August 6th, 2009 11:29 EST
Interview with multi-talented Wodige Wehali
Chase Von: "Siyo,unali-i, Wodige! (Smile.) Have to be honest, though, I believe that means "greetings" in Cherokee and I wouldn`t know that if I hadn`t looked at your website. Can you tell me what it really means? And also, on behalf of the Student Operated Press and myself, I thank you for finding time for this interview.
I learned of you through a mutual friend, Adrian and she is truly a wonderful, kind-hearted spirit who thinks the world of you. And just from listening to your music, I can see why.
So again, how I greeted you? What does that translate to best in English? How important is your heritage to you? Oh, and for the rest of this interview would you prefer I refer to you as Reggie or Wodige Wehali a.k.a. Brown Eagle?
Reggie: It translates as Greetings, my friend. " You did very well. Whichever name you wish to use is fine, but for the sake of simplicity, Reggie is osda " (good). My heritage is very, very important to me. For years I have celebrated my African-ness, and continue to do so, and now I have added my Native heritage to my self-expression. I have been doing much research on my Cherokee ancestry after an illuminating conversation with my now deceased maternal great-grandfather, who was Cherokee. I also discovered through genealogy that my paternal great-grandmother was also Cherokee.
Chase Von: Thanks for making it easy on a brother! Before we get into your music, which to me really touches the core of a person`s spirit, I want to ask some other questions to bring our readers from where you`ve been to where you are now. So that said, where did you grow up? What was your childhood like? And was music something you were exposed to early in life "or was it something you were drawn to on your own?
Reggie: I was born and raised in Macon, Georgia, a small town in the heart of the Peach State, just an hour south of Atlanta. I would say that my childhood was normal. I was blessed to have two wonderful, devoted parents and a caring older sister. I had a few close friends but preferred to keep to myself. I could keep myself pretty entertained; I was always writing something, whether it was music, short stories or poems. I was at the top of my class throughout school. I wouldn`t have considered myself popular, though. I was pretty conservative back then "until college at least. LOL! Music was always in the home: gospel, blues, R&B. The Jackson 5 started it all for me. I loved that group! Then in the 80`s, Prince came along and totally blew me away. Music chose me from an early age, guitar being my first instrument. I taught myself several different instruments and drew from a variety of different styles. I listen to a little bit of everything.
Chase Von: I write so like a lot of authors and prefer not to use my birth name. You`ll understand that better after this statement, though, I think: If I was a movie director and was doing a movie of Jimi Hendrix and I wanted someone who not only physically resembled him but also had the skills to play various instruments and a voice to match, I would be calling you!
How often do people say you remind them of Jimi Hendrix? And although I`m what I call an asphalt Indian, " I still believe my totems are the panther, the hawk and the wolf. (I`m just sharing that because if this observation offends you, well, you could beat me up later or try to. (Heh-heh.) A Last Panther against a Brown Eagle? Wait! Do you have any other totems? (I might have spoken too soon.)
Reggie: Ha-ha " I get the Jimi comparisons all the time! I didn`t notice it until I started wearing the Native American headbands. My friends noticed before I did, and now when I see a picture of Jimi, it`s like: WOW! That looks like one of my poses! And the fact that Jimi had Cherokee heritage must be more than just a coincidence (his grandmother was a full-blood). Your totem observation is not offensive in the least. I believe we all have several totems, just some that stand out more than others. Waya " (the wolf) is my birth totem and it fits me to a tee. I am very independent and I am a loner. My eagle totem is what I aspire to be, having the ability to soar above things and grasp the bigger picture.
Chase Von: Great answer and We Be Cool. " Now I don`t have to reach out to some of my adopted tribal members that are in the book Dream Reachers " that I recently did with my incredible co-author, the very talented and wise Betty Dravis. Actress/pop singer Kiara Hunter thinks of herself as a futuristic Bounty Hunter at times, Actress/rapper Darcy Donavan believes she is Wonder Woman, and actress/model Shawn Richardz has a super-hero costume too! (But to be honest, I don`t know what her super-hero powers are, but I do know before she goes out to fight `Evil` she has to have some Cool Whip " OOPS! (She`s also in the commercial as well)... Heh-heh) So... Sorry. Shawn! (That`s like telling the world, Superman`s weakness is kryptonite.) You`re still cool though, Shawn, "cause no one knows who you are when you get into your secret identity.
