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The Soul of a Rising Star: The Jana Mashonee Interview

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Jana Mashonee is the pride of the Lumbee Nation. She is a very talented singer, songwriter who flawlessly integrates Native American music with world, R&B, soul, and pop. Michael Lohr interviewed her for New Renaissance Magazine.

A graduate of Davidson College in North Carolina, she’s a Grammy Award nominated, seven time NAMMY award winner, including for Best Female Artist of the Year and most recently, Best Short Form Music Video for her song “The Enlightened Time”. She has twice had the honor of headlining at the American Indian Presidential Inaugural Ball. In 2001, she performed for over 70,000 at the National Scout Jamboree.

After an uneventful five years signed to Curb Records, where she inexplicably recorded five singles, but no records, Jana refocused her life and musical career. She moved to New York City, recorded four diverse, well-received albums, “Flash of a Firefly”, “American Indian Christmas”, the Grammy nominated “American Indian Story” and her latest release, the R&B influenced “New Moon Born” and essentially put herself on the musical map. In the words of an ancient Lumbee proverb, “she walks in beauty, in two worlds.”

ML: You’ve described yourself before as an ‘Urban Indian.’ From a musical and cultural perspective, what exactly is an Urban Indian?

JM: From a cultural perspective, I describe myself as an Urban Indian because I am a Native American person who “walks in both worlds” –an expression that refers to Natives who live their lives in the traditional and in the contemporary/modern worlds.  Natives living on or off the reservation describe themselves this way.   More than 50% of Natives today now live off the reservation though, and many more are coining this term to distinguish themselves as living in an urbanized setting. Either way, I feel this best describes how I live.  From a musical perspective, my music is not just traditional Native American pow wow drums and flute, but is a mixture of Native American and contemporary instrumentation that is a unique blend of many cultures.

ML: Tell us about your splendid new album, “New Moon Born”?

JM: New Moon Born is about rebirth and renewal -it is a metaphor about the cycle of life, a traditional Native theme for the circle of life.  This album represents a new “phase” in my life and a new exciting direction for me.  It is my most personal record to date as it reflects many aspects of my life and what I’ve seen and experienced in other people’s lives. I believe that there will be many people who can relate to what I wrote on this record and I hope that it touches their souls in some way positively.

ML: You’ve played all over the world, but from a Western States perspective, where is your favorite place to perform?

JM: It’s hard to pick one place that I’ve played that is amazing, because I’ve been to many places across this country and overseas where the people have been so kind and special that it’s hard to pick a favorite.  I do have wonderful fans, though, in the Southwest, and I always love playing in New Mexico and Arizona especially, not only because of the beautiful scenery, but the people are so wonderful.

ML: What is the focus of your non-profit organization, “Jana’s Kids Foundation”?

JM: My non-profit organization, “Jana’s Kids” focuses on encouraging Native youth to believe in themselves and to achieve their goals through positive motivation of mentoring and music.  I’ve been blessed to be able to travel across the country to many reservations to talk to youth and address issues of cultural identity and education, to name a few.  From this, I’ve been able to raise enough money to offer scholarships to deserving Native youth in the artistic, academic, and athletic fields (my “Triple A” scholarships). I gave my first scholarship in 2006, and I hope to continue having more Natives apply so there won’t be any excuse for not getting an education! I have applications available on my website at www.janamashonee.com.

ML: Were you excited to perform at the 2009 American Indian Presidential Inaugural Ball? I heard your cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gone Come” was simply breathtaking.

JM: It was simply amazing performing at the American Indian Inaugural Ball this year not only because of the historical significance of that day, but also because there was a great feeling of solidarity of the people there. “A Change is Gonna Come” is a very special song that is symbolic of what people around the world are wanting so badly – change. It represents what my New Moon Born album is about – looking at mistakes from the past, reflecting on them, and making that change within yourself and having hope that everything will be ok with yourself and the world.

ML: As you diversify your music toward a more pop-oriented sound, how important to you is it to continue the expression of your heritage in your music?

JM: I call myself a Native American musician because I am a musician that happens to be Native American.  My music is not limited to one specific genre, which I pride myself in, but it also represents a challenge too, because people want to put you into a specific category.  I always carry my heritage proud on my sleeve, and will continue to represent my people in the most positive way I know how - through my words, through my music, and from my heart.

 

 

 
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