In her first new recording in a decade, Joy Harjo – the first Native American named Poet Laureate of the United States – digs deep into the indigenous red earth and the shared languages of music to sing, speak and play a stunningly original musical meditation that seeks healing for a troubled world – “I Pray for My Enemies”, released on Sunyata Records March 5. Collaborating with producer/engineer Barrett Martin on this unique new album, Joy brings a fresh identity to the poetry & songs that have made her a renowned poet of the Muscogee Creek Nation & one of the most authentic and compelling voices of these times. “The concept for I Pray for My Enemies began” says Harjo, “with an urgent need to deal with discord, opposition. It could have been on a tribal, national or a personal level. I no longer remember. The urgency had a heartbeat and in any gathering of two or more, perhaps the whole planet, our hearts lean to entrainment – that is, to beat together.” Latin Grammy-winning producer, composer and founding father of the historic Seattle music scene, Barrett Martin brings a new dimension to Harjo’s unique sound-world – her words and music spoken, sung and explored in a vibrant mix of classic instrumental sounds. Harjo and Martin describe it as “funkified spoken word” inspiring “elegant jazz, urban soul, and inner city, reservation grit.” She sings and speaks her poetry, as well as playing saxophone and flute, on an album she describes as “very much of-the-moment.” Martin holds it all together with drums, upright bass, keyboards & production duties. He assembled an all-star band to explore Harjo’s work, featuring Peter Buck (R.E.M.) on electric guitar & feedback; Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) on electric guitar solos; Krist Novoselic (Nirvana) on acoustic guitar; and Rich Robinson (Black Crowes) on electric guitar solos. Additional players include renowned Iraqi oud master Rahim Alhaj; trumpeter Dave Carter & percussionist/backing vocalist Lisette Garcia. Joy’s stepdaughters sing harmony vocals, and her husband Owen Sapulpa plays surdo drum on the album. Joy defines songs and poems as distinctly different expressions, & both are featured in the 16 tracks that make up the album. Her words & music, older & newer, get a fresh new identity here. Some of Harjo’s defining poems appear here – “An American Sunrise,” “Fear,” “Running” & “Remember” – refracting her own experience as a Native American woman of her culturally defining generation. “Calling the Spirit Back,” from an early collection of Harjo’s poems, and the new song “How Love Blows Through the Trees” – written when COVID-19 reached her home in Tulsa, OK – echo the suffering of a world experiencing a pandemic.
Joy Harjo is the author of several books of poetry, plays, children’s books. In May, The Library of Congress will release Living Nations, Living Words: an Anthology of First Peoples Poetry: and in September a memoir Poet Warrior, A Call for Love and Justice, Oprah Winfrey recently picked her anthology of Native American poetry for her book club. Her many honors include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation; the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award; PEN USA Literary Award and many others. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.
I had the complete honor of catching up with Joy about this brand new release and we dive into the seed to flower tale. How she got to work with Mr. Martin and the key of the rhythm. All the words above speak the truth about Joy, but to get a true sense of this album and how it sounds and more importantly feels, is up to you. Go hear, go feel.