Maybe she`ll be too busy to see this. In case I lost you there, Reggie, those people are all in the book, but now on to something more serious: Who are some of the people in music you truly admire "that you look up to? And not only in music, but in life, as well?
Reggie: The Jackson 5, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, R. Carlos Nakai (Native flautist), Michael Hedges (guitarist), Pierre Bensusan (guitarist) are but a few of my musical inspirations. The Great Spirit, Jesus Christ, my parents, Mother Nature, Martin Luther King, Jr. are some of the entities and people I look up to in life in general.
Chase Von: What is the process for you when it comes to writing your amazing songs? With me, because I write (create) also, I don`t sit around and think, OK, going to write something today. I just get hit with thoughts I feel like I have to catch before they get away. But again, what`s it like for you?
Reggie: Wado (Thank you) for the compliment. The process is very much the same as with you; it just happens. Sometimes I may go for months without any substantial ideas and then suddenly "BAM! A full-term baby is born! There are times that I dream of songs. Others, I have only words, or only music, and the rest comes much later.
Chase Von: I know you can be a one-man band, which is why if anyone does a movie about Hendrix I think you`re the one to play him. But how much do your fellow musicians contribute to your music, i.e. with ideas? And what are some of their names, so the world and our readers can learn more about them as well?
Reggie: Honestly, when it comes to my own music, I`m pretty much isolated, by choice. That`s my independent, waya nature shining though. I may ask my musical friends to contribute parts, but usually, I just do it all myself. When I`m collaborating with others on a mutual project, it`s much more democratic. My best friend Dean Brown (myspace.com/dushakband.com), who is a singer/songwriter in his own right, is a regular songwriting companion and occasional band-mate (in my group THE FELLAS). Some other fellow musicians that I have worked with include John Parks (myspace.com/john parks_19), Roger Hill (myspace.com/pleasantburg), Vendettra (myspace.com/vendettra), Marcus Henderson (myspace.com/donian), Ted Katner (myspace.78094483), Skeebo Knight (myspace.com/skeeboknight), and Sister Virginia (myspace.com/sistervirginia), to name a few.
Chase Von: This is something Nhojj and I discussed in the interview I did with him: how much of your music do you think is influenced by the experiences you`ve had in your own life?
Reggie: Actually, I think everything I have experienced is reflected in my music, but not always literally. My values, my biases, my sense of humor, it`s all in there. But you can`t take everything I write as a direct personal experience. It may have happened to someone else, or it may have happened in a dream or fantasy, or it may be something I want to happen "or not! Heh-heh.
Chase Von: I`m Black, Blackfoot and Cherokee Indian, and from what family rumors say, also a little French. I think it would be hypocritical of me to NOT accept others regardless of their race, and I also like to look at the world myself as Good People, Bad People. And personally, I think you can find loads of each in any race. There are even those that would say I shouldn`t identify myself as black, because all blacks originated from Africa so I should say I am African.
To me it`s semantics. And I really believe at the bottom of it all, we are all really one race. The HUMAN race "because when you get right down to it, we all require the same things: food, water, shelter and, of course, love. But what are your views on the racial tensions that still exist, even despite the fact that in today`s world we have the opportunity via the Internet to learn and to meet and understand those all across the globe? And do you think that is bringing the world closer together because we can in fact have friends of all nationalities?
Reggie: I feel like you, that there is only one race, with many different flavors. It saddens me that in this day and age there is so much strife because of race, creed, and national origin. Heritage should be a source of pride and respect, a grounding force. The Internet can be a wonderful unifier, allowing you to reach out to the world from your home computer. The same can be said about music, a very powerful and influential source.
Chase Von: Ditto, because I`ve been to Russia, I`ve been to Korea; I`ve been to more places than I care to name here. The common man and common woman of each country I`ve been to don`t seem to hate me because I might be different; they seem to be more curious than anything, so I think it`s hearts really. But what is your view on the state or condition of our current world?
Reggie: Simply stated, we still have a long way to go, but I believe that things have gotten better and will continue to do so. We are becoming increasingly multicultural and influencing one another. Pretty soon, we`ll all be the same color anyway! (BIG SMILE.)
