Daniel Oppenheimer has written a useful and interesting article on David Samuels’s recent ethnography Putting a Song on Top of It: Expression and Identity on the San Carlos Apache Reservation for the Valley Advocate, a news and arts weekly published in Easthampton, MA.
The article is extensive, reviewing the book and, perhaps of greater interest to readers here, providing a detailed description of the circumstances of Samuels’s relationship with the San Carlos Apache, his research, and the production of the book. Oppenheimer is effective at describing the complexities of Apache muscial life and, indeed, of the anthropological project Samuels undertook to understand the ambiguities inherent in Apache-country music and the connections between country music and Apache culture.
Most of his subjects–or “consultants,” as he calls them–liked traditional Apache music, and they also liked rock music, country music, reggae music. And they liked to hybridize, slipping local references and Apache words or jokes into pop songs, translating entire rock songs into Apache just for the fun of it. A song didn’t even have to be Apache-ized in an explicit, or implicit, way to become part of how many people thought of themselves as Apache.
“The question of why San Carlos Apaches like rock and roll or country or reggae or any other popular musical form,” writes Samuels, “is not mysterious. But it often strikes people as facetious if I say, ‘Because they grew up with it.’ … At the same time, though, that answer is facetious because it doesn’t explain what ‘growing up with it’ can mean in the specific contexts of various communities and individuals.”
That ambiguity, and ambiguity in general, lies at the core of what makes Samuels’ book fascinating (and sometimes frustrating).
Oppenheimer has a second, related piece in the current issue. It is called ‘Apache Country’ and it is about one of the Apache musicians in Samuels’s book.
(I blogged about Putting a Song on Top of It here.)