Identity and In-Betweenness: Hybridity as Transcultural Mobility in the Music of Native American R. Carlos Nakai and his Band Jackalope

Dorothea Gail

The Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz


In the more than three decades of his career, R. Carlos Nakai, a Navajo/Ute Native American musician, has demonstrated an unusually high degree of transcultural mobility, with an accomplished record in classical and jazz trumpet, Native American flute, the New Age genre and synthesizer music. With his Mexican-Anglo-Native band Jackalope (named for a mythical hybrid animal), Nakai creates sites and states of in-betweenness, constructing a hybrid style with allusions and influences ranging from the Eagles’ “Hotel California,” through the soundtracks of filmic Westerns, to New Age meditative composition. I investigate the concept of hybridity as it manifests in Jackalope, through which the band members negotiate their flexible identities through their music. They produced four CDs between 1986 and 1993. The two CDs released in 1993 show a split in style and approach: one uses experimental musical elements and is mockingly critical and topical in its examination of the voyages of discovery of Columbus; the other CD engages with genres of mainstream pop or world music with no obvious political undertones. The Western/Native hybridity separates in its parts. By the time the band dissolved, its core idea of a transformative multiculturalism, had not achieved the hoped-for resonance in the wider mainstream of American society. Multiculturalism had been co-opted by a market-driven culture industry and an exclusivist ethnocentrism was ascendant. As the history of the band reflects this societal shift, the impossibility of escaping pre-existing relations of unequal power informs the content as well as the context of this article.

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