2138 2
2138 2
[fa:p:id=1066718605,j=r,s=s,l=p]AUSTIN DAZE: Native Roots blends both the spiritual philosophies and musical elements of reggae and Native American culture. How did this first happen?

JOHN WILLIAMS: Native Roots is a partnership between me and the lead singer Emmett Garcia. As far as the reggae music, for me, it goes back years and years into the ’70s. The Native American movement was real strong in northern Arizona—I grew up on a reservation there—and we just listened to Bob Marley every single night. What he said seemed to relate directly to what we were experiencing. The message was that we needed to lift up and stay strong when everything was pushing us down. That was my first experience with reggae music and Rasta. And then I did some traveling. I played a variety of styles of music and was playing in a band that had a Santana-like sound. We got to go to Europe, and I really found how universal reggae music was. I thought it was just us in northern Arizona that were listening to reggae music day and night, and I found out the whole world was. So when I came back I made a conscious effort to mold my musical focus on reggae music and to do it in the true spirit. I researched about the religion and the philosophy—I did a lot of reading.

AD: How does this message of Rasta work with the Native American message?

JW: There are a lot of parallels: the universal concept of understanding and respect and everyone coming from the same heart and soul—but at the same time standing up for what is right and speaking out against bad things. That’s totally how it relates.

A lot of reggae lyrics are positive and deal with celebrating everyday what we have and who we are. The title track of our latest CD is the song “Celebrate.” Since I put together all the music and have written the lyrics on several songs, one of the things I try to do is create a variety. We are not trying to imitate note for note, sound for sound reggae music—that is just the way it comes out. I try to create a variety. Sometimes you will hear blues in there, sometimes you’ll hear a little Latin line—it’s probably not true Latin but our rendition of Latin because we just make everything our own. Like Bob Marley says, “It’s all in the feel.”

Our last album Celebrate has a little jazz influence. It’s been characterized as our best production yet.

AD: What is the main message of your music and what is the theme you hope to communicate? Who is your message for?

JW: Our message is pride in being Native, but also pride in being whoever you are—universal pride. The other message is not to look back to the past but to think about the future in a positive way. That I think is the universal. Maintaining spirituality; the importance of prayer; the importance of culture; and the importance of respecting one another are also our messages. And if you think about it, that’s exactly along the same lines as Rasta. But the thing is we didn’t copy Rasta, that’s just the way that it is.
All people, all races.

Our song, “Frybread” is a reggae version of a friend’s song by the same name. In keeping with the total essence of the song I created this reggae version and people just love that song. It’s kind of funny because Frybread is a very unhealthy food, but it is part of the evolution of Native Americans. It’s kind of funny because yesterday I got a call from Canada and they were talking about political struggles and they are doing a compilation CD and they are renegotiating trading rights and there are going to be some protests. They are putting together a kind of protest CD. So I asked them, “Well, what song are you thinking about putting on?” And they said, “Frybread.” And I said, “WHAT?” Their answer: there has to be love and happiness and humor in every movement. Even in the old warrior days they were laughing. We didn’t take anything lightly but laughing and humor was a part of the Native American fight. With that, I thought, it’s a very appropriate song to put into a protest CD.

There is something to get a kick out of besides aggression and consciousness.

AD: How is your music accepted within your culture and in other cultures? What are your experiences spreading this music?

JW: The first reggae band that I played with, people couldn’t believe their eyes. It was in Arizona and I had three native brothers from Arizona. I was doing the singing and we did mostly Bob Marley. In Native American country it was always rock bands or country bands—that’s it. All of sudden these three brothers come out with pure reggae sets, we dropped some jaws in northern Arizona and Houston and it was like, Ok, now finally we have a band that reflects what we have been listening to. It’s been widely accepted. The one thing that I would like to say is that reggae music is accepted across all generations. In other words, last weekend we played in a community outside of Albuquerque and we had 6-year old kids buying our CDs. We also sold CDs to people that were in their 70s—pushing 80—and they were so happy and so excited, and they were just holding the CD saying, “We love your music.” When I see a 6-year old girl who says, “My wall has Native Roots all over it” and then to see a great-grandma standing there saying, “Which one has “Frybread” on it?” I’m happy. I don’t know if that is just Native Americans or what. When we go around to Indian country it’s all generations.

AD: What do you think about coming to the “Live Music Capital of the World?”

JW: I’m excited about that. I used to do the music behind Joy Harjo & Poetic Justice—I used to create the music for that project—and we went to Austin about 10 years ago. I got to check out the Austin City Limits studio during the day when nobody was there. It was really cool.
JW: I’m excited about that. I used to do the music behind Joy Harjo & Poetic Justice—I used to create the music for that project—and we went to Austin about 10 years ago. I got to check out the Austin City Limits studio during the day when nobody was there. It was really cool.

In this article

Join the Conversation


  1. Marius

    Big ups tha site. Ja Bless

  2. Truckkas

    Does roots still exist?