Chase Von: I often didn`t share this because I thought it would be silly to most folks, but I did share it with another outstanding poet and writer who calls himself The Chief. I had already included him in the acknowledgements in my book before he responded to it, that book being Your Chance To Hear The Last Panther Speak. " He wrote me back with his thoughts on what I`d shared and it brought tears to my eyes, I`m not ashamed to say. And that was this: Every time I see a Hawk. I say God Bless God. " It might seem pretty silly or childish, but I think the majority of people who pray are asking God for blessings. And it`s my way of continuously reminding myself that to bless is to show thanks, and what better way to say thank you than to bless the one that made it all possible to begin with. Silly or what?
Reggie: That`s not silly at all; I think that`s absolutely beautiful. It makes perfect sense.
Chase Von: What are some of the causes you feel very strongly about and support?
Reggie: Anything that brings people closer together and encourages healthy curiosity, education and hard work.
Chase Von: How important is family to you, and what is your take on the state of our current world?
Reggie: Family is of the utmost importance. It is the setting in which we develop into who we will become. The Cherokee value family over the self. The wellbeing of the tribe is first and foremost. In the United States, the dominant culture values self over family. This is echoing across the globe, it seems. Only indigenous cultures seem to know the real score.
Chase Von: What would you say if you were standing before a microphone that could be heard by every child on the planet, and regardless of what language they spoke, they would understand you? What positive advice would you give the children, if that were possible?
Reggie: Always remember to give thanks to The Creator. Keep loving. Keep living. Keep learning. Keep asking. Keep working hard.
Chase Von: Where can our readers find out more about you, and purchase your music? Various links where it is available? And also do you have any websites that list your next performances?
Reggie: The portal into my little world exists at myspace.com/thefellasmusic. It has all the latest information on my CD/MP3 releases, gigs and Native American lore. For music videos, you can check out youtube.com/thefellasmusic. Yes, I got videos too!
Chase Von: I want to thank you again for finding the time for this, and I also want to say, one thing that surprised me about your latest release, in addition to your amazing voice, is that you have so many things on your CD that are totally instrumental. You truly made me remember my love of the flute. Sadly, I like a lot of other folks, equate the flute to the very popular character that David Carradine played in Kung Fu. Sadly, he is no longer with us. My friend, the truly lovely Mary Christina Brown, recently did a movie with him, so I know, personally, how much the loss affected those who worked with him.
I also noticed in some of your songs that even when you got funky you still included the flute. On the one I would call a dance track ( Wish Bone "), I think it sounded similar to Prince, who is a legend, as well. Incidentally, I share communications with Prince`s sister Tyka Nelson. She has a CD out called A Brand New Me, " and just like you said above, experience can be the best teacher "even bad ones, and she`s had a lot of them. Hope she doesn`t mind me saying that, but I just finished her book Mama Never Taught Me How To Sing " and she writes about them.
One last question, and I`m really serious on this one since I can be silly at times. I admit it because I think life is too short to be serious all the time, but... For you: What is the meaning of life? And I`m asking you this question because it is undeniable to anyone that has heard your soul-touching music that you have spent a lot of time pondering that question.
Reggie: For me the meaning of life is love. Love is truly the most powerful force in the cosmos. It can make you do things you never dreamed of. It can make you feel the strongest of emotions. It can change hearts. Without it, life is meaningless. I believe that what gives us meaning is our relationship to others, not just people but all sentient beings and the forces of nature. It`s a harmony. It`s a balance. Mitakuye Oyasin (we are all connected, from Lakota).
Chase Von: On behalf of the Student Operated Press and myself, thanks again, Reggie, for sharing some of your time, and continued success to you always. I`m so glad Adrian shared a truly remarkable spirit such as yourself with me, and I`m grateful I can do my little part here to share you and your soul-lifting music with this world of ours. One love to you, Brown Eagle, and again continued success from The Last Panther...(Smile.)
Reggie: Wado for your time and consideration, my brother Panther. Your light shines brightly. One love to you, and may the Great Spirit bless you and protect you on your path. Namaste! Dohiyi, unali-i! (With honor and blessings, dear friend.)
In case video doesn`t work, the link:
THE FELLAS - ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM
Read Dream Reachers Featuring Judyth Piazza