Keith Secola: Portals of the Soul

Native America’s premiere artist shifts gears for an album of meditative flute music

Keith Secola (Image: Facebook)

Keith Secola is one of the most successful artists in Native America. His signature song, “NDN Kars,” cut with his band The Halluci Nation, is still the most played song on Native American radio stations, 34 years after it first appeared.

Since he started playing professionally, he’s toured relentlessly. He’s made seven albums, featuring arrangements with his trademark blend of blues, rock, swing, folk, country, pop, Latin and Native influences. He’s famous for his politically conscious lyrics and sly wit. He made an inroad to mainstream recognition a few years ago, when Don Giovanni released Circles, his debut cassette album, for the first time on CD and vinyl. The label is also collaborating with him on the promotion of his new record, Portals

“The music is online as of now,” Secola said. “We may make some CDs next summer. When I release music, I play a long game and it seems to be working out. I don’t have the money to do a media blitz, but I appear on a lot of Native and mainstream playlists.”

Portals is the most unique album in Secola’s catalogue. It’s an all-instrumental recording, featuring Native flute, complimented by guitars, keyboards, bass, drum kit and percussion. It’s mellow, and adds touches of dub reggae, EDM and flamenco to his usual influences.

“Some songs were done pre-Covid, some were done during the pandemic,” Secola said. “For me, there was a bit of irony in the lockdown. The world was suffering through a lot of anxiety and chaos, but I couldn’t tour, so I had time to walk about five miles a day and let the songs come. 

“The album is an exploration of pitch, with the idea of interspecies communication in the background. One song, ‘Waves of Gitchi Gumi,’ is in F Sharp Minor, the actual sound of the waves on Lake Superior. ‘Gitchi Gumi’ is the name the lake had before white men came. I imagined putting speakers into the water and playing for all the creatures below the surface and in the sky above. I created an alchemy of sound, using guitars, flutes and sax-like tones I got by digitally manipulating my flute playing. I discovered the crickets in Northern Minnesota sang in D minor, just like the crickets in Arizona.

Keith Secola Portals, Don Giovanni Records 2021

“When I played in a band with Mickey Hart, he told me NASA had captured the sound of the earth spinning. That was also F Sharp Minor. One time, I was jamming with a Native jazz band, under a tree. A mocking bird came along and sang in tune with us. There’s an old Native saying, ‘If you want to hear what our ancestors sounded like, listen to the birds.’ All those sounds became epiphanies of awareness as I made this album” 

The wooden Native flute has a distinct, smooth mid range, but it’s able to produce sharp high tones, as well as deep bass notes. “Seeds” showcases Secola’s breath control, with long sustained notes floating over quiet, bluesy piano fills. A leisurely electronic dance beat propels the flute improvisations on “Portals.” Ambient synth textures add an otherworldly aura to the funky rhythms, while Secola’s shimmering sustained notes drift easily through mix. “Waves of Gitchi Gumi” opens with a field recording of waves washing to shore. A ghostly flute comes in over a beat that combines funk and pow wow rhythms. Secola’s flute closes the track, playing warbling open-ended tones that blend with impressive, distorted electric guitar melodies. 

“This music is an implosion into inner space,” he said. “My relationship with the flute, guitar and piano draws on Native music, but this is not a traditional Native flute album. This music is intercultural and intergalactic.” 

 

AUDIO: Keith Secola Portals (full album)

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j. poet

j. poet has been writing about music for most of his adult life. He has contributed to the San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Express, Harp, Paste, Grammy.com, PlanetOut.com, American Profile, Creem, Relix, Downbeat, Folk Roots, New Noise and more national and international publications and websites than he can remember. He wrote most of the Musichound Guide to World Music (Visible Ink, 2000) and had two stories in Best Rock Writing 2014 (That Devil Music). He has interviewed a wide spectrum of artists including Leonard Cohen, Merle Haggard and Godzilla. He lives in San Francisco. 

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