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The haunting sound of the Native American flute is gaining more widespread appeal in recent years, and R. Carlos Nakai is the reason for it.
A southwestern supergroup . . . the best musical collaborations occur when players of different backgrounds and diverse influences meet . . . (the Nakai Quartet) understands the creative nature of this tension and exploits it fully, with wonderful collaborative results.
Since his first release for Canyon Records in 1983, Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai has used the traditional Native American flute in exciting new musical settings, creating a new genre that has found widespread popularity.
With the R. Carlos Nakai Quartet, Nakai continues this musical experiment by joining the haunting sound of the cedar flute with sax, bass, keyboards, drums, and female vocals.
Of Navajo-Ute heritage, Nakai is the world’s premier performer of the Native American flute. Originally trained in classical trumpet and music theory, Nakai was given a traditional cedar flute as a gift and challenged to see what he could do with it. His first album, Changes, was released on the Canyon Records Productions label in 1983, and since then he has released over sixteen more recordings with Canyon. In addition to his solo appearances throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, Nakai has worked with guitarist William Eaton, pianist Peter Kater, the classical ensemble Tos, and various symphonies; founded the classical jazz ensemble Jackalope; and released an album, Island of Bows, with Wind Travelin’ Band, a traditional Japanese ensemble from Kyoto. In 1994, his third collaboration with Eaton, Ancestral Voices, was a Grammy Awards finalist in Best Traditional Folk Music. Nakai earned a master’s degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona. He was awarded the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award in 1992 and an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University in 1994. Nakai sees his role as a performer of the traditional flute as not to reiterate traditional sounds but to find new avenues of expression for the native cultures of America.