Navajo Band Teaches Native American Youth How To Write Their Own Songs, Overcome Obstacles

In the eyes of brother-and-sister duo Sihasin, music is a powerful tool with the potential to transform lives -- or that’s their hope, at least.

The Arizona band, comprised of Jeneda and Clayson Benally, plays an unusual brand of music that’s difficult to classify: it incorporates electric bass and modern drums with sounds more typical of their background, growing up as the children of a traditional medicine man in the Navajo Nation. Their father, Jones Benally, sings on some of their songs, which also harken back to their punk roots from their former band, Blackfire.

“We fuse our traditional songs into contemporary techniques,” Clayson explained to Indian County, a Native news website, earlier this year. “It's hard to describe. For us, it's a form of communication. Sihasin is Navajo for 'hope.' It's part of our philosophical foundation."

The duo played at and helped organize a Native American showcase at the SXSW music festival in Austin this year and, as reported by NPR, they have also brought their music and message to the youth of Indian County.

NPR reports the band teaches Native American youth how to write songs that help them express themselves, especially during difficult times. This is particularly meaningful as American Indian youth have disproportionately low graduation rates and are at high risk of suicide, according to the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute.

The band also recently spoke at a Navajo high school’s graduation, telling the students, according to NPR, "You carry our hope, you carry our future within you. I don't want you to feel burdened by that. I want you to feel empowered by that."

In addition to offering a message of hope to American Indian youth, the band is also optimistic that their music is helping to break down the stereotypes of what Native American music is, and what it isn't.

"I think in terms of representing our Native American heritage, we have to utilize every single modern tool possible," Jeneda told RYOT, a cause-based news website, this year. "It’s not only about allowing people to see us telling our story, but it’s also about cultural survival."

Watch Sihasin's video for "Take a Stand," released last year:



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