At the age of 8, Adam Rael started playing the hand drum. His first performances were in the Christmas pageants at Taos Day School. Now 21, Rael has released his first album, “Blowin’ Smoke,” under his new musician persona, Simone Rael.
“I was always singing because my grandfather is the composer on the drum,” Rael said, telling the story of his first performance. After several members of the Pueblo noticed his musical behavior, they pushed him to sing.
“One year, they called me out and I did a performance of this Zuni sunrise song and from there, I got my first glimpse of what it means to be in front of a crowd trying to hold it together while everyone is staring and crying,” Rael said. “It was a very powerful moment.”
At the age of 11, he got his first guitar and began listening to rock and roll.
Years later, on a typical day in Taos Plaza, within the alleyway behind World Cup that leads to the courtyard of local shops before Bent Street, near Chokolá, a wandering pedestrian will see Rael. He may be sitting on an adobe bench with his Laguna travel guitar and dirty purple flannel, busking for cash. Squinting toward the New Mexican sun, strumming along, he’s probably singing one of his 12 original songs from “Blowin’ Smoke.”
Rael confessed a majority of the album was written in the very alleyway in which he sits nearly every day. He found inspiration for much of the album from encounters with strangers and tourists. Sitting there day by day, Rael’s aspiration was to break them from the daze, to encourage them to “look around and smell the roses.”
“It’s almost like watching a river flow, like just seeing people walk by and trickle down the alleyway. In a weird way, it’s meditative. It teaches me not to get stuck on a particular idea. If I’m having writer’s block, it teaches me that life is always in motion,” Rael said. “Whether it’s with the birds or with the people, the hustle and bustle of the city, sometimes it’s like watching traffic going over by the lights, it helps me flow.”
Rael is beginning the transition from a street performer to a booked and recorded musician. “It’s a different thing playing on the street, like you play and then people tip you and then they walk away,” he said. “It’s very rare that people will sit there and actually behold the whole thing. I’ve gotten used to people just walking and blindly putting in something.”
A past event, he admitted, was inspired by Jimi Hendrix and did not make this transition easy for Rael. He was egged on by friends. When he is questioned about a rumor involving a previous performance years ago, where he allegedly lit his guitar on fire, Rael’s expression is mildly embarrassed. He laughs sheepishly and said he has grown up and that everyone changes.
The release show for “Blowin’ Smoke” was Sept. 8 at the High Frequency Loft. A very intimate show happened at the small yoga studio. Approximately 40 people attended and as Rael took the stage, he revealed not only his music to locals, but memories, past alcoholism and ambitions.
With a combination of soft strumming and vexed and strained vocals, Rael’s music revolves around the struggle with identity. Cultural separation, mixed DNA and the battle of discovering oneself through the maturity process are some of the ingredients that create the contents of Rael’s music.
“It’s pretty much life in between being an Indian and being on the other side of a non-Indian, kind of like searching for that identity,” Rael said.
Rael is half Native American and half Hispanic, and he admitted he finds himself lost in the balance between spiritual teachings from the Pueblo versus less-aware cultures and commercial society. “It’s definitely a separation there, the separation of being in on that beautiful spirituality and that power you get from there [Taos Pueblo Mountain] and coming into that lost world where people are not in touch with their roots at all, different races, trying to find their right iPod, right car, right pair of sneakers,” Rael said.
True to Taos Pueblo, Rael’s inspiration also came from the beauty of the mountain and the sacred respect for nature. He plans to incorporate more of the culture and language in his music for the future, simple words from the Tiwa language, such as stars, love and thanks. “I try to incorporate the land, the spiritual aspect of it. It’s such a beautiful place we live in. That mountain is just so amazing, too – something that [emanates] from it, a certain energy, on a convergence,” Rael said. “Yeah, I try to incorporate my doings, my life in there, what I’ve been taught spiritually.”