Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Sun, April 05

Father/daughter performers in concert at Gallup Performing Arts Center

Jay and Tii’nesha Begaye

Jay and Tii’nesha Begaye

GALLUP, N.M. - This weekend, start your holiday festivities by attending the father/daughter performance at the Gallup Performing Arts Center. The concert will take place Friday, Dec. 1 from 7-9 p.m.

Jay Begaye is a true testament to a philosophy that he taught his students as a teacher at Ganado Middle School.

"Art can take you to a place you never dreamed," is his philosophy and if people wanted proof, well... he's living it.

Jay, a talented singer with a gift for song composition, is a successful solo performer traveling to various parts of the country, the Navajo Nation, and throughout Indian Country. He is also lead singer of a northern style singing group, the Catheral Lakes Singers.

He was raised in the Steamboat Canyon area where at a young age he discovered his love for singing while participating in traditional Navajo shoe game, which is only played during the winter solstice.

The songs sung during the competition captured his ears.

"I was told that those songs, those old songs, were created by the animals," he said, referring to the animals that existed in the Navajo Creation stories. "I was really inspired by the sounds of it and the stories the songs told."

After graduating from Ganado High School, he went on to attend Yavapai College in Prescott where he studied art. On the weekends he delved into one of his pastimes, bull riding at various rodeos throughout the region.

In 1980, while attending a powwow at Brigham Young University his love for singing erupted like a wildfire, thanks in part to one of the drum groups participating in the event -the Snake River Singers. Watching this northern style sing at the powwow fueled his desire to learn all about the art of singing.

"A lot of people interested in singing just jump into it," he said. "I wanted to do it properly. I wanted to do it. So I was willing to learn all that I can."

After graduating from college his quest for knowledge ignited. That's when he found a mentor in Arlie Neskahi, lead singer of the White Eagle Singers.

Through Neskahi's guidance, Begaye learned to compose songs using the Navajo language and powwow etiquette.

The White Eagle Singers have also influenced drum groups the Black Lodge Singers, Blackstone, and Eyabay, who began using their tribal languages in their songs.

"The way we sang it in White Eagle, we sang it like prayers," he said, noting that the Navajo language is a descriptive language.

From there he found mentors in other lead singers for wellknown drums like Kenny Scabbey Robe, lead singer for the Black Lodge Singers; the late Bill Baker of Mandaree, N.D.; Clayton Chief, lead singer for the Little Island Cree Singers; the late Dennis Coan, who founded the southern drum Long Walk Descendents: and the late Art Moosamain of Hobbema, Alberta, Canada.

As the White Eagle Singers moved on and singers drifted into their personal lives, Begaye then founded the Cathedral Lakes Singers while living in Keremeos, British Columbia in 1988.

That was only the beginning. From 1988 to 2000 the Cathedral Lakes Singers, who became widely known for their Navajo word songs, traveled throughout Indian Country. The group was riding on the success of their original style and songs.

"I'd say about 90 percent of the songs we sing I composed," he said. Other singers in the group also composed songs. His drum group recorded six fulllength albums.

After finding success, Begaye wanted to perfect his songs and record music so that people could understand and their the words.

"In powwow, everybody in the group is singing," he said. "Sometimes it's hard to hear what is being said."

That is when his solo career began.

Begaye moved back to his homeland after 14 years as his solo career progressed. He started teaching art at Ganado Middle School while continuing his solo venture. Four years later he had to leave teaching to fulfill the demands for appearances and performances.

His solo efforts received Native American Music Awards nominations in 2001 and 2005. This is not the end. His gift for song making continues to captivate his audiences and he looks to make more music.

"I believe that songs are spirits," he said. "That's why when people hear my music, it touches them. It heals them. That's the spirit in the song. That's the path the Creator has set for me."

Begaye currently resides in Fort Defiance with his fiance Loretta Haven, daughter and recording artist Tii'nesha Begaye, and newborn son Sonsiila Begaye.

Tickets to the Friday's concert are $7. For more information call 505-722-2258. The Gallup Performing Arts Center is located at 1500 South Second St. in Gallup, N.M.

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