Brule founder LaRoche changes his life, finds a calling
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1
Where: Pikes Peak Center, 190 S. Cascade Ave.
Tickets: $33-$38; pikespeakcenter.com or 520-7469
Paul LaRoche lived one whole life before the age of 37. He married Kathy, they had two kids and lived in Minneapolis. He worked as a civil engineer and dabbled in rock ‘n’ roll cover bands in his spare time.
With one phone call, though, everything he knew to be true about his family and his heritage metamorphosed. Out of that reconfiguration, the instrumental Native American band Brule was born.
LaRoche, the keyboardist and founder of Brule, knew he had been adopted as a baby. What he didn’t know, and what his adoptive parents never told him, was that he was full-blooded Lakota, indigenous people of the Great Plains.
Both of his adoptive parents passed away in 1987, and as he went through the mourning process, his wife sorted through their belongings and unearthed his adoption papers. She kept the secret from him as he grieved, but worked to track down his family. Two weeks before Thanksgiving in 1993, LaRoche received that life-changing phone call from his younger biological brother.
“My reaction was (that I was) totally blown away,” LaRoche says. “I was shocked, excited. I was emotional, thrilled. The true emotion is hard to describe. It was exhilarating and life-changing. It was somewhere near a near-death experience and a new lease on life.”
He found out his biological parents had already passed away, but he also had a sister, and they all lived on the Lower Brule Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. His biological siblings and other relatives had not known a third child had been born and adopted. LaRoche picked up his family, almost immediately, and moved to the reservation.
“Every adoption has a reason why the child was adopted, and it’s usually hardship,” LaRoche says. “When you come back, it stirs up old emotions. We got around that because my mom and dad were gone. The set of circumstances was very rare and allowed a reunion without some of the history of the adoption.”
The family lived on the reservation for seven years, and there LaRoche returned to his music. His Lakota family told him he was blessed to grow up off the reservation, in a family that was able to financially support his interest and talent in music. His brother encouraged him to use his gift and go out and make a name for their culture.
Musical inspiration was everywhere he looked on the reservation, LaRoche remembers. It was in the sun setting on the bluffs and in their first winter. It was in every story they heard about the culture and in every new experience with the tribe. He found his muse, and then his music, not only in nature but in the melting together of his two contrasting lives.
“Given time to assimilate, we felt we’d come home,” LaRoche says. “We didn’t become Native Americans overnight. I’ll never be like somebody who was raised on a reservation. You can’t replace the fact that something happens when you are raised on the reservation. I’m a product of two worlds: the best of mainstream America and the product of Native American struggles. I am qualified to work as some sort of ambassador for the culture.”
Quickly after Brule’s inception, his daughter Nicole joined Brule, playing the flute, and then his son Shane, playing guitar. His wife is the booking agent, photographer and producer. They travel the country, performing with several other musicians and Native American dancers. The band and the dancers are known as AIRO, the American Indian Rock Opera.
Sixteen CDs later, Brule has made the mark LaRoche dreamed about. The band has won multiple musical awards, including a handful of Native American Music Awards, will soon have a permanent home for the show in the Black Hills of South Dakota and in January, will embark on their first foreign tour to China.
“I look back at what’s happened to us and there’s been a bigger picture at work. We’re not in control of that plan,” LaRoche says. “If we’ve done anything as a family, we’ve followed the course that was set for us. That’s one of the keys to enjoying life, the key to happiness: Follow what your calling is.”