MEETING WITH AN INDIAN
John Two-Hawks, an Oglala Lakota Indian, is heard on Nightwish's latest album, Once. He sings, speaks and plays flute in Creek Mary's Blood and translated the poem of front- and keysman Tuomas Holopainen, which is heard in the song. John came all the way to Finland from Ozark Mountains, Arkansas, USA, where he lives in the oldest mountain range in the forests, in a secluded place far away from everything. He still has all the modern conveniences like everyone else though. This meeting was meant to break some myths about Indians and discuss about the co-operation between two different cultures.
Strangely travelling to Finland wasn't all that hard to John and he wasn't that surprised when Tuomas contacted him.
John - No, I wasn't surprised. The reason why I say that, is because I've toured in other countries before, performed in concerts in different places around the world and been asked to do different things with various musicians in the past from various countries. So it wasn't a surprise to be contacted by someone from another country. I guess the biggest surprise of all was that in America we don't seem to know much at all about this super group called Nightwish. I wasn't aware of what kind of a group Nightwish really is. We had to ask for music and music samples, we looked over at their website, we had to kinda get acquainted with the band. The more we got acquainted, the more we understood them and the more we were interested in working with them, because to me their music is more than metal, it's bigger, deeper and wider than that. It has a lot of artistic expression. The wonderful thing is, when Tuomas contacted me through King Foo Entertainment. He's the one who looked me up and he has a real interest in American Indian culture. He's spent a lot of time in America, read a lot of books and done a lot of research. So he's become really interested in our culture. When he composed the song Creek Mary's Blood, he wanted a Lakota, a flute player. As it was told to me anyway, he went to the American embassy and asked for the name of the best Lakota flute player you can find. Surprisingly they gave him my name. That's how it started and then my people talked to his people and worked all the details out and we flew over here.
John - I'm not foreign to being in the metal circles with this type of music. Years ago I was a frontman for two different heavy metal bands in the United States. They were very good bands, sold out some civic centers and we had a really good start going and then the bands broke up. That happened two times in a row and I said that's it, I'm going solo, I'm tired of working with other people. It was really a life long dream of mine to be a rock star in a way, and since then I've become a really famous musician in my own right. But this is a chance to go back to my heavy metal roots and kind of enjoy this experience, because I just love this music, and I especially love the music of Nightwish.
John - I call Tuomas a Shadow Soul, his soul exists in the dark places in the shadows of the world. Through his writing and through the music of Nightwish he brings out into the open the expressions, that I think we all feel in the deep, dark places of our soul. The crying out, the anguish, the pain, the longing for more, the understanding, I think he calls to that in his writing. One of the reasons why I decided to do this and come over here, was because the music is absolutely phenomenal and I'm a musical perfectionist myself. When I heard the music I said wow!, but the lyrics, when I read them, they sold me, that was it, because his lyrics mean something. They're more than just a bunch of blabber, he's saying something important and that to me made it worth everything.
American Indian in heavy metal bands, that's something. John's personal taste in music is very colourful though. John's old bands might not be familiar to metal fans in Europe.
John - No one will know them. The first band I played with was Embraced Wisdom and the second one was a bit more heavier, we were more like a thrash metal band, that band was called Kingdom Glory. That was a real powerhouse, heavy duty band. We sold out some civic centers with that group and we had some great times. As it sometimes goes though, people don't get along and so it didn't work out. But that's alright, here I am. I'm also a musical eclectic, which means I listen to just about anything. I'm a musician and I mean that from the truest sense of the word, I like all music. I listen to hip hop, metal, both new and old folk music, everything from Bob Dylan to John Mayer and everything in between. Even some good country music. Of course I also like listening to American Indian style music. Musically I'm influenced by a lot of different types of music.
It's good to be inspired by various things.
John - Absolutely, because I think it makes you as a person and a musician more intelligent, more wiser, but all in all it makes you more well-rounded, which means you have many inputs, not just one or two.
John shares the message Tuomas brings out in his lyrics, but his translation to Lakota language didn't come all that easy.
John - Translating that poem was a pain in the rear end, and I say that with a smile, because it was difficult. English doesn't translate that well into Lakota. English is a language of words, Lakota is a language of concept. So the words in Lakota can mean many different things depending how you use them in the sentence or with other words. What was important for me to do, was to stay true to Tuomas' concept with what he was trying to say with his poem. So it says both what Tuomas wanted to say and what I wanted to say as well. I did my best, but there's always somebody who would've done it differently. Just like everything, we choose the different words and mean different things. I chose the words I thought were the best for this. It is what it is, it's done and it's meant to be that way.
There are plenty of Lakota speaking people besides John Two-Hawks.
John - I think there's only one American Indian nation that has more speakers of their language than us, and that's the Navajo. So we're the second largest group of Indian people, as far as the language being alive and well. As far as numbers, that's hard to say. I would say many, many thousands are fluent speakers. Then there are thousands more, who are what I call semi-fluent, people who can speak it pretty well, but are still learning it. It's a language that's definately not dead. It's definately alive and living, changing and growing, a functional language that we still use today.
Working more in the music business interests John.
John - Tuomas and I actually had a conversation about a possibility of doing something in the future. Maybe a whole album of some kind. It just depends on his schedule and mine, we're both pretty busy guys, so it might be hard to get us together. But we love the concept, it's never been done what we're doing, playing these ancient American Indian flutes, old chants and putting that kind of stuff with keys, guitars and orchestral sound. It's never been done really, but it's incredibly powerful. I think it makes a powerful statement, it has a lot to say and I think we've just scratched the surface of what we can do with it. So we'll see.
