On his album Honor the People, there's a song Lomayesva wrote about his friend's death called "Love Life." In it, he sings, "Well, now that you're gone, it's become our problem / And friends and relatives, yes, you involve them / And all of them are asking me the same question / Who will care for his wife and his four children?"

In the past 10 years, Lomayesva says, a new word appeared on the Hopi Reservation: murder. Alcoholism and suicide among Hopi people were not uncommon, but until recently, he says, "Homicide was unprecedented. For one Hopi to murder another was unheard of."

It's something Lomayesva's seen firsthand. While he rehearses with the 602 Band on a sunny September day in Phoenix, there's a murder trial on the Hopi Reservation. The man on trial is accused of beating Casper's brother, Isaac Lomayesva, to death in March. "My younger brother was a product of the drug and alcohol problems," Lomayesva says. "He was beaten to death while partying with people. And the worst part is, there's a connection. We know the [accused] murderer's family."

Ben Harper and Lomayesva at Madison Square Garden.
photos courtesy of Casper Lomayesva
Ben Harper and Lomayesva at Madison Square Garden.

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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.

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Tragically, it was the second time Lomayesva watched someone he grew up with go on trial for murdering a brother. Claybourn Lomayesva was also beaten to death by someone from his village in an alcohol-related incident a few years ago. The killer was sentenced to four years in prison.

"The worst part is the way the murders happen. The best way I can describe it is, there's a reason we were called savages," Lomayesva says. "The beatings are so bad you can't even recognize the body. How could one Hopi do that to another?

"Native peoples are needed, and we need to change the mentality that we're insignificant," Lomayesva says. "Why not try to uplift yourself: mentally, spiritually, physically? The idea is simple: We are worthy of life."


When representatives of legendary folk singer Pete Seeger called Casper Lomayesva to tell him that Seeger wanted him to perform at his 90th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in May, Lomayesva had no idea who Seeger was.

Seeger, composer of such American standards as "Turn, Turn, Turn!" and "If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song)," wanted a dozen Native American artists to appear with him as the Native American Cultural Alliance, and Lomayesva was one of them. (Others included Iroquois author and activist Oren Lyons, Cheyenne flautist Joseph Fire Crow, and R. Carlos Nakai, a Navajo/Ute flautist from Flagstaff.)

Lomayesva called his friends and excitedly told them he had been booked to play the Garden for Bob Seger's 90th birthday. He quickly realized that his host was not the much younger "Old Time Rock and Roll" singer, but someone of greater influence.

Dubbed "The Clearwater Concert," the event took place Sunday, May 3, and was both a celebration for Seeger and a benefit for environmental advocacy organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater. More than 40 artists performed, including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Arlo Guthrie, Emmylou Harris, and Ben Harper.

Lomayesva found himself rubbing elbows backstage with the likes of Kris Kristofferson and Susan Sarandon, and performing onstage to more than 18,000 people. It was a big moment for him, but just one of his notable achievements in recent years.

He's played the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival twice (in 2002 and 2008), and as a representative of cultural diversity and indigenous peoples, Lomayesva's played at many events in D.C. He kicked off the Smithsonian's American Indian Heritage Month in November 2003 with a reggae concert at the National Museum of Natural History. In 2005, Lomayesva performed at the Kennedy Center's 21st Annual Open House Arts Festival. He also participated in George W. Bush's and Barack Obama's Presidential Inaugural Celebrations but never met either.

"All these political organizations have their interest groups, so when there's a new president, they all put together some sort of a galleria thing, and Native America was part of that," Lomayesva says. "There were a lot of tribal chairmen and bigwigs from Indian country at the show, but President Obama didn't come. It wasn't scheduled or anything. There were, like, 400 balls for him that night."

His playing at Bush's inauguration did not sit well among some of his music contemporaries. "I got a lot of flak from the reggae community for playing Bush's inaugural celebration because of what this president represented," Lomayesva says. "My thinking was: We were asked to do this for Native America. I'm representing Native America. Whether I like the guy or not is irrelevant. But some DJs refused to play my music. The reggae community's small, and some people were like, 'How dare this Native American guy do this celebration for this new president!'

"I didn't respond to a single one of those angry e-mails," he continues. "I just let them voice their opinion. That's what we represent — free speech."

Casper & The Mighty 602 Band have opened for international acts like Ziggy Marley and Michael Franti & Spearhead at the Pine Mountain Amphitheatre in Flagstaff. Lomayesva's even mentioned in two college textbooks: Who Owns Native Culture? (Harvard University Press, 2004), and Ethnomusicology: A Contemporary Reader (Routledge, 2005).

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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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