Review: "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World"

When you think about Native Americans and their role in US culture and history, you may not realize that we owe the past century of popular music to crucial American Indian musicians. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World shows you how the music that has been shared among generations the longest on this land has influenced and shaped modern genres like rock and roll, blues, and jazz. 
 The history of the American Indian on this continent is not a happy one, and the reason why we don’t know how much popular music comes from the Native Americans is because native music was suppressed and artists with native roots were forced to hide their heritage. Link Wray, whose 1958 instrumental “Rumble” is instantly recognizable and remains one of the few instrumental singles that was banned from radio, is one of the most influential guitarists in rock history. A Shawnee Indian pioneered the hallmark sound of rock and roll, the “power chord”, and is frequently named as a primary musical influence by artists like Iggy Pop, Slash (of Guns ’N Roses), and Taylor Hawkins (of the Foo Fighters) but, somehow, Link Wray is not a household name.  
Rumble goes on to show us the rich history of Native American musicians who have shaped modern American music, from Charley Patton (the Father of the Delta Blues) and Mildred Bailey (the Queen of Swing) to Jimi Hendrix (maybe the greatest guitarist of all time) and Redbone (the first Native American/Cajun rock group to have a number 1 hit single, best known for “Come and Get Your Love”). As you listen to native music and hear its influences in the sounds of these artists who shaped their genres, you can’t help getting a new sense of just how poorly American Indians were treated. US and Canadian governments systematically tried to erase native culture by eliminating their music, and these musicians still were able to channel their heritage into their art but were unable to freely express that heritage. 
I learned so much watching this incredible documentary, not only about Native American music and history in the United States but also about music history for genres that, as the child of Asian immigrants, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to as a child. For example, as an Asian-American, I know that apl.de.ap is one of the few examples of Asian-American artists in mainstream music, but I had no idea that Taboo was of Shoshone descent and has been publicly continuing the tradition of exploring his identity as a Native musician. When you take into consideration the lineage of Native artists that he is continuing, it’s staggering and difficult to really fathom in terms of the impact on the most popular music in the world. 

While much of this movie made me feel sad that these American Indian musicians were unable to openly celebrate their Native heritage, one poignant scene stuck out to me. It was footage from "Midnight Special" in 1974, and Redbone was performing a Native American dance ritual in traditional dress before performing their hit “Come and Get Your Love”. It’s a beautiful moment in history where their Native heritage was on full display and celebrated along side a huge commercial hit song, where Native American music and rock and roll are not separate or disparate but two sides of one coin, a naturally co-existing pair. I hope that we see more moments like this in music in the future, as we better celebrate the roots of our art.

If you love rock and roll, music history, or really have any interest in music or the history of the original American people, please watch this film. We owe so much to the Native Americans, not least of which is their unappreciated and uncredited contribution to popular music. In light of how Native Americans are still being mistreated, as shown at the end of the film with the DAPL protests at Standing Rock, featuring performances by Cree musician and activist Buffy Saint-Marie. The film ends on a somber note in acknowledging that Native Americans deserve better than they get, with the hope that in the near future, we can help them celebrate their rich and deep heritage here in America. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5