My last post was about indie/folk music being so white so this installment of We the Music highlights the brilliant singer-songwriter Samantha Crain who is a member of the Choctaw nation. Her latest album You Had Me At Goodbye came out at the end of March and if you haven’t listened to it you’re going to want to stop what you’re doing and play the whole thing.
Compared to her previous albums Crain’s latest work strays away from the folksy sound she’s been most known for and embraces a more pop sound. The first track “Antiseptic Greeting” makes that clear from the beginning. Crain commented in interviews how she feels more comfortable.
However, songs like “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” and “When the Roses Bloom Again” stand out as call backs to her folk origins. On “Red Sky, Blue Mountain” Crain sings in her native Choctaw language with a simple guitar being the prominent instrument on the track. The song “When the Roses Bloom Again” is the first cover Crain has done for an album and was actually written by Woodie Guthrie.
It’s important not to put a box around artists from minority communities and let where they come from define their work. However, it is important to support these artists in their endeavors so that they may serve as inspiration for others and further diversify whatever field they are in. Recognizing and embracing them as artists or in their work in general is necessary.
Crain singing in her native Choctaw language is significant – even if it wasn’t meant to be a political statement it is almost impossible for it not to be with our history of colonization and oppressing the Indigenous people of North America. The saying of “kill the Indian, save the man” represented the philosophy of the American government towards Indigenous people. It was racist and the policies that resulted created an oppressive system that’s remnants remain today.
By embracing and singing in the Choctaw language, Crain demonstrates to the world that Indigenous voices and culture are still around to be heard. That’s really powerful, especially being a musician whose genre is so white.
American folk music is interesting in that even though today it’s very white it wasn’t always that way. Its roots stem from variety of influences from Cajun to blues to gospel and music from the various Native American nations. Folk music eventually meshed into protest music during the civil rights movement and eventually Vietnam. But folk music is much more expansive than what we remember it to be and what we think of it as now.
Folk music in general is music that is traditional – passed down from generation to generation within communities. Folk music in America became a genre that got popularized by white males and continues to be dominated by them too. It’s important to remember that American folk music has roots in a multitude of music from different culture which isn’t represented as “folk music” today.
Crain’s music is important in keeping the tradition of folk music alive and acknowledging the roots of the genre. Not everything has to be political but it is important to consider the diversity of artists you listen to. Check out Vagabon, Benjamin Booker, and Hanni El Khatib; all three are artists who are representing different voices in white dominated genres.