Sihasin mixes traditional Navajo with punk rock
An interview with Jeneda and Clayson Benally of the rock duo Sihasin reveals more than the music basics. Their history, description of the music, and tour plans are covered, but the conversation ultimately reveals music to be the external vehicle for their work. Look under the hood and you’ll discover a very clear message that the siblings are dedicated to a lifetime of action via music.
The musicians, whose careers started on the Navajo Nation in Arizona as the band Blackfire almost 30 years ago, have addressed numerous topics via song, including government oppression, youth empowerment, substance abuse, and domestic violence, all through a unique and original mix of traditional Navajo music and punk rock. As Sihasin, bass player Jeneda and drummer Clayson (both handle vocals) continue their work in a guitar-less, socially conscious, raw, honest, and original rock band.
Sihasin will perform Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Sunflower Theatre in Cortez.
While it’s activist music, the word “activist” is a label they try to avoid.
“I never considered myself an activist,” said Clayson. “It’s just second nature to want to help. That’s part of our journey as humans ... I consider myself a storyteller. Part of our history is based on communicating our history, our oral traditions, and sharing a message. And, oftentimes, there is meaning in the music. It connects.”
“I’ve never identified with the word activist. I’m an advocate,” added Jeneda. “We should all be active. What I strive for is respectful and healthy communities, where there isn’t fear based upon one’s race, gender, religion.”
It’s difficult to throw around the word “original” when it comes to music. Yet it works with Sihasin, as the only band you can connect them with is their previous outfit, Blackfire. The duo has created a sound that utilizes numerous modern genres of music combined with music of their heritage. The result is a genre-less sound respectful to their past with a nod for independent music of today. It’s honest music that is as smart as much as it rocks. It’s 100 percent rhythm section, all coming from a punk-rock mindset the duo has proudly lived and displayed since Day 1.
“We try to defy genres,” said Jeneda. “It’s our emotion. We’re not putting on an act when we play music, it’s who we are. It’s authentic.”
Their forthcoming record, “Fight Like a Woman,” will drop April 22, Earth Day. The duo recorded the album at the Eight Palms Ranchero Studio in Poway, California, owned and operated by one-time Durango-area resident Ed Stasium.
Stasium, whose resume includes production, engineering, and mixing credits on numerous Ramones albums, among countless others, remains a professional colleague and personal fan dating back to when he produced, engineered, mixed, and mastered the last Blackfire album. Stasium recorded and mixed this release along with co-producing it with the Benallys.
“I like their spirit. They don’t want to be rock stars, they don’t want to be on ‘American Idol,’ they don’t want to be on ‘The Voice.’ Their music has a message, and they’re fantastic people,” said Stasium. “They don’t sound like anybody else. I love the lyrical content, I like the fact that they incorporate traditional Navajo songs into the modern vibe, and I dig the fact that it’s just bass and drums.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. email@example.com.