Asked how many siblings he has, Lomayesva closes his eyes and counts using his fingers. He calculates five sisters and five brothers (two of whom are deceased). His family home was full, he says, and full of tension, mainly because his father was an alcoholic. (Lomayesva says he has now rehabilitated, and the two have reconciled.)

Lomayesva's parents divorced before he became a teenager, and it wasn't pretty.

"I went back and forth between [Hopi and Navajo] reservations, and the tribes were bickering about land," he says. "When you had a custody battle out there, it usually involved federal marshals. And it did, in my case."

Lomayesva performs at a Gathering of the Nations festival in New Mexico.
courtesy of Gerry Gordon
Lomayesva performs at a Gathering of the Nations festival in New Mexico.
From left to right: Ritchie Havens, former Hopi Tribal chairman Vernon Masayesva, and Casper Lomayesva at Madison Square Garden.
courtesy of Casper Lomayesva
From left to right: Ritchie Havens, former Hopi Tribal chairman Vernon Masayesva, and Casper Lomayesva at Madison Square Garden.

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.

Lomayesva reacted by refusing to come home many nights. He says he had bouts with drinking. He was put on probation as an "incorrigible youth" and ultimately ended up at a group home in Tucson in a program called VisionQuest. Founded in Arizona in 1973, VisionQuest is an intervention for at-risk youth that provides services like counseling, sports, and job training. Lomayesva participated in the program from the ages of 12 to 16 and calls it "the best thing that ever happened to me.

"We did a wagon train — you know, pushing mules — with the idea that you can't con a donkey," he says with a laugh. "I also participated in a wilderness program, where we lived in tipis and did rope exercises. I rode a 10-speed bicycle from Tucson to St. Joe, Missouri."

Lomayesva attended public high school in Tucson, where he says he began writing and playing music as part of a hip-hop group that never went anywhere. It was his first time as an anomaly. "I was the only Native American in this school at the time, and then to be in a rap group?" Lomayesva says. "That was my first taste of organized chaos."

He graduated high school and tried to have a life off the reservation. He started attending college, but then his girlfriend got pregnant, so he quit school and took a job with an engineering firm in Mesa as a land surveyor, something he says he did off and on up until he got laid off eight months ago.

Lomayesva continued to attend reggae shows and make music while he helped raise two daughters, now ages 21 and 23. He has been married to a hospice nurse for the past decade, but in the early '90s, he was less settled, and his passion for the island sounds of reggae led him to make the first of three trips to Jamaica in 1991, when he was 25.

This was no swanky Caribbean getaway filled with resort amenities and white sandy beaches. Lomayesva says he spent his first month-long trip to Jamaica living in a tent he sent up in front of a friend's shanty. "I wanted to get the real-life, day-to-day experiences of the people," he says.

He would get up at dawn to help the family haul water uphill in five-gallon buckets so everybody could bathe, and he would make several trips a day. "People would see me carrying water — it was a village where I was staying. Eventually, they gave me a name: Warrior," Lomayesva says with a smile. "It was pretty cool. That was my first trip. You could just imagine the second and third time. It was like a homecoming."

In 1997, Lomayesva established his own record label, Third Mesa Music, and released his debut album, Original Landlord, under his Hopi name, Casper Loma-da-wa (loma dawa means "beautiful sun" in Hopi).

Lomayesva put together a backup band, which he christened The Mighty 602 Band, after the first area code he saw upon opening a metropolitan Phoenix phone book. As more gigs accumulated over the years, Lomayesva assembled a pool of talented players across the Southwest who could sit in with him, but the one constant has been bass player William "King Roach" Banks, who also plays bass for Valley reggae artist Walt Richardson.

Musically, the songs on Original Landlord reflect the reggae aesthetic — springy guitars, rock-steady beats, melodic keys — with splashes of soul, funk, and hip-hop. Lyrically, Lomayesva lets loose on corrupt justice systems, lack of education, and feelings of insignificance among Native peoples.

"To survive on the mesa you big up and be strong/The odds are against you when you fight the Babylon," Lomayesva sings on the title track.

In the song "Hundred Years of Redemption," he addresses the Hopi/Navajo land struggle: "The Hopi tribe upon reservation, in between Navajo occupation / There's speculation, of the situation / But still my people witness total annihilation / What we need is stronger education / to come together as the strongest Native nation."

Lomayesva has released two more albums on Third Mesa Music since his debut, The Sounds of Reality and Honor the People (both 2004). Each album reflects Lomayesva's love of all kinds of music — the foundation of every song is roots reggae, with Jamaican dance beats and spongy guitars — but he combines the island groove with elements like traditional native flutes ("Crossing the Borders") and tribal chants ("Don't Dem Know"). There's a heavy soul/R&B slant, too, especially on songs that feature the bluesy and powerful guest vocals of Phoenix reggae singer Sista Philly Blunt, like "Babylon World" and "Brother Leonard (Set Him Free)." The latter song, inspired by the imprisonment of American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier, includes a spirited, Southern gospel choir-type breakdown near the end.

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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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