Interview: Robert Mirabal

In an interview with Doug Gertner on KGNU, Grammy Award-winning artist Robert Mirabal discusses his music and cultural heritage. Mirabal shares the history behind a few of his songs and mentions his ongoing projects and upcoming performances (Interview date: 6/03/2024)

 

Doug Gertner: I’m joined by two time Grammy Award winner, Robert Mirabal, who’ll bring members of his band, The Rare Trial Mob, to MAS Presents, a KGNU sponsored show, on Thursday, June 13th at the magnificent Savoy in Denver. Robert Mirabal, welcome to KGNU.

Robert Mirabal: Hey Doug, and those of you that are listening, so glad to be here.

Doug Gertner: Hey, we’re so glad you’re here. Are we reaching you at your home in Taos Pueblo by chance?

Robert Mirabal: Yeah I’m on the Pueblo right now.

Doug Gertner: Hey, before we jump into some questions I have, I wonder if you can go back, and let’s get real right away. We just heard “Governor Bent’s Song”. Remind people of the history that you’re referring to there and talk a little bit about that song from Indians, your 2003 release.

Robert Mirabal: I grew up with my grandparents from my mama’s side on the Pueblo. There were always these stories that they would tell, and as I got older and got initiated, I would hear another part of a certain story. And so the Governor Bent story is is based on when the United States soldiers came in to the Pueblo in 1847 and destroyed the Pueblo. They created a revolt around that time, not the Pueblo Revolt, which happened in 1680, but this was a different revolt that happened. They killed a governor, the first governor of the state of New Mexico, and so the soldiers came in and had another battle down in Embudo. They came up here and then they set up these howitzers on the west side of the Pueblo and just annihilated the Pueblo.

If you walk into the Pueblo, there’s a stone there that’s tied to where there used to be gates. You can see the bullet holes and where they say that they just kept shooting the Pueblo for two days straight.

Doug Gertner: This is your home. This is your ancestors being barraged by the military and guns that compared to nothing that the Pueblo people could have brought against those aggressors.

Robert Mirabal: Yeah, so there was another story of a young man who loved to do the turtle dance. So he dressed up for the turtle dance and he did one song and then he went down into the Kiva and grabbed his bows and his arrows to protect the Pueblo.

They said that there were so many bullets that it looked like it was raining down silver onto the Pueblo. You can still find things like that of that time. Like you’re walking around or you’re plastering your village house and you’ll find little fragments of stuff. I don’t know. How much has history really changed? It’s what’s happening to other children. It’s what’s happening to other people. And a hundred years from now, they will tell the story of this in another place, in another country, in another time.

And so you can’t forget the history.

You can’t forget our history. So that’s what this song is about.

Doug Gertner: “Governor Bent’s Song” is unfortunately being rewritten again and continues to be since the history that you’re sharing.

If I have this right, you began playing flute at the age of 18, and as I hear you speak and recognize the power and the wisdom that comes with aging,  40 years after you picked up the flute and as you move into the status of elder.

What have you learned? What experience and message do you offer through your music today?

Robert Mirabal: Right now I do a lot of music, but I’m doing stuff for a couple of television shows and movies. That’s what I lend my music to.

And I don’t do CDs anymore. When I started out, it was a really cool time because one CD could feed your family. Nowadays, you can throw one song out and you never see the rewards of your endeavors, and so it’s a tricky system now that we’re going through as musicians and as recording musicians. I’m working on three other pieces of work, but it’s just gonna be like music and video and it’s to promote a tour, or do this, or do that, so it’s tricky nowadays. It’s not the way it used to be, and I choose to live on the Pueblo, and I’ve never left, I’ve traveled so many places, but I’ve never left. But we’re going through some really strange times, a lot of things changed during Covid, and post Covid.

Doug Gertner: Of course.

