Behind the Scenes of ‘When the Stars Align’

Dustin Skenandore

dustin skenandore | yl voice | nov. 2018

“When the Stars Align,” a new CD release by Native artists was no small feat that presented a rare opportunity and magical experience for eight Native American musicians. In February 2018, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, songwriters and performers lived together in a secluded cabin for a week to write music. The participants included Dustin Skenandore (Menominee and Oneida), Wade Fernandez (Menominee), Phillip Lopez (Menominee), Kelly Jackson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe), Annie Humphrey (Leech Lake Ojibwe), Frank Montano (Red Cliff Ojibwe), Elizabeth Hill (Mohawk) and Sadie Buck (Seneca). They came from different backgrounds, experiences and represented different ages: elders and people in their 20s, folks raised on the reservation and others raised in the city, artists with long-established careers, and others just starting out. Musical backgrounds spanned practically every genre imaginable. This vast diversity was brought together by the strong commonalities of love for their Native cultures, their need to express their hearts and truths and their desire to share their talents with each other and the world.

The commonality led them to write and record 12 songs, together and in groups. On the first night of the retreat, they gathered in the large living room, sharing their stories and musical backgrounds. The power of the stories demonstrated their deep connections to community, family and culture. Music was more than just sounds randomly or purposely put together; music was vibrations that connected people. With microphones set up in the makeshift recording studio of the living room, days went by quickly: waking up, eating a meal together, breaking into several smaller groups, writing songs, recording songs, eating another meal together, writing more, sharing the day's work with the other musicians, sleep, and repeat. The discussions around the dinner table would grow to be spirited and range in topic from current music projects to issues affecting reservations and Native American populations to silly backstage anecdotes. As the youngest musician, it was a social experience that I will cherish forever.

Their songs covered a wide variety of themes from love and loss to comedy and tragedy. The genres include folk, blues, bluegrass, rock, Native American traditional music, hip hop, calypso and fusion.

Even with heavy issues like bullying and death, the musicians were dedicated to sending out good and positive messages in their work. For example, Wade Fernandez and Annie Humphrey decided to write a love song that represented a real relationship. It isn't easy but the “Bottom Line,” is that “this love is real, it's no fairy tale, some days it wins and some days it fails.”

Using the power of music, life experiences, humor and heart, these songs offer healing for everyone. A great addition to any music collection, “When the Stars Align, A Collection of Songs From The Native American Songwriting Project,” can be purchased at the Turtle Island Gift Shop located at 1641 Comanche Avenue, Green Bay, WI for $10.


Dustin Skenandore is a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University and currently works with the Oneida Nation Arts Program and the Oneida Nation Community Education Center.

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