Native Tongues: Origins


(this is the first of an ongoing series with our east coast brethren, Chances With Wolves…)

It’s funny that we talk so much about hip hop and we play so little hip-hop on Chances with Wolves. For both my partner, Kray, and myself; hip-hop was essentially our entry point to music, and like many people, hunting down breaks and samples was an educational experience that broadened our horizons exponentially.

About a year ago, I watched Beats, Rhymes & Life — Michael Rappaport’s documentary about A Tribe Called Quest. This brought back all kinds of nostalgic feelings. Having grown up in NYC, It’s hard to overstate how important ATCQ’s music was to us;  (the whole Native Tongues for that matter), and how closely connected we all felt to it. I walked by the Square Diner in lower Manhattan while they were filming the video for “Electric Relaxation”, and I remember feeling so proud to be a New Yorker, and so lucky to be able to experience what was coming out of our city at that time. Anyway, there was one scene the doc where Q-Tip is recounting how they got the name Native  Tongues, for the collective that included ATCQ, De La Soul, The Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, Leaders of the New School and so on. He said he was cutting up a record by New Birth called “African Cry”; specifically the line “They took away our  native  tongue, and taught their English to our young”, when Africa (of the Jungle Brothers), suggested they called themselves the “Native  Tongues”. This line sounded familiar to me, and I dug up the New Birth album and listened to the whole track. I realized right away that it was an adaptation of “Indian Reservation” or “Cherokee Nation” as it’s sometimes known, which was made famous by Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Paul Revere & The Raiders :: Indian Reservation Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)
The New Birth :: African Cry

9.00 PM

With a little more digging I discovered that the Raider’s version was based on Don Fardon’s version, which was in turn a cover of a 1959 Marvin Rainwater song called “Pale Faced Indian”. So I dug around some more and found a Santo and Johnny version, a really brassy Hugo Strasser version, a Disco one by Orlando Riva Sound, and then a reggae one by the Jay Boys called “African Blood”. I’m not sure if that came before or after the New Birth, but I thought it was an amazing idea to re-appropriate the lyrical content that was originally about one group of oppressed people, and apply it to the experience of another.

Hugo Strasser :: Indian Reservation
Orlando Riva Sound :: Sound Indian Reservation

And how, in this roundabout way, from a 1959 song about the plight of the Cherokee People, some of our favorite rap groups found a name for their collective identity that suited them so well. And then I played all these different versions on the radio show, episodes 220  and 240, and  I’m not sure if anyone besides me and Kray had any idea why it felt significant, but that’s ok. I just think it’s a beautiful example of the way music connects and self-references and gets re-contextualized..

8 thoughts on “Native Tongues: Origins

  1. YES. Thank you–I always felt so weird in high school being into so many different types of music, as if they’re somehow incompatible. If there’s one good thing about the digital age, it’s this ability to find these connections and figure out that we’re all riding the same cosmic wave, essentially. Truly beautiful.

  2. No mention of John D. Loudermilk? I’m quite sure he wrote the song “Indian Reservation” aka “The Pale Face Indian” aka “Cherokee People”…

  3. Love, love, love CWW. So glad y’all are keeping it up (and real) after the demise of EVR.

    Point one: even for a Canadian, super-far from NYC an all dat, ATCQ, and that record particularly, was absolutely transformative.

    Point 2: is there a connection here to Willie Wright’s “Indian Reservation” (an amazing down-home groove from a NE dude)–not version-wise, but spiritually, perhaps?

  4. AD: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I have to tell you how much I love your inventive curiosities and taste. I’ve been tracking AD while I was still in my early twenties living in Chicago, then in San Francisco, and then in New York.

    Back in Chicago, I’ve been listening to Danielle Lupi’s Soundtrack to the film “Hell Ride” produced by Quentin Tarantino but directed by Larry Bishop. These days I can’t get enough of Top Drawer, Marcio Greyck, Barbara Kelly & The Morning Good, Mitch Ryder, Davie Allan, Dino Desi and Billy, Chingon, Les Baxter & Lenny Adelson, Spindrift, Sounds of Harley, The Total Sound Explosion Ft. Dean Delray, Robert Rodriguez, and of course…..I have been hooked on Mondo Boys CONTINUOUS MONUMENT for years. If you ever want some free designer clothes feel free to email or message me. These songs make my Vincent Gallo, Comanci, and Patrick Joseph days, change to listening to Otis Redding, Trentemøller, Chinawoman, The Lucksmiths, Tone of Arc, and Harrison Harrison(Which I haven’t been able to find anything more about them or any other music than their track, “Kill Her With A Kiss.”

    Master Aural,

    Thank you from Chicago and all of my friends who’ve been dancing laughing and loving Aquarium Drunkard.


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