"When we brought Jamaican artists to the reservation, the artists really seemed to relate to the Hopi," Gordon says. "The Hopi women would cook them food, and we'd throw them in the back of a pickup truck — the 'Hopi limo,' we called it — and show them around the reservation. The Hopi would always present a gift to the artist on stage, like pottery or a kachina doll. Time slowed down. It was an interaction, as opposed to them playing at a bar."

The first Jamaican artists to perform on the reservation, Freddie McGregor and Michigan & Smiley, came in 1984. It was after seeing the latter act that Lomayesva, then 17, decided he wanted to make reggae music his life's work.

Like most reggae fans on the rez, Lomayesva grew up listening to reggae greats like Bob Marley and Peter Tosh on cassette and eight-track tapes, but it was the message of one of Michigan & Smiley's songs that made him want to write songs of his own.

courtesy of Casper Lomayesva
Jamaican reggae band Culture visited the Hopi Reservation in about 1989.
courtesy of Gerry Gordon
Jamaican reggae band Culture visited the Hopi Reservation in about 1989.

Details

For more information about Casper & The Mighty 602 Band, visit their MySpace page or their Facebook page.

To hear a few songs from Casper Lomayesva, visit our Music blog Up on the Sun.

"The song that struck me the most was called 'Diseases,' and they're talking about how, if you don't take care of yourself and you're being reckless with your sexual life, you can end up with diseases," Lomayesva says, before snapping his fingers and singing. "Mind Jah lick you with diseases / the most horrible diseases . . . And I was like, 'Hey, I like that.' It's just what they were representing. They were pushing the positive."

For Hopi reggae fans, there is a primal connection to the music, particularly to the rhythms. Reggae's springy, offbeat echoes and ancient drums ring true to the Hopi. "I've always been around powwow groups," Lomayesva says. "The beat of the drum radiates sound, which is the power."

There are many messages in reggae that resonate with Native Americans: resisting political oppression, displacement from homelands, poverty, praying for peace. In his song "Why?" Lomayesva sings, "Being a native and living in America / Is like being black living down in Africa."

"Sometimes, you'll listen to a reggae song, and they're singing about police brutality. Well, we can relate to that, because we've seen it," says Lomayesva, who has a song called "Rez Cop" on his 2004 album Honor the People. "Reggae is music of a struggling people . . . We, as Native people, have been struggling all these years. Everything that you hear in reggae music, we can relate to. It's the way it's delivered also. It's just so sweet and melodic. I could listen to a Bob Marley song as easy as I could listen to a powwow song."

Colin Leslie, a business associate of the late Bob Marley's and a marketing consultant for Tuff Gong records, the reggae label founded by Marley in 1970, talked about the connections between reggae and the Hopi people in a 2003 Jamaica Observer article: "Part of the impact Bob had, with respect to his work on Earth, was the rallying of indigenous peoples. I think immediately of the Hopi Indians."

Gerry Gordon recalls how a young Lomayesva would help Culture Connection set up for reggae shows by putting up signs, setting up stages, and, later, performing as an opening act for "a couple hundred bucks and gas money."

"Casper was sort of a natural progression of the fact that all these Jamaicans came to Hopiland to play," Gordon says. "Casper sings about the same things Marley did, but he sings about Native peoples."

When Lomayesva started writing songs himself, he would scribble his thoughts everywhere. "I used to write lyrics on everything," Lomayesva says. "Napkins, Kleenex boxes, rolls of toilet paper — they'd be lying everywhere with jargon written on them."

Growing up on the reservation, Lomayesva has witnessed divorces, custody and land disputes, deaths, and drug addictions, and has made his own missteps. He certainly has plenty of real-life experience to draw from.

"This is raw. This is real-life," Lomayesva says of his musical muses. "We don't want you mining uranium on Indian land. We don't want you stealing the water and the coal to light up Las Vegas. We don't want you bringing alcohol onto Indian land. These are the things we talk about. We want our kids to get an education, get off the rez, make a life for themselves, and maybe come back to the rez and do something for their communities."


The Hopi Reservation takes up 2,532 square miles and is surrounded by the Navajo Reservation, which is about 26,000 square miles. The Navajo is the largest Native American reservation in the United States, encompassing parts of New Mexico, Utah, and all of northeastern Arizona.

There's a wedge between the Navajo and the Hopi. The tribes have been involved in a complex land dispute since 1868, when the United States signed the Navajo Treaty and established the Navajo Reservation. The Hopi Reservation was established in 1882. Both tribes have sued each other several times in attempts to remain on or regain rights to land.

Casper Lomayesva's father is Hopi. His mother is Navajo. Growing up in the Hopi village of Kykotsmovi, he saw not only tribal tensions but a cultural schism between his parents. "I spent a lot of my youth in between different cultures and religions," he says. "Each one of those peoples has their own different medicine. How death is viewed by one tribe is completely different than the view of death of the next tribe. My father believed different things than my mother. Communication was rocky."

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3 comments
CRASH
CRASH

how are brother, i just kicking back jamming to the jah music. just wont to send you and your family a holday blessing. jah love take care CRASH

Jamie
Jamie

It's great to hear positative things about Native Americans. It's great to just hear about Native Americans we're always in the back row. I know the white man always says we tread on this being our land but, when we r trying to make our own money, they (the white man) always tries to take their cut or limits us on how spend it. And they put us on the REZ so we won't prosper.... Great job guys. It comes from the HEART!!Keep it up, from ur Native Sister!!!!

Robert
Robert

Great article! Glad to see the New Times doing a music-based cover story about something besides the latest flavor-of-the-month band or rapper wannabe. Now, how about doing an article about the band Blackfire?

 
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