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Indigenous makes its major-label debut

To have read articles about Indigenous when the band first arrived on the national scene, it sometimes seemed as if the group might as well have been from Mars.

As a band comprised of American Indians, many articles focused on the heritage more than on the bluesy rock music of the four band members — brothers Mato Nanji (guitar, vocals) and Pte Wicash (bass), their sister Wanbdi Waste Win (drums) and cousin, Tasunka Horse (percussion).

Now that Indigenous is three studio CDs into its career, Nanji hopes the focus will shift to the music and Indigenous will be judged just like any other band on the music scene.

"I think a lot of people were interested in that (the Indian heritage) more than anything, which is, I guess it's their own interest," Nanji said. "But it's really no different than anywhere else, where we grew up here (on the Yankton reservation in South Dakota). If you come here it's just like every small town in middle America. It's like a small town with a lot of farmers, and it's just pretty much that way. We just grew up going to school and basically getting out of school and doing our own thing."

With the band's third CD, a self-titled effort, Indigenous stands a good chance of getting better known first and foremost for its music. One reason for that is that after releasing its first studio two nationally released studio CDs, "Things We Do" (1998) and "Circle" (2000) on the small independent label, Pachyderm Records, "Indigenous" is out on Silvertone, a major label.

The move was made after the owners of Pachyderm Records split up and disbanded the record.

Nanji, 27, said the group already had begun recording a few tracks for the third CD and decided to finish the project before trying to decide how to release it.

"We just had it in mind that we were going to record a new record because we felt like it was time for a new record, coming out of 'Circle' and stuff," he said.

The band didn't have to look long to find a label interested in signing the group. At the 1997 South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, Nanji and his bandmates had met Michael Tedesco, a talent scout for Silvertone. The band already was signed to Pachyderm, but Tedesco left an impression.

"He expressed that he was really interested in the band and stuff like that. So we kind of kept that in mind," Nanji said. "And he had already heard the new record that we did, and he really dug it."

As a major label, Silvertone has greater resources for marketing and promoting Indigenous, and Nanji is enthused about the potential for reaching a larger audience.

"It's good to know that the record is out and in pretty much every record store, you know," Nanji said. "I think it (the 'Indigenous' CD) is going to be internationally (released) pretty soon, which is really exciting for us, too, because we never really got the chance to go that far with the first records. Pachyderm really didn't have the distribution to take it international."

Fans who hear the new CD will hear a band that has grown considerably since "Things We Do" introduced Indigenous to blues-rock fans across the country — and has delivered its best set CD yet with the self-titled release. While the band's blues roots still are plenty evident, the new CD brings out more of a rock dimension in the group's music — so much so that Silvertone has labeled the "Indigenous" CD a "garage-rockin' blues-rock album."

The garage-rock label may be more of an attempt to latch onto a popular trend than an accurate description of the band's music, but there is no doubt that Indigenous went after more of a raw and in-your-face sound than on "Things We Do" and "Circle."

The fatter sound of "Indigenous" is welcome, but the CD's biggest selling point is the songs. The heavier emphasis on rock emerges in such first-rate songs as the slow burning, bass-heavy "Hold On," the breezy "Want You to Say" and "I'm Still Here," a tune built around a wonderfully nasty ascending chord sequence.

Meanwhile, the group's bluesy roots shine on tracks like the gritty standout "C'mon Suzie," a spirited slide-guitar-stoked cover of Jimmy Reed's "Shame Shame Shame," and the driving Stevie Ray Vaughan-styled tune "What You Do to Me." Nanji, whose incendiary guitar solos are another highlight of the new material, credits the CD's co-producers, brothers Robin and Jesse Davey, with whom he co-wrote many of the new songs, for helping to bring out some fresh stylistic dimensions in the music.

"It really helped me out as a songwriter and as an artist," Nanji said of the co-writing. "I think working with other people kind of helps me learn more things and learn more about songwriting techniques and just different things that I've never done before ...''

Indigenous plays Jan. 18 at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room, 6504 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $12 in advance and $14 the day of the show.

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