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Guest column: Why I love the music of Brule

ABOVE: Shane and Nicole LaRoche perform during a Brule set May 25. BELOW: Brule leader Paul LaRoche talks to fans between shows.
Suzanne Kemp photos
By Suzanne Kemp

       I first learned about Brule about 10 years ago while attending Territory Days. I heard the resonating sound of the big cottonwood drums and was drawn to the site of the sound like a moth to a flame. I still remember seeing Moses pounding the big drum with his long, black hair flying out behind him.
       Then I heard the most amazing flute music. Nicole was playing the silver flute but the sound trilled - like that of a traditional wooden flute. It was explained to me that women don't play the wooden flute in the Native American culture and that was why Nicole used the transverse flute - out of respect. Paul was playing the keyboards with his eyes closed and his face illuminated with a smile as big as the

sky. Shane played a mean guitar, too.
       The music was memorizing. I bought two CDs that very first day and went back the next day just to hear them again. Brule is the reason I go back to Territory Days year after year. Their music is unique - a blend of rock, and New Age and Native American sound. It takes me to the past sometimes. I can imagine the hunting of the buffalo when I hear the song, “Buffalo Jump.” I takes me to a quiet, inner place when I hear “The Message.” I feel the anger and frustration of the Native Americans when I hear “Res Road” and hope and harmony when listening to “One Spirit.” Yes, their music takes me to many different places. And my collection of CDs includes almost all of the 20 they have produced!
       But their music is more than music. As Brule's leader, Paul LaRoche, would explain, their message is about reconciliation and forgiveness. As a child growing up in Colorado Springs in the 1950s, my favorite game was to play cowboys and Indians. My sister and I ALWAYS wanted to be the Indian. We fell in love with the culture early on. We used to live on Beckers Lane and walked to the Trading Post to buy headdresses and look at all of the Native American items there. Tonto was pretty cool on T.V., too. As I grew older, I learned more about how our government had mistreated the Native Americans by breaking treaties and eventually pushing them onto reservations - often the worst land and miles from their original homes. My heart broke as I learned more and more. I learned about the Trail of Tears. I learned how we took a beautiful culture and pushed it away without remorse or conscience. I felt ashamed and sad.
       So Paul's message of Reconciliation is pivotal for me. As followers of Brule know, Paul, a Lakota Sioux, was adopted at an early age and raised in a middle-class home in Worthington, Minnesota. It wasn't until his adoptive parents died that Paul discovered his heritage as a Native American of the Lakota in a tiny reservation in South Dakota called the Lower Brule. His relatives on the reservation welcomed Paul and his family, including his wife Kathy, daughter Nicole and son Shane, and they moved to South Dakota. Paul was in a unique position of having been part of two worlds. Maybe that is why he understands forgiveness and strives for reconciliation - for all people.
       And maybe that is the reason the music of Brule is so universal and so appealing to so many people - myself included.
       Brule plays annually at Territory Days. The show features the band performing hourly on 25th Street throughout the three-day event, accompanied by Indian dancers.

(Posted 5/29/14; Opinion: Guest Columns)

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