowyze is quite animate and enthusiastic when he describes his thoughts. As a spokesman for unity, Native American identity and environmental respect, Shadowyze and the subjects he brings to the table have caught the attention of countless fans seeking music with a message even-deeper than the bass that bumps in their rides.

Mass Media’s Effect on Anthropology, Nationalism and Native Awareness

Modern anthropological studies are placing an ever growing amount of importance on mass media.  This interest came about in large part as a reaction to the up rise of nationalism leading up to World War II, and the growth of mass communication and media.  Since that time anthropology has shifted from the mere study of indigenous cultures into the study of nations, states, political ideologies, institutions, and all the instruments of nationalism.

1980s and World MusicAs the twentieth century came to a close the undeniable influence of mass media upon society and nationalism has made it a subject of great interest to anthropologists and Native communities alike.  Anthropologists have begun to utilize the tools of mass media to further education and understanding across national and cultural lines. More significantly, access to mass media by Native populations has allowed for them to represent themselves through the dissemination of music, art and literature of their own designs independent of the anthropological disciplines.  The knowledge, and primary sources that have historically been imparted through the discipline of anthropology can now be accessible to everyone and is no longer confined to universities and their text books.

Anthropologist Francisco Osorio of the University of Chile in his paper “Why Is Interest in Mass Media Anthropology Growing?” points out that both Anthropology and mass media “… have a common starting point in World War II.”  Since the 1980’s which Osorio marks as the beginning of Modernity within anthropological studies, the study of mass media has been the focus along with science, capitalism and consumption.

The late 1980’s also bore the broad musical category “World Music” which has proven to be a lucrative commercial interest, as well as a strong medium to foster cross-cultural communication and a more profound interest in the social sciences.

World music is a broad genre that encompasses nationalist and regional music from all around the world.  Most often it represents the musical styles of communities that in previous decades would only be heard by outsiders while on vacation, a safari or an anthropological field study.  Styles such as Reggae, Blues, Celtic Music and Powwow drums represent just a small yet broad variation of the World Music genre.  According to Carsten Wergan in “World Music: a medium for unity and difference?” World Music is often intended to communicate the identity of its regional culture to the outside world, to educate each other about their respective cultures through the medium of music.  This has been successful through investments in quality production and mass distribution.   It is by its nature a means to arouse an “anthropological” interest in its listeners.

Native Americans Take Control of Mass Media

In the past, when mass media was more restricted to an elite few, Native peoples were usually portrayed in the basest forms as stereotyped images of their cultures.  But as mass distribution, through networks of independent record labels and the internet has become more accessible to every person, Native Musicians have begun to emerge from their formerly obscure shadows in the mass consciousness of Western society.

In 1989 Tom Bee formed Sound of America Records (SOAR) with the intention of distributing music made by Native Americans. According to his bio; “In 1995, Bee formed yet another company, SOAR Distribution LTD for the sole purpose of providing his clients with one-stop music from other independent labels and artists also producing Native American music.”  Tom Bee was also the driving force behind convincing NARAS to create a Native American Grammy category*.  Tom Bee has been such a significant influence and positive impact on Native American music that he has been the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, none the least are the Native American Music Awards (Nammy) for Producer of the Year in 1998 and the NAMMY’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.  He was awarded a Grammy in 2004 for production of “Flying Free” by Black Eagle.  Bee was also recognized for his many successes and his positive impact on native music when Mayor Martin Chavez of Albuquerque, New Mexico proclaimed July 27th, 2002 “Tom Bee Day.”

                                        

Tom Bee helped open the door and now Natives of various stripes have found their methods through more commercial avenues of music such as hip hop, rock and roll and alternative music to use mass media as a way to further the cause of their national identities and to demonstrate how corporate interests impact their lives.  Shadowyze whose first album release was produced by Tom Bee uses South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation as the backdrop for the Native American Hip Hop video “BUMPY ROADS,” which conveys the struggles and obstacles of living in a lower economic bracket – something that truly does cross ethnic boundaries – but in the very culturally specific setting of a Lakota reservation.  In this manner artists like Shadowyze, Litefoot and John Trudell have learned to use this medium of music to convey social messages and bridge cultural gaps, helping to portray the values and economic situation of indigenous cultures more accurately.

The Internet Provides a Higher Standard of Cultural Accuracy

The democratization of the internet changed everything in the media.  Websites and blogs are created for little or no cost.  Webmasters can form groups like the old webrings with similar interests and purposes linking to each other, creating a network accessible to the general public.  Native communities have been using the internet to reach out to the world and enlighten them within the comfort of their own living room.  Anthropological oriented sites such as media-anthropology.net or korubo.com are also easily accessed by thousands and potentially millions of people to provide education about indigenous concerns.  Now the internet phenomenon has taken on a new shape with social media like facebook and twitter.  Artists and musicians have free access to their own promotional site, and now unique, cultural and traditional music can be accessed by millions through their computer screen.  These sites are also being more directly utilized to further the education of anthropological studies as groups such as the Amazon Conservation Team, founded by the renowned ethno-botanist Dr. Mark Plotkin sign up and seek “friends” with whom to network.  It seems as technology advances pop culture, more accessible avenues are opened up for advancement in cultural awareness.

As this trend continues and people of different cultures become more aware and knowledgeable about other societies, a higher standard of cultural accuracy in the media increases.  Fewer people are accepting the disingenuous images of the stereotyped savage that has been perpetuated for centuries in American cinema as more Americans become aware of different cultures through the easily accessible mass produced media and the internet.  In this setting all people including Natives can use their own words, music and art to express their own values and views.

A New Era of Media is a New Era of Education

In previous decades anthropological resources could only be accessed through stodgy old books in expensive centers of education.  Many of the experiences that were once confined to anthropological field work and class study can now be accessed by the whole of society through the faculties of mass media.  As society gains more access to and education of anthropological experience through the media it becomes more sophisticated by its exposure to the disciplines theories.  The ability to use film, music and internet capabilities allows people to potentially reach audiences in the millions.  This is quite a difference compared to the mere hundreds that were previously fortunate enough to have contact with the books published and disseminated mostly within the confines of a university.

In the present era Anthropology does not have to be limited to text books.  As mass communication helped bear nationalism in the twentieth century, anthropological theory became more concerned with national faculties such as the media.  In the post-Vietnam War era United States mass distribution of music and video provided the means for an upsurge in nationalistic and culturally specific genres of music now called World Music to have a more international audience.  With the sophistication of technology through the beginning of the twenty-first century and the advent of the internet, the music and arts of the diverse peoples of the Earth can be accessed by each other respectively with the click of a button or the flip of a switch.  The old books of anthropological theories are no longer the sole guide to cultural awareness.  We may for the first time in history be at a point where cross cultural rapport can be achieved on a massive scale through the free access of media throughout the globe.

*discontinued in 2012