Robert Mirabal: And just like everywhere in the world, things changed, but at the same time, I don’t think we’ve bounced back, physically, spiritually, emotionally. I would think that the Kivas would be more visited, more participation, but there’s less. People are more in fear, and there’s some really sad things happening on the Pueblo. I think we’re just a microcosm of what is happening within the world.

You can’t blame any other people but ourselves and I wish things were a little different, but alcoholism is still here, drug abuse is still here. There’s really sad things that are being done to the children that we’re finding out that elders have done, and it’s not fun, man, to hear these things in the middle of your community, yet still trying to identify yourself as an individual that is brown skinned, and constantly being bombarded by this and that and this and that.

I don’t know, man, it’s sad times. I want to really write about these little things, but who wants to hear a sad song?

Doug Gertner: We’re looking forward to your songs in Denver, for folks who know you mostly through those, back in the day when a CD could feed your family. I do know that I heard about an early trip that you made to Oklahoma as a young man, and I caught wind that in addition to being a musician, a flute maker, a farmer, a father, and I know the list goes on, you’re also an actor and a playwright. I wonder if I could get you to first talk a little bit about your one man play, what it’s called, what it’s about, and we’ll talk a little bit about maybe your acting and film scoring as well, but what is the title of the play and what should we know about it?

Robert Mirabal: I wrote it a long time ago and it was featured in Santa Fe. We did a 10 day run of it, and it’s called Po’pay Speaks. It’s about Po’pay who was a revolutionary leader who brought all the Pueblos together and the surrounding tribes together to push the Spanish out in 1680.

And they pushed them out and they destroyed the churches. They wanted to regain the old, what they call the traditional way, the values of the Kiva and the teachings. And they were successful in pushing them out to the point where we’re still here, and there was a certain element of respect, but at the same time, there was fallback. The one man play is based on him living on the mountains in the cornfields, and he’s dying.

One of the things that he says is “365 years ago, you borrowed my belief and you lived on it. Now it’s time to have your own. This I say without belief you’re no one. And people wonder what happened to me. I live in the cornfields up in the mountains, but not for long. So plant your corn, plant your squash, plant your pumpkins.

Maybe I’ll come back, sing you a good rain song. Maybe I’ll come back, dance you the rain. This I know, I am the father, I am the son, I am the spirit.”

And so there’s one little element of the play where he talks to Wovoka. There’s one element where he talks about that he met Kit Carson, how he spent time with Jim Morrison, and so it goes into some pretty cool things, and we did it in Spain a few years ago, as well as Santa Fe.

Doug Gertner: Robert Mirabal with a little bit of a short excerpt from his one man play. Also, this is breaking news, but if I understand correctly you’re co starring in the upcoming film, Road to Everywhere. Do tell about that.

Robert Mirabal: Yeah when I was young and went into Tahlequah, I did some summer stock. I really was studying stage acting. That was my interest. It was about the time Dances with Wolves came out and that kind of stuff. I wanted to study stage acting. So I studied everything from stage lighting to stage combat to choreography. And I was a dancer too. So I ended up in New York.

I never left that acting bug. A lot of my productions that you see on Google are based on the knowledge that I’ve learned about all that stuff. This lady that I know that’s an agent from Canada started repping me and I started sidelining and moonlighting as an actor on film.

And film is a whole nother beast, man. It’s a different beast from just stage acting. I got a role for this independent film that came out. It’s the sequel to a film that came out about 20 years ago or something like that. And it’s about a cab driver who is down on his luck.

I play the character that says hey man, why don’t you take me to Navajo Nation? And he goes, hell no, I’m not gonna do that. You gotta spring for a plane ticket. And I said, no man, I’m not gonna spring for a plane ticket. You’re gonna drive me to Navajo Nation, Arizona.

And so the story is like a road movie. It’s the doubts and the fears that these two men have from two different cultures, yet they’re parallel. So my character wants to go there because he’s dying. He wants to see his grandson participate in a rodeo.

