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A new album hopes to get a new generation speaking, singing the Cherokee language

Hip hop artist Zebediah Nofire performs his song "The Baker" at a press conference announcing the Cherokee language album ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ (Anvdvnelisgi). April 13, 2022.
Allison Herrera / KOSU
Hip hop artist Zebediah Nofire performs his song "The Baker" at a press conference announcing the Cherokee language album ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ (Anvdvnelisgi). April 13, 2022.

The album, ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ (Anvdvnelisgi), is sung entirely in the Cherokee language and features metal, hip hop and folk artists. Its creators want to get more people speaking the language while jamming out.

Cherokee music is known for their rich gospel tradition. The song "Amazing Grace" comes to mind. But, a new generation of artists and musicians want to recast what Cherokee music is and can be.

That's why Jeremy Charles, co-founder of Fire Thief Productions, teamed up with Brian Horton of Horton Records to produce a new album called ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ (Anvdvnelisgi), which means 'Performer' in English. It features rock, folk, metal, Americana, reggae and hip hop all performed in the Cherokee language.

The album got its debut on Wednesday in Tulsa.

One of the artists on the new album is hip hop performer Zebediah Nofire with his new song titled "The Baker." Nofire is a graduate of the Cherokee Language Master Apprentice Program and an employee at the Cherokee Immersion School in Tahlequah. He said this is the first time he's written a song in the Cherokee language.

“I think it’s not only the outside people who have put us in a box culturally. I think we have put ourselves in one,” Nofire explained. “This project is a good way to show people that we can do different things outside of just hymns, which is about as far as our musical genres go in the Cherokee language. I hope that maybe I'll help get the ball rolling, and someone could say, ‘Hey, I can write a song,’ and it would be good and outside of the genres, as well. I hope to expand different outlets for our culture.”

The new Cherokee language album, ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ (Anvdvnelisgi), will be released later this year.

The musicians and artists worked with Native speakers to translate their English lyrics into Cherokee.

Charles, a filmmaker and producer, said the album is all about revitalizing the Cherokee language.

"We need young kids to hear music that's relevant to them, that they want to blast in their car stereos and in their headphones and sing along with," said Charles.

Charles said he was inspired by Maori speakers in New Zealand, who he said have made the language more accessible in movies and on the music scene.

"The Maori tribe in New Zealand have a complete music scene and a complete film scene, and we need to catch up to that," said Charles.

The last few years have been hard on Cherokee First Language speakers. To date, there are only 2,000 left. Since 2019, Cherokee Nation lost more than 400 speakers, some of them dying of COVID-19.

"Our elders tell us that if we lose this [the language], then the world ends," said Howard Paden, the Executive Director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department.

In 2019, Cherokee Nation passed the Durbin Feeling Language Revitalization Act, which poured millions of dollars into the tribal nation's language department.

Other tribal nations in Oklahoma are also working on their language programs.

The Fort Sill Apache Tribe was recently awarded more than $380,000 to restore archival recordings that feature Apache prisoners of war who were taken along with Geronimo in 1886. They will also transcribe, translate, and conduct linguistic analysis of the critically endangered Chihene Apache dialect preserved in these recordings.

Paden said he's called on Charles over the years to talk to him about creative ways to get young people to learn the language.

"ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ brings a modern approach to language revitalization," said Paden. "Thanks to the support of our first language Cherokee speakers, the musicians dedicated to performing in their Native language and the vision of Cherokee creator Jeremy Charles, we’ll have people jamming out in Cherokee in no time."

The album is slated to launch in conjunction with the 2022 Cherokee National Holiday over Labor Day weekend. ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ will feature 12 Cherokee emerging and seasoned artists ranging in age from 14 to 50 years. More information about the artists may be found at hortonrecords.org/cherokee. Participating musicians include:

  • Aaron Hale - Psychedelic Singer/Songwriter
  • Agalisiga Mackey - Country
  • Austin Markham - Pop
  • Colby Luper - Metal
  • Desi & Cody - Rock
  • IIA (Lillian Charles) - Pop
  • Kalyn Fay - Folk/Americana
  • Ken Pomeroy - Alternative Folk
  • Medicine Horse - Metal
  • Monica Taylor - Folk/Americana
  • Travis Fite - Reggae
  • Zebadiah Nofire - Hip Hop
Allison Herrera covered Indigenous Affairs for KOSU from April 2020 to November 2023.
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