Indigenous is the first American Indian band to have a Top 10 rock radio hit.
The members are Nakotas, born and raised on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota. Guitarist Mato Nanji, his sister, Wanbdi, brother Pte, and first cousin, Horse, style their music after Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and other bluesmen who left their indelible marks on this American art form.
At the moment, the band is in the studio recording new material, having just completed an American tour with B.B. King and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Onstage, the members of Indigenous don't evoke stereotypical American Indian imagery. They avoid it, preferring to be regarded as musicians first, American Indians second.
"Being who we are, when we go out to play, a lot of people expect flute music," Nanji says. At least, they did before word spread of this young band's incendiary guitarist and his accomplished blues chops. During a recent conversation after a set in Pittsburgh during the tour, Nanji explained the philosophy behind his searing guitar solos and the band's solid, percussion-heavy backing.
"We're trying our best to get people to feel the way we felt when we first heard B.B. or when we first heard Freddie King," he says, referring to two of the genre's greatest exponents.
Those feelings hit early, when Nanji and his siblings discovered their father's music collection. Greg Zephier, an American Indian movement activist and diplomat, once performed in a band called the Vanishing Americans. His tastes veered toward Santana, Hendrix, Buddy Guy, and other famed bluesmen. Inspired, the kids headed for the instruments they found stored in his basement. Wanbdi plays drums, Pte plays bass, and Horse is the percussionist.
"This is pretty much all we wanted to do, ever since [we were] 9 or 10 years old," Nanji explains. All four were home-schooled, which gave them more opportunities to practice.