Arts & Culture

Festival features band that explores Native American experience through jazz, funk

What happens when you combine funk, jazz, rock and traditional indigenous melodies?

Head to the amphitheater at Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum Saturday, Aug. 10, and you can find out.

Khu.eex, a 10-person band with members from across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, will headline the annual In the Spirit: Northwest Native Festival this weekend.

Founded by Seattle-based Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary, Khu.eex brings together multiple styles of music to comment on contemporary Native experiences.

The band incorporates several different instruments, including the keyboard, saxophone, trombone, bass drums, percussion and guitar. The pieces integrate singing in several different indigenous languages, including Tlingit, Haida, and Y’upic.

Khu.eex has released three albums online and on vinyl LP’s and plans to release a fourth album.

“For me, it’s about this intellectual approach to creating this hybrid of music,” Singletary said. “It’s using jazz and funk-rock as a lens to interpret Native culture. What we’re trying to do is create a really dynamic and powerful statement as a band.”

The day-long festival, which brings together Native artists from across the region, will include singing, dancing, food, music and a runway fashion show. The event will culminate with Khu.eex’s two-hour evening performance.

Singletary founded the band in 2013, as part of a collaboration with funk musician Bernie Worrell, a founding member of Parliament Funkadelic who also worked with the Talking Heads.

The band’s members, he said, unanimously agreed to name themselves “Khu.eex,” the Tlingit word for “potlatch.”

According to Singletary, during potlatch ceremonies members address tribal politics, give names to younger members and erect totem poles to honor deceased ancestors and chiefs.

“It’s a time when the songs and the dances and the stories are reiterated,” he said.

Khu.eex released its first album in 2016 and since has experimented with numerous different themes and styles.

Its first album, “The Wilderness Within,” Singletary describes as a commentary on the band’s hybridization of styles.

“It was like discovering the traditional songs in a new way,” he said.

The band also produces spoken word and storytelling tracks. As in Singletary’s glass art, Raven and other principal figures from Tlingit stories play a key role.

“It’s storytelling which takes you on this visual journey,” Singletary said. “Raven comes back to his grandfather’s land and he doesn’t recognize the landscape. It’s a story of Raven rediscovering the world in a new way.”

In their most recent album, which will be coming out early next year, Singletary said the music shifts towards a more political focus.

One of their tracks, another spoken word piece, discusses the history of residential schools in the United States and their damage to Native culture, Singletary said.

“We’re getting a little bit provocative in the themes we are currently exploring,” he added with a smile.

Singletary jokes about his eclectic descriptions of the music. He views the band’s hybrid of styles as one of its strengths.

“People would be hard pressed to say they’ve heard anything quite like what we do,” he said.

In the Spirit Festival

Where: Washington State History Museum, Museum of Glass, Tacoma Art Museum

When: Saturday, August 10, 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

Lineup: Events including artist panels, Tlingit and Haida song and dance performances, carving and weaving demonstration will take place 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Khu.eex will play at 5:30 p.m. at the history museum.

Admission: Free.