DECEMBER WIND BIOGRAPHY


 

December Wind Returns With A New Album

Hoka

 

The Nammy Winning Band’s Latest Effort

Was Produced by Native Music Hall of Famer

Keith Secola

The Album’s Songs,

Written by Award Winning Songwriter Atsiaktonkie,

Carry Messages of Peace, Healing and Traditional Values

That Will Sooth The Spirit In These Troubled Times

 

 

“Some people hear voices. I hear music,” says Atsiaktonkie, lead singer, songwriter and guitarist of December Wind. The Native artist is a prolific writer and said he has more than 3,000 songs in his catalogue. “I pick up my guitar, hit a note and the song is there. That’s it. They come from the spirit of the world and the spirit of people around me. When someone is talking, I hear a song. I record them at home but, once a song comes, it stays in my head. I have no limitations. When I’m inspired, the music, lyrics and arrangements all come to me in seconds. The song takes me away. It’s like I’m an antenna. Maybe I played them in a former life.”

 

Atsiaktonkie put together the first version of December Wind shortly after he began writing songs. “I was a hockey player until I was 20, but I was always hearing music in my head. I had a dream where John Lennon showed me a couple of chords on a guitar, the C and G. As soon as I learned them, I started writing songs. I wanted to create music nobody had heard before.” A member of the Kanienkehaka Nation, it was natural to incorporate Native traditions into the songs he was writing. “As an Indigenous person, I grabbed on tightly to our beautiful culture and let it shine out of the songs.”

 

December Wind put out two well received albums - Sacred Voices (Canyon, 1999) and Second Wind (Strong Wind, 2005) - before the original group fell apart. “The band started going in all kinds of directions,” Atsiaktonkie said. “There was too much partying going on. I didn’t want to deal with it. Two of the musicians got lost in booze and drugs, so I went solo.” On his own, Atsiaktonkie made several albums. “Ancient Ones: Call to the Ancients contains healing songs with drums, rattles and singing. The old songs of our people that you would have heard before Europeans came. Rise was an album I did in my home studio and Four Wolves Prophecy is a record I call folk rock with feathers. It won a Nammy (Native American Music Award) for best folk album.”

 

Two years ago, just before the pandemic shut everything down, Atsiaktonkie decided to revisit December Wind. He reconnected with the band’s original bass player, Terry Terrance and started rehearsing. “I was incorporating ‘sound songs’ – traditional chants that you sing when you’re happy or sad – into the arrangements. Terry was blown away. It brought a different approach to the songs. He thought it would draw people in. We played some shows, just before the virus came, and people were in tears.”

 

When he heard the new December Wind songs, Keith Secola, one of Native music’s biggest stars, contacted the band. He told them George Strong at KBFT 89.9FM, Bois Forte Community Radio wanted to help them record an album. Secola said he’d produce it with them. “I met Keith 20 years ago,” Atsiaktonkie said. “His way of thinking about music is similar to mine and, at the same time, entirely different. We started exchanging messages on Facebook. I sent him demos and he booked studio time in Minnesota.”

 

The songs on Hoka were recorded during the Covid lockdown, at Sparta Sound, with engineer and multi-instrumentalist Rich Mattson. The basic tracks were cut live with Atsiaktonkie singing and playing guitar, backed by Terry Terrance on bass and drummer Chris Petrak. “I use a lot of rhythms most drummers can’t follow. Chris nailed it. I conveyed the feeling I wanted and he embraced it at once. We did nine songs in one day, with Keith there cheering us on and throwing out ideas. He brought along some singers and multi-instrumentalists to fill out the arrangements.”

 

The result is an album that blends traditional Native American rhythms and melodies with folk, rock, pop, Latin and ambient music. “Imma Big Boy Now” opens with Atsiaktonkie singing and picking his acoustic guitar. Terrance plays an almost inaudible bass line, while Secola’s slide guitar adds discreet ambient touches in the background. Atsiaktonkie delivers the chorus with a voice full of regret, before slipping into a sound song improvisation, backed by Secola’s banjo and Petrak’s kick drum. “The song is about a 70-year-old man with medicine man roots. He was self-destructive for many years, but suddenly understands who he’s supposed to be. He does a little two step dance, determined to live a good life in his remaining years.”

 

“On Sacred Ground” is a love song to the earth and the spirit of community. Petrak’s snare and Secola’s electric rhythm guitar build in volume and tempo to support Atsiaktonkie’s voice, as he encourages us to find healing and solace in the earth’s embrace. Chippewa singer Annie Humphrey supplies her passionate backing harmonies to Atsiaktonkie’s vocals. “I was blown away when I heard the playback,” Atsiaktonkie said. “I never performed with a backup singer like her before.” 

 

Atsiaktonkie plays slow, pull off guitar chords, accented by his anguished whoops, to open “215.” It’s the most poignant track on the album, a tribute to the Native children who died in residential schools after they were taken out of their family homes. Atsiaktonkie’s acoustic guitar and understated vocal intensifies the force of the lyrics, a prayer of benediction for the souls of lost children and a promise to never forget them. Wordless cries of anger and honor amplify the song’s impact. “The remains of 215 children were discovered at the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia last year. There were over 800 of these concentration camp-like schools – 500 in the US and 300 in Canada. It's a part of our history politicians have seldom delt with.”

 

The record also includes “I Ride My Bike,” a country flavored love song driven by Atsiaktonkie’s acoustic and the steel guitar of Joe Savage; “So They Know,” a mid-tempo rocker that celebrates Native life, with a Latin feel supplied Terrance’s Spanish guitar ad libs and “Flute Song,” a free-flowing number that’s improvised and reinvented during every performance.

 

 “When we play live, the heartbeat of the music draws us closer to the listeners. I enter the song and go somewhere else. I hear music in every experience. It’s always there in my heart. The title of the record, Hoka, came to me in a dream. It’s a Lakota word, that’s hard to put into English. It means everything is going so well, that if I were to die right now, I’d be OK with it. You say it when you’re in a good place and excited about something. It fits the feeling of the album.”


  December Wind can be reached on facebook and their contact info is: decemberwindmusic.com, www.facebook.com/decemberwindmusic , email: contact@decemberwindmusic.com  ... December Wind PoBox47, Massena, NY 13662
 

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