Reflecting on the 11th Annual Native American Music Awards: Letting artists shine.

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Story & Photos by Kimberlie Acosta
Niagara Falls, New York (NFIC) 11-09

 Jana Mashonee performing “Stay with me baby.

Hosted by Twilight star, Gil Birmingham, this year’s Nammys continued its tradition of bringing the best out of our Native American artists.

They shared their passion to a sold out crowd during October, at the Seneca Niagara Hotel & Casino and to the world live via the internet.

For the past eleven years, it has been an honor to share in their passion... to be able to capture it on camera and to be able to share their spirits with the world through my passion of photography.  

 Shane Yellowbird

I couldn’t tell you any show has been better then the rest, for they have all carried a spirit of their own. Each showcasing the many talented artist we have throughout Indian Country... each allowing their passion of music to be heard... each bringing to the world, the sounds of Indian Country through all genres of music, and showing to the world that their is more to music in Indian Country then just the flute or drum.

While these instruments are an important part of our culture and history to be treasured and respected, music in Indian Country has transcended beyond, crossing over into mainstream America and incorporating the culture and style into all forms of music, be it jazz, opera, country, rock, classical or rhythm and blues.

This year’s show was a fine example of just how much we have transcended. The show featured  consistently outstanding live musical performances’  along with an emotionally charged Hall of Fame induction in honor of the late Richie Valens who is part Yaqui by Nammy ‘Living Legend’, Tommy Allsup and Richie’s brother Mario and sister Irma.

Tommy Allsup (Cherokee), the original guitarist for Buddy Holly’s band was the one who flipped a coin with Ritchie Valens for the last seat in their ill-fated plane. Tommy brought the audience to tears as he became emotional while he shared this story of his tour mate Richie Valens and his tragic end.

Lifetime Achievement recipient, Stevie Salas, rocked the crowd with original Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzesse and bass player TM Stevens of Shocka Zooloo and the late James Brown.

Stevie’s story of fame is like no other. With luck on his side, he just happen to be in the right place at the right time. From being hand picked by George Clinton as the guitarist for Clinton’s albums, to  jetting across the country from city to city in a private jet with Rod Stewart, playing to sold out stadiums and being the guitarist for the Rolling Stones.

Stevie Salas

Having traveled the world, performing with many of the greats in the industry, Stevie now has come to a time in his life of wanting to give back. As host of a new TV show in Canada called Arbor Live, he is doing just that. Arbor Live is a high energy and fast paced music variety TV show featuring emerging Aboriginal artists alongside today’s global super stars.

Other artists who performed that evening included: the drum group Young Gunz, Dallas Washkahat and Fawn Wood, the amazing classical guitarist Gabriel Ayala, the rock group Eagle & Hawk, soprano opera singer Jennifer Stevens accompanied by composer Augusta Cecconi-Bates, the lovely Joanne Shenandoah and Michael Bucher, host Gil Birmingham with blues player Jimmy Wolf, Darryl Tonemah, the ever talented Jana Mashonee, hot country singer Shane Yellowbird and new artist Jace Martin who captured the audience with his Ritchie Valens tribute song, “We Belong Together.”

The host for this year’s Nammys, Gil Birmingham, star of Twilight.
It was an evening of flawless performances and amazing energy. I would have to say one of the best parts of this year’s show, that stands out for me is the graciousness and humbleness of the artist who were present, from nominees, to winners and the night’s performers. All being sure to recognize each other and not a one showboating, thinking they are better then the next. 

It has been an exciting journey for me to watch and take part in this beautiful transformation over the years of all these talented artist we have throughout Indian Country. Every year being able to see our veterans of the industry and meeting new and upcoming artists.

Looking back for example, I remember my first meeting with Jana Mashonee back in 1999. She allowed me her first ever interview and watching her blossom over the years has been nothing less then breathtaking.

With that, every year since 1999, I’ve gotten the privilege and honor to showcase my passion by capturing the spirit in our artist as they perform their passion of music to you and to the world. 

Joanne Shenandoah

Being part of the NAMA family truly has given me pride in being able to give back to all these artists who continue every day to give all their heart and soul to a passion that brings us joy, laughter and sometimes tears.





2009 Nammy Winners Lists