Even if most people’s education on Native Americans ended in elementary school, there was a chance recently to learn more about their culture.
The Silvercloud Singers, a New York City-based Native American intertribal drum and dance group founded in 1991, was scheduled to appear at the Park Performing Arts Center in Union City this past Thursday.
The group’s leader, Kevin Tarrant, is a resident of Jersey City and is the nephew of the founder of the well-known dance company Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Tarrant highlighted the mission of the Silvercloud Singers in a recent interview.
“We aim to promote Native American culture through song and dance,” said Tarrant. “We want to let all Americans know that Native Americans are still here today. We did not just exist in history as they show in books. We live in the mainstream way of life – holding jobs, going to school and shopping at supermarkets.” Added Tarrant, “At the same time, we believe it is very important that we work together to preserve the traditions of our culture.”
The Silvercloud Singers have performed at many traditional celebrations around the country including The Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow, The Toronto Sky Dome Pow-Wow and at the Schemetzun in Connecticut. They have also performed at major cultural and educational venues such as The Theater at Madison Square Garden, The Apollo Theater, Harvard University, Yale College and the American Museum of Natural History.
They have also recorded and performed with such music luminaries as Robbie Robertson (himself part Mohawk) and Midnight Oil.
Tarrant was born to do exactly what he was doing. Said Tarrant in an online interview, “I had a little drum and used to sing around the house…and in order to dance you have to know the songs – the beats. The more songs you know, the better dancer you become. For me, the next logical step was singing.”
And Tarrant has become well-known for his strong, clear voice – a voice that is able to tell the stories of his people.
According to Murielle Borst of the Silvercloud Singers, the name of the group was taken from Kevin Tarrant’s mother, whose Hopi name was “Silvercloud.” “There’re three generations of performers in this group,” said Borst, who happens to be married to Kevin Tarrant. “We drum, dance and tell stories.”
Added Borst, “And most importantly, almost all of the members grew up in the New York City area. Some parts of our family date back to the 1800s, some were in the Wild West Shows in the ’20s and eventually ended up here in this area.”
One thing the group tries to do besides emphasizing Native American culture is to get the message across that it is important and necessary to value one’s culture, whether they be Native American or Latino or anything else.
So when the group performs in a city like Union City that has a large immigrant population, the performance is that much more meaningful.
The traditions of Native American music and dance in North American tribes have many similarities to the performances by native peoples in Latin America both in the types of instruments used and in the choreography.
Said Kevin Tarrant in a recent interview, “I like to perform for a diverse audience because as a Native person, I feel that no matter what nationality or nation a person comes from they should feel proud of who they are, even if they look different or have different beliefs than everybody else.”
Certainly, Tarrant didn’t start the group, but he feels strongly that the native traditions that he was brought up on need to be preserved.
Said Tarrant, “The way things were explained to me is that each individual was given a specific job by the creator. That is, if you’re a good hunter, you hunt, if you’re a good speaker, you speak; if you’re a good singer then you sing. And that was your job in the community. I think that still carries true for today. My gift is to sing and carry the songs to the people. Even non-Natives.”
For information on future Park Theater performances, call (201) 65-6980.