Rita Coolidge,
Laura Satterfield
& Priscilla Coolidge,
(Triloka, 1997)

Walela is a collection of songs by three of the most prominent among Cherokee women, Rita and Priscilla Coolidge and Laura Satterfield. Don't fret if you don't know Cherokee; songs are sung in a mixture of English and Cherokee, and the words are all written inside the cover.

Most of the selections speak of Cherokee spirituality. A few talk about the hardships and trials faced by the Cherokee people through the ages, but even these sad ones are inspirational in nature and promise a better life to come. They speak of peace and laughter, love and forgiveness, and freedom.

In "The Warrior," there are a couple of places toward the beginning where the trio gets out of time with each other and manages to bumble the synchronicity of the chorus completely, but they recover nicely by the middle of the song and finish it in perfect synch. Rita seems to be dragging the pace a bit at the beginning of "Muddy Road," but again, they manage to come back together for the chorus.

"Cherokee Morning Song" will give you chills. These ladies alternate performing it in synch to performing it as a round. It is breathtaking. The music remains light and in the background, with only the tambourine and bells in the forefront. Their harmony in the final song, "I'll Turn My Radio On," is unsettling. There is no musical accompaniment, just the voices moving in and out of harmony.

I once asked a preacher who was giving me grief about "idolatry" if he had ever heard "Amazing Grace" performed in the native Cherokee tongue. When he shook his head, I responded that he had never heard this song in its most beautiful form. Well, here it is. Because of this one song, this CD will always be a highly prized collector's item. There are very few commercially available copies of "Amazing Grace" in the Cherokee language available anywhere in the world -- very few -- due to the personal nature of the Cherokee worship and their hesitancy to have any portion of it recorded for public listening.

The instruments that you notice in these songs are the percussion and drums. The other instruments stay far in the background, softly complementing without calling attention to themselves. Most are synth work. The one exception is the bagpipe in "Amazing Grace," a chilling addition to an already emotional piece.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 20 March 2004

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