The Dineh Tah' Navajo Dancers of Albuquerque, New Mexico, performing the Sash Belt Dance at the Library of Congress in 2005.
The Navajo Nation is located at the intersection of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. "Navajo" was a name given to the group by Spanish explorers and is used as the English name for the tribe. They call themselves the "Diné," meaning "the people" (also spelled "Dineh"). When Europeans arrived in the Southwest the Navajo were principally hunter-gatherers, but had learned some agriculture from neighboring Pueblo tribes. When the Spanish brought sheep and goats to trade, the Navajo began herding animals. A series of prior conflicts with the United States Army escalated during the American Civil War, resulting in the mass removal of various settled Navajo people from Arizona between 1864 and 1866. They were marched at gunpoint to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico, where they were held as prisoners. Many died during what the Navajos called the "Long Walk." A reservation in New Mexico was established by treaty in 1868 for this imprisoned tribe, however, many returned to the lands they had held before the removal. They petitioned for the restoration of their lands, succeeding in regaining parcels of land over many decades, now having the largest reservation in the U.S. The Navajo people have a long history of struggling to hold on to their culture in the face of attempts at forced assimilation and have maintained their language and culture through educational programs. In 1968 they founded the first college run by and for American Indians, Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona.
As with the music in other American Indian tribes, traditional Navajo music always includes singing or chanting. Accompanying instruments, depending on the song genre, may include drums, various kinds of rattles, and bullroarers. Types of songs range from those that are personal to those used in social and family settings, those used in personal ritual, and those used in important ceremonies.
This presentation includes a webcast of songs and dances presented by the Dineh Tah' Navajo Dancers of Albuquerque, New Mexico, recorded at the Library of Congress in 2005. The troupe performs the Basket Dance, which is a ceremonial blessing and is also symbolic of the history of the Navajo people; the Sash Belt Dance, which concerns the introduction of weaving to the Navajo and weaving as a symbol of the web of life; the Bow and Arrow Dance, which honors veterans; and the Ribbon Dance, which is a dance of healing traditionally performed at the summer and winter solstices. The dances as performed for the general public have been modified in order to respect the sacred ceremonies of which they are a part. Dineh Tah' was founded in 1993 by Shawn Price to promote a deeper understanding of the cultural heritage of the Navajo (Dineh) people. This gifted, energetic group of young dancers is dedicated to providing audiences with an entertaining and educational look at Navajo traditions.
Contemporary Navajo music spans a wide variety of artists exploring various musical genres and incorporating aspects of Navajo musical expression, history, and experience. A few examples include Chucki Begay and the Mother Earth Blues Band, a group that mixes rock and roll, blues, and compositions about the Navajo experience, such as "Long Walk," a song about the Indian removal in 1864; Blackfire, an alternative punk rock band composed of members of the same family who produce songs dealing with Navajo and American Indian politics, sometimes including Navajo chanting in their compositions and traditional songs in Navajo as part of their performances; and Tribe 2 Entertainment, a rap duo who perform their songs in Navajo. With such creative blendings of contemporary music and tradition, and the many musical artists among the Navajo, the influence of Navajo music has spread far from their home in the Southwest.