While all that is happening, there’s a side story that really nobody knows about, and that is where it gets really interesting. Why this Navajo man, this character I play, chose this particular man to take him. And it has to do with the death of his son. So there’s a side story that is really deep, man.

And you just don’t know where it’s going to go until that point. And we’re on the edge of a cliff. When I confront him about that and he just loses it, man.

Doug Gertner: Road to Everywhere is the name of the film, an indie film. Can you tell us when the release will be, when we might get to see Road to Everywhere?

Robert Mirabal: We’re gonna put it into the TIFF, Toronto International Film Festivals. We’re gonna try to hit the film festivals first, and then, I’m not quite sure what the director and producer have in mind.

Doug Gertner: Alright, when you talk to them, would you let them know the Denver Film Festival’s interested.

Talking to Grammy Award winner player and maker, a father, a farmer, Robert Mirabal. He’s coming to Denver this week from this Thursday. It’s June 13th, and we’re very excited for this. It’s just 10 days away.

If you would give the listeners a little idea of what to expect from the show when MAS presents Robert Mirabal at the Savoy in Denver on the 13th?

Robert Mirabal: We’ve been touring out here some in New Mexico and then some in Arizona.

Not a big tour, just here and there dates. But a lot of people still want that, that large show with the dancers and the full band and all that. But that’s a really expensive show. What we’re going to do is bring a cut down version of my band and there’s gonna be some of that music and storytelling of course and just a fun evening of awareness of what’s going on with the contemporary native artists.

Doug Gertner: We’re really excited for this. So once again, let me tell folks what’s going on here. KGNU presents Robert Mirabal at MAS Presents. That’s Thursday, June 13th, 7 PM show. We’ve got a couple of guest list passes for you. Robert Mirabal, as we’ve said, is a Grammy award winning Native American artist from Taos Pueblo, and he plays percussion, keys, ocarina, didgeridoo, flute, crafting many of his own instruments, as we’ve mentioned.

There those have been displayed, by the way, at the Smithsonian at the National Museum of the American Indian, but we’re gonna give these away once Robert and I finish up. Also wanted to let folks know, Robert, about any place you’d like folks to find you online, anything you’d point them to, to get a little familiarity with your presence out there.

Robert Mirabal: They can go to Avocado Artists, and that’s my my manager, and then there’s an official Facebook page, Robert Mirabal, and then my Instagram is Mirabal Reserve, and just Google me and you’ll find some great stuff.

Doug Gertner: Also Robert’s going to have a conversation this coming Sunday, June 9th on our KGNU Indian voices program.

That’s a Sunday from 3 to 4 PM mountain time. There’ll be more music. There’ll be a conversation with my guest this morning, Robert Mirabal and the host of that show, Teresa Halsey. 

Robert, I’ve got a tune of yours called “Hope” queued up next. This song is off of an album from about 24 years ago, Music From a Painted Cave.

Robert Mirabal: Yeah, I remember I was signed to Warner Brothers from Warner Nashville, and we were in LA and they said, you gotta listen to this radio show that’s on. Back in those days, there was certain, they called them triple A radio stations.

They would play all kinds of stuff- all of a sudden you play a song from Africa or something. And then, we were on the tour bus, and then we’re listening to this, Oh man, your song is on! Your song is on the radio! So I remember just driving down this LA freeway, just listening to this song, “Hope”.

It’s a travel song, and it’s based on, take me where there is hope. Where women dance like antelope and where men sing and dance in a kaleidoscope. Take me where there’s hope. And that’s what this song is. Just take me to a place where I can find freedom and relief and release. And so it’s a song of transitions.

Doug Gertner: It’s a perfect song for our transition here once again. We appreciate Robert Mirabal. Thanks for calling in today. 

You can hear Robert and Teresa on Indian Voices this Sunday at 3 o’clock PM. And as you hit the road from Taos Pueblo up here to Denver yeah, bring that hope our way.

 

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