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Native American musician's journey continues at Saturday benefit
With: Eddie Three Eagles, Richard Three Eagles Sealock, Maria Gil and the Matoska Dancers
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Cheyenne Mountain High School, 1200 Cresta Road
Tickets: Free with a $10 donation to benefit One Nation Walking Together; 329-0251, http://onenationwt.org/
To hear Yolanda Martinez tell it, she did not have much choice but to pursue a career in music. In what she describes as a message from "Spirit," she was told to make a drum. She complied with her first completed drum in 1987. But her journey had just started.
The New Mexican drum maker and songwriter will perform Saturday along with Eddie Three Eagles, Richard Three Eagles Sealock, Maria Gil and the Matoska Dancers to celebrate Native American Heritage month and benefit One Nation Walking Together, an organization which benefits American Indians living on reservations and in urban settings.
In this email interview, Martinez, who is of Apache-Comanche-Hispanic heritage, talks about her relationship to the drums, the connectedness of everything and her first big gig.
The Gazette: What drew you to drums?
Yolanda Martinez: The drums came from Spirit. I did not know, when this calling came in 1986, what a difference it was going to make in my life; the doors that were going to open. We all have a calling in this life's journey and mine was to be the Drum and my voice. My music also came to life when the Drum came. I grew up singing out in the fields, working as a very young girl. So it was easy to sing with just a Drum.
Gazette: Where do you draw inspiration for your songwriting?
Martinez: My inspiration comes from Spirit and from my life's walk. I may be in the middle of something and next thing I know here comes a song.
Gazette: You make drums, write songs and perform, do you have a favorite?
Martinez: I have eight CDs and (am) getting ready to release my ninth at the Colorado Springs concert. I do so many different genres that it's hard to have a favorite. I love singing so for my drumming songs. I would have to say "Lady Hawk"/"Land of Enchantment." On the contemporary side, it would be "America"/"Riding the Wind." On the Latin side, the song I wrote for my father: "Un Angel"/"Mujer Indijena." And on the country side: "Always & Beyond"/"End of the Day."
Gazette: What do you enjoy about each of these pursuits?
Martinez: Great Spirit has been so generous and good to me to allow me to have these gifts, be able to share them with the world through my drum-making workshops and concerts. I also love that I get to pursue my passion and be able to make a living doing it.
Gazette: What's your proudest accomplishment?
Martinez: Receiving my first NAMMY/GRAMMY (Native American Music Award) for "Best Female Artist" is when I truly realized that there were people out there listening to my music and they liked it. I was about the give up and go back to the corporate world because I felt no one was listening.
Gazette: You've moved around, living in New Mexico, California, Alaska and North Carolina. What inspiration do you find in each of the places you've lived?
Martinez: Everywhere that I have lived I have been guided by Spirit to go there. I feel my life is a medicine walk and my journey/purpose is to spread light (light being information), joy, healing and love everywhere I go through these instruments of my voice and my drums that are my gifts from Spirit. I lived in New Mexico till I was 15, then the family moved to California Central Valley. Then, in 1975, I was drawn to Alaska till 1983, back to California till 1993 to the Blue Ridge (Mountains) and finally, in 1999, back home to New Mexico.
Everywhere we go we go there for a reason, what that reason is we don't really have or need to know. Our job is to follow that guidance and do our work. I feel we're all here for a reason, the key is to discover as best we can what that reason is.
Gazette: You've ventured into some rather masculine territory. Drums are something of a masculine instrument. You were one of the first commercial fishing women in Alaska in the 1970s. How do you thrive in these masculine areas?
Martinez: That is so funny that you consider the Drum as masculine. The Drum came to a woman to bring forth to the people. It came to us to help us unite. The Drum represents the Earth Mother's heartbeat. Again, the Earth Mother is feminine. She cares for us nurtures us.
I grew up working in the fields from the time I could walk. I was raising my siblings at 7, cooking, cleaning. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty nor do I run from hard work. This is what helped me to get where I am. The commercial fishing was what my ex-husband did for a living. We met when I went up there. It was what opened that door for me to experience the world of the Oceans, the water people. It was like being out in the desert: It looks desolate although it is full of life. I spent two wonderful years working as cook and deck hand, also breaking ground for women (which I didn't know I was doing) and learning more about Earth Mother and her children. At that time, it was the "Last Frontier" and what drew me there was that I wanted to experience the last frontier, since I had grown up on one. It is an experience I would not change or trade for anything in this world.
I guess I thrive wherever I am since I see us all as one, be it a man or woman. I don't mean physically or in a feminist way. Now looking back on it, I hope I helped the masculine to look a little deeper at women because no matter where I am I demand respect, and this helps men to know that women are to be respected. We are their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. After the first year on the fishing grounds up there, they all knew who I was and I had earned their respect. I feel it's all who you are and what you bring forth. When I got off the boat, I started my own business: Yolanda's Frames & Gallery. When I left Kodiak, Alaska, the whole town met me at the ferry at 4 a.m. to wish me good journey. That's when I realized how many friends I had there.
Gazette: What was your most memorable performance? What made it so?
Martinez: Back in 1994 I went to Hunter Mountain, N.Y. and did my first show on the East Coast. It was at the Golden Eagle Juried Art Festival and Pow Wow. I had no idea how big the show was. My friends that I was with told the promoter that I was there and that I could sing. At that time I had my very first recording, "Resounding Spirituality." It was the dinner break and the MC came to our booth and said they had 15 minutes of open time and if I would like to sing. I said yes, so grabbed a drum and went to where the stage was. I had not paid attention to that area, I was so busy at the booth. The stage was huge! I had to walk up some stairs to get up on it. He introduces me. I walked across that huge stage (and) come up to my mic and see an ocean of people! I didn't know that just through the gate they had 10,000 people come through. I had never performed in public, just in my women's circles. I am standing there frozen and I hear in my head, "sing, sing, sing!" So I start singing a chant and the ocean of people all stop moving and looked toward the stage.Then they start moving toward the stage. I sang for 15 minutes, told them who I was, where I was with my drums and music and walked off as they roared with clapping and yells. I am walking back down the stairs and my knees give out from under me, it hit me what I had done. Thank goodness there was a young man there and he caught me so I didn't fall down. I sold out of drums, and 100 cassettes of "Resounding Spirituality" and I was booked for the following year and three years after that.