“The best script writer around couldn’t come up with our real story,” said Paul LaRoche (Lakota, Lower Brule Sioux) whose musical group Brule performs now through November 19 at RFD-TV The Theatre in Branson, Missouri.
I had an opportunity to chat with LaRoche while the group was touring northern Michigan a few Springs back.
LaRoche was once a thirty-something engineer living a quiet middle-class life in Minneapolis. LaRoche had no knowledge of his ancestry. Suddenly, his world was rocked.
LaRoche learned that he was actually Native American, adopted at birth from the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
At the urging of his wife Kathy Summers, he revisited the reservation in 1993 to meet his biological family.
There, LaRoche was encouraged to revive a musical career that lay abandoned in his youth.
This fateful journey culminated into forming a band that has sold over one million CDs, performed on national television and earned recognition as Group of the Year and Best New Age Recording at the 2007 Native American Music Awards.
The following year, Brule filmed “Live from Mt. Rushmore: Concert for Reconciliation of the Cultures” for PBS, and later, “AIRO: American Indian Rock Opera.”
“Inspiration comes from two parts of life: hardship and joy,” LaRoche said. “I’ve had both, but I wouldn’t trade any of it. Our inspiration has always been this journey.”
The word ‘inspiration” also describes Brule’s music—a thundering fusion of Native American rhythm, New Age composition and rock and roll instrumentation. From furious electric guitar riffs to contemplative flute solos, Brule’s songs carry audiences along a profound musical journey through Native American history.
Look for a blend of music, storytelling and dance during the two-hour concerts at Branson (which feature special holiday shows November 1 through 19).
Brule consists of core members LaRoche on keyboards, daughter Nicole on flute and son Shane on guitar. LaRoche’s wife Kathy Summers is their executive producer, booking agent, and photographer/videographer—as well as guiding force.
“If it wasn’t for Kathy, I never would have had a desire to seek out my biological family,” LaRoche said. “It was her insight that brought us back to the reservation. That’s where it all came together for me.”
“When I attended my first powwow, it opened the floodgates. The idea of a fusion of two styles of music—Native American and mainstream—took place at that moment,” LaRoche said. “Then my biological family suggested, ‘Why not take the opportunity to go back in the world and represent your culture?’”
“I started out as a solo artist with my first CD, ‘We the People.’ I just sat at a keyboard alone, hammered-out some songs and hoped somebody would listen.” he said. “Then my daughter Nicole—who had taken flute in high school—kind of felt sorry for me and said, ‘Why don’t we work as a duo?’ Well, it was a magic combination.”
Newcomers to a Brule performance may be surprised to see band members mingling with the audience to become better acquainted with their fans—and vice versa.
“I always feel our audience was built on a handshake,” LaRoche said. “I come to really enjoy that part of the show, even as much as the performance itself. Our mission is to bring the two cultures together and heal the differences of the past. Music is a neutral venue, so it’s something special when you take-on the story of the journey and the hope for reconciliation.”
Spanning the chasm between two cultures is not without challenges, according to LaRoche.
“This healing process and desire for reconciliation is certainly not a universal desire within our culture,” he said. “If you think about the western expansion, it ended at the northern plains, so the loss of this way of life is still pretty new here.”
“It’s a road less traveled. Not too many of us working in this type of mission. I see it as something that’s very important and needed in the world,” LaRoche said.
Bridging two cultures can also lead to a dilemma when marketing music.
“It is a challenge,” he said. “There is still not a category for Native American music in mainstream America. I’m surprised someone in the music industry hasn’t realized that the emergence of Native American music into the mainstream is one of the final frontiers in music.”
Not bad for someone who once worked out of an office cubicle.
“Most of us live in-between. The average mediocre life of going to work and coming home to supper doesn’t fuel the imagination or ignite the soul. For that, you need to go deep into the well,” he said. “So we’ll never run out of inspiration.”
Hint: Watch for Brule’s float during the upcoming Tournament of Roses parade. More about that in an upcoming post.
Buffalo Moon Records
P.O. Box 91436
Sioux Falls, SD 57106-1436
Email: [email protected]
RFD-TV The Theatre:
4080 West Hwy 76
Branson, MO 65616
Email: [email protected]
Performances scheduled now through November 19 (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Wednesdays at 2 p.m.)