April 10, 2008

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The traditional flute player
Native flute and dance at the Dana Center
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

When Kevin Locke started out learning and playing the traditional Native American flute 30 years ago, he estimated he was one of three or four people in the world who knew the instrument. It was near extinction, he said. Now he estimates he’s the only one remaining who knows the Native repertoire. But he’s not worried.

On Friday, April 18, he will perform at the Dana Center at Saint Anselm College with the Kevin Locke Native Dance Ensemble, which brings together native music, dance, theater and storytelling. This year’s tour is titled “The Drum is Thunder, the Flute is Wind.”

Locke’s performance has brought him to 84 countries. He enjoys traveling but also coming back to his town in South Dakota where he volunteers in the local schools, storytelling and playing the music to keep the tradition alive. Life is not great in his community, though. The area’s life expectancy for males is 47 years old. The unemployment rate is around 85 percent. Out of the 10 poorest counties in the country, seven of them are the neighboring counties, he said.

“Any normal person would probably want to move to the suburbs and get some comfort in life,” Locke said. “But I think you need to face it head on and see what you can do for the community.”

Over the years, he’s learned different stories from different tribes so he can keep each unique tribe history alive for its children. And it’s those stories and dances he brings to the show. “I just accentuate universal themes.”

He’s a Lakota, and his tribal name is Takeya Inajin, a Lakota term meaning “The First to Arise.”

There are a lot more people playing a similar style of flute since he first started, but most of the flutes are not traditional. It’s not even scaled in the traditional way.

“There are people who are really good, gifted musically, Natively, and do improvisation. People are buying all these recordings of what they think is Native flute music, but it’s not. It’s mis-representation.,” he said. “Most of the flutes you can’t play the original music on them. The vast majority of people are not aware of this. I try to keep it going and keep it alive.”

Locke is joined by Edmond Tate Nevaquaya, a Comanche/Choctaw, who sings and dances; Thirza Defoe from the Ojibwe and Oneida tribes of Wisconsin, known for her hoop dancing; and Doug Foote, a Lakota and a singer.

While the performance will be mostly Native American, there’s a larger role that Locke hopes to bring to his shows.

“All I want to do with my program is to celebrate the oneness of humankind and the nobility of the human spirit to help especially the kids to gain a universal perspective.”


Native Dance
Where: The Dana Center at Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Goffstown.
When: Friday, April 18, at 8 p.m.
Info: 641-7700, www.anselm.edu/dana.