Legendary Native folk and blues singer returns with a new clip and a reissue of his 1992 classic 'Circle'
“Indian Cars,” often written as “NDN Cars,” is often cited as the most requested song on Native American radio across the USA and Canada. Originally released in 1992 on his record Circle, the song catapulted Keith Secola to wide renown in Native American music communities. Six records, innumerable tours, and twenty-five years later, Secola has won seven Native American Music Awards, a spot in the Native Music Hall of Fame, and an iconic status with everyone who’s been touched by his music, activism, and message. That includes a smattering of mainstream rock figures who have been lucky enough to work with or know Secola, including U2’s The Edge who even gave a liner note quote for the upcoming anniversary reissue of Circle: “Keith rose up from his own with anthems like NDN Kars that continue to speak to us all on issues of culture, race, heritage, language and power…As he has proved with his own music, the radio can certainly scream.”
Circle was first self-released under Secola’s imprint Akina Music, which he describes as a “A Native American production co-operative, helping people to help themselves.” The album was a collection of songs he had written and released in the 80s and was for a many years only available on small run cassettes. The reissue, out December 1st on Don Giovanni Records, marks the first time the album will be available on vinyl. Secola met Don Giovanni label head Joe Steinhardt while watching an Indigo Girls performance at a festival near Ithaca, and they quickly bonded over the idea of collaborating. “Something about the honesty of a punk label that is appealing,” says Secola, “Do not want to be so numb that normal does not bother, nor so angry that life is no fun. Being a Native American songwriter one has to prepare for the brutal truth.”
Secola has never stopped performing, writing new music, or working tirelessly for social justice. His last official release was 2012’s Life is Grand, but he’s been hard at work at an album of “teachings and stories from native America” entitled Grandpa’s Lullabies, another album US 60, and he’s completed his longtime project Seeds, a “Native American Rock Opera” which he describes as “a story ready to happen…entertaining, metaphysical, philosophical and spiritual – its time has come.” His music and performing are an activism all their own, but in addition Secola has participated in a number of movements, such as joining the fight against new uranium mining on the Navajo Nation, and recently writing a song to benefit Puerto Rico. “Protecting our children is the most important action we can do as people. Human activism, standing up for our people, fighting for the underdog, elders, women and children will always be part of the musical path. It is our mission to bring cultures together, closer to understanding, so words appropriating our culture will seem foolish, uneducated, non-enlightened,” he says.
The new video for “Indian Cars” was produced in collaboration with Faye Orlove and features animations of the scenes described in the lyrics, with the addition of Ojibwe translations of the English lyrics placed over the images. Secola explains that, “Music is a wonderful platform to present our language and culture, it is important that we preserve and recover. The metaphoric symbolism of language is that of protecting our children. It is a gift to our future generations. It is a teaching tool. Respecting those who teach our language and culture.” The words float beneath images of Secola, his car, and his landscapes, giving us a moving additional layer to a song already so deeply imbued with history.
The video also expands the song via a visual PSA placed over the mid-song guitar solo, warning that cars, especially when mixed with alcohol, can be a destructive force, noting especially the disproportionately high number of deaths from alcohol related crashes in the American Indian community. The PSA “grew from need,” says Secola, “It was intended to be a separate release. The effectiveness of including it in such a happy song was obvious. The pause in music, is to remind people of the sorrow of the earth, this is knowledge from our elders.”
Secola’s ability to attach these new messages to his music speaks to its timelessness and his continued relevance as an artist and activist. A musician of his stature could have easily reissued the record and been completely hands off, wanting it to remain a document of 1992, but he is actively creating something new here, manipulating his old material to reach a new audience, and continuing to speak new truths to his established fans. We’d all do well to heed the lessons in his 25 years of work. Secola will be touring to promote the album, and he remains optimistic that he can continue to spread his message via his powerful art. “See you on the road,” he says, “Come to show support for Native Americana.”