Being a new experiment it has hopefully brought more work and fans for John.
John - I was on tour for four days, before we left to Finland. So we put a stop from that tour to come here. I concider it to be part of what I do, not seperate. It's just another thing that I'm doing, because I do a lot. I've played with a lot of different kinds of musicians in the past and it's all part of my journey, where I'm going and what I'm doing. I suppose it has increased what I do, in the way that Nightwish has a whole new group of people, that probably have never heard my music.
TEACHER AND A MUSICIAN
John - I'm an educator besides being a musician and a touring concert artist. I travel to universities and I'm a speaker at conferences. I share the wisdom found on the American Indian culture with people. I've had a lot of conversations with Tuomas. I've really been trying to give him some good words, some wisdom and share with him.
John's wife is from a different tribe, Odawa, who are said to be around 15,000 in Michigan, Ontario and Oklahoma.
John - Those that are familiar with some of the Indian nations in America, might've heard them called Odaawa (or Ottawa). There's very much difference between us. Right now in North America there are close to seven hundred different Indian nations and very few of them have an awful lot in common. We are very unique to ourselves, we all have unique culture, seremonies, artistic expressions and languages. My wife's people are from an area in Northern part of Michigan, my people are from the Great Plains. Lakota are the ones famous for riding on a horse, hunting buffalos and wearing the feather headdresses and the regalia, that I'm wearing today. Her people are not, they were woodman's people. They lived in the woods, so they were different in a lot of ways.
John was still wearing his Indian clothes in the interview after the bands warm-up. He prefers his clothes to be called regalia.
John - The reason why we say that, is because the word costume in the english language implies dress-up or make believe. This is not dress-up, this is legitimate, authentic and real and it is a real part of our culture. That's why the word regalia. I have two regalias. The regalia that you see, which I designed. I gave my design for the front of it, which is all my symbols and my visions. I gave that to a gentleman who's name is Eagle Horse. He's a fantastic artist and makes a lot of wonderful regalias. The other regalia is in the Once-cd for Nightwish, I designed it, made it and put it together. It wouldn't be right of me to say that without mentioning Pamela Medahko, who is another Odawa, she's a sister of mine and a friend. She made half of that regalia.
People who are into Indian cultures, yet don't have too much knowledge about them, ask different questions from John.
John - It's interesting, but it depends where you're from. I find that the questions differ in Europe, than what they do in America. In America some of the questions that I might get are what kind of an Indian are you, I get that a lot, or what tribe are you. Kind of basic things about our culture. In Europe the questions are different, because most of what people have learned in here about Indians, they've learned from a distance. That can be both a pro and a con, positive and negative, because from a distance you don't get to be up close and personal and get to know the intimate part of our culture. But from a distance you get to see the whole picture too. You get to make a determination about the whole thing. I find that a lot of European people have a better understanding of the truth of what happened to our people in the United States of America, than even the people who live in America, sometimes. There's exceptions, but for the most part I find that to be true.
Children response enthusiastically to John's visits at schools for teaching.
John - Usually they look at me and go wow! Their eyes get really big and they're fascinated. But when it's over, they come away with really understanding that we're just people, just like everybody else. There's been a lot of kinda Hollywood fantasy made up about American Indian people and most of it isn't true. So when I go to teach kids, one of the things they learn is that we're just people and more importantly, we're not dead and gone. We're still here and our populations are growing and our culture's are thriving. And we live in a real house, drive a car and have a job, wear regular clothes like they do. So the kids come away with a real understanding that wow, these people are wonderful, they're beautifully different, but they're still just people. Still just human beings.
PEACE AND GIVING
There's vast differences between Indian and todays culture.
John - Todays culture and our culture traditionally speaking are like polar opposites. Our culture is about peace and giving, giving all of yourself and all that you can to somebody else who needs it. Todays culture has become really busy and unfortunately we've become very attached to material things. And that's really not the way for our people, materia doesn't really mean much. To most our people it's important that we give something to the world before we die, that will make the world better. That's what I'm doing sitting here.
Today people have a better understanding for cultural differences than earlier.
John - Yeah, we're growing, we're getting there. We still got ways to go, but we're making progress as far as people's understanding of many cultures throughout the world, including ours. We're making progress, but we haven't gotten to the finish line yet. We're still in the race, we're still making our way toward that goal. Hopefully, ultimately someday we will through things like these, where American Indian goes on the stage in front of eleven thousand people. Probably most of them have never seen an American Indian in person in their life. Through things like these, through the sharing of our cultures, music and arts, through doing these with each other, experiencing each others culture we learn to love each other. That's what's important.
Well said, John. I still had many questions left for him, but unfortunately we ran out of time, just typical in todays world. So we're still pondering on a whole lot of questions about the ways of life of this beautiful old nation and the wise words we've been given through their culture. And whether John personally believes in life after death. But as John puts it;
"I cannot tell you the dreamy Indian story of your imagination, simply because I am not imaginary - and my story is no dream...."
So Indians are just normal people like anyone else, and we all have to ponder the big questions in our lives on our own, choose our own paths. On another note, we'll see what future holds for Nightwish. It sure has been an adventure so far.
Interview by Satu Reunanen, satu [at] rockunited.com