A Native American musician famous for leading the revival of the indigenous flute tradition in the United States is coming to China. Mike Peters learns more about this very spiritual artist.
His drum is like thunder. His rattle is refreshing rain. His voice? Lightning! And his flute is the essence of the wind.
The way Kevin Locke likens his instruments to the elements makes him a force of nature－a force that comes to China on March 5.
A Native American based in the US state of South Dakota, Locke has roots in the Lakota and Anishinaabe tribes. He and two other performers will bring indigenous music and dance to Kunming and then Beijing in a series of shows and workshops funded by the US embassy.
"Twenty-five years ago, Kevin led the revival of the indigenous flute tradition, which had nearly become extinct in the United States," says Stephen Manuszak of Arts Midwest, the organizer of the tour. "He has since recorded 13 albums and performed and lectured in more than 80 countries."
Most of Locke's programs－he does hundreds every year－are workshops at schools, community centers and festivals. He'll be right at home in Kunming, with its strong base of ethnic arts. Locke and his colleagues Edmond Tate (Comanche and Choctaw) and Monica Raphael (Ottawa, Chippewa, Potawatomi and Sicangu Lakota) will present a broad range of music, dance and handicrafts, including beadwork and textile art.
In Kunming, there will be short performances by students at the Kunming Professional College of Arts as well as workshops by the Kevin Locke Trio, followed by interaction and exchange. The Americans will travel to the Project Hope School several hours from Yunnan's provincial capital for more workshops, then return to Kunming to participate in a traditional festival of the Naxi people on March 8 at the Yunnan Nationalities Museum.
The big show comes on March 9, when the troupe will present a range of music and the hoop dance at the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing. The hoop dance celebrates the rebirth of nature every spring. Made of wood and reeds, the 28 hoops each represent a day in the lunar cycle, and Locke sends them whirling in changing patterns that reflect his view of the world as fundamentally interconnected.
"One after another, images of renewed creation appear as flowers, butterflies, stars, the moon and sun and eagle circles, calling forth the love and courage in our hearts," he says in The Spirit World, published by Time-Life books. "The hoops represent unity, while the four colors of the hoops (red, yellow, black and white) represent the four directions, seasons, winds and the four human races."
Locke considers the hoop dance, which is now as central to his repertoire as the flute, as a special gift. He learned it from Arlo Good Bear, a Mandan Hidatsa Indian from North Dakota, while they were rooming together for a New York show.
"He said: 'I'm going to teach you the hoop dance. I'm going to give you four lessons. I will give you one lesson now and the rest later,'" Locke recalls, adding that his friend assured him: "It is going to take you a long way."
A few days after that lesson, he says: "Arlo's mom called and said he had died in an accident. So I went to his funeral, and after I returned home I had a very vivid dream－several vivid dreams－and I saw him dancing with the hoops. A very beautiful, very powerful dance, making all those designs, so fluid and spontaneous."
Locke now believes that the dreams were the promised lessons. He began to teach himself the hoop dance, studying ancient forms and symbols and then working out the footwork and the movements of the hoops.
"There are certain standard designs that everybody does, and Arlo showed me those and made sure I knew them that first night," he says. "The message I got was that this is a way you can connect the past with the present, the present with the future and the spirit world with the material world."
IF YOU GO
March 8, Naxi festival, Yunnan Nationalities Museum, 1503 Dianchi Lu (Road), Xishan district, Kunming. 871-431-2091.
March 9, Kevin Locke Trio, National Center for the Performing Arts, 2 West Chang'an Jie (Avenue), Xicheng district, Beijing. 010-6655-0000.
Mar 15, 2 pm, performance at UCCA in 798 Art Zone, 4 Jiuxianqiao Lu (Road), Chaoyang district, Beijing. 010-5780-0200.