There are sounds that are synonymous with Taos - mariachi on the plaza, the "Que viva!" of the sheriff's posse during the Fiestas parade, the melodious whistle of the meadowlark on a quiet summer afternoon, the hum - and, of course, the vibrant chanting and drumming of the Taos Pueblo ceremonials.
But not all songs of the Taos Pueblo people are for prayer or sacrament. Many of Taos Pueblo's songs are social and even sung by other tribes, which to Taos Pueblo, is as much honor.
When Nicolas "Sul" Concha left our world, he left behind a legacy that will forever ring throughout the Taos Pueblo mountains. A legacy carried on by not only his daughter, Haleigh, but also his compatriots, the men and women of the Hail Creek drum group.
The group was named by Nicolas Concha and has been jammin' along the powwow trail since 2004. The group was founded by Concha, along with Faron Lujan - current lead singer for the group - Jaro Jackson, Jerome Romero and Ben Gasco. The group is known for its versatility and has sung with over 30 different singers from across the United States and Canada.
Currently, the group consists of those mentioned along with Francisco "Doc" Velarde, Tony Martinez, Damon Young, Owen Romero, Dwyer Lujan, Cruz Lujan, Martel Pushetonequah and backup singers Alice Martinez, Kate Martinez, Donna Concha, Chenoa Velarde, Michelle Concha, Julia Okanee and Adeline Okanee.
Hail Creek's first album drew Indian House Records producer Tony Isaacs, out of retirement. The album entitled "Hail Creek at Taos Pueblo Pow Wow Live" was recorded in 2009. According to Jaro Jackson, "Isaacs was very vital in recording some of the songs of our Taos Pueblo Round Dance from our fathers, grandfathers and forefathers." Isaacs recorded the first Taos Pueblo Round Dance songs back in the '60s.
Hail Creek also collaborated with other artists on 2010's Grammy-winning "A Spirit's Dance " by the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, the same year Hail Creek placed third in the Northern singing category.
It takes years of practice to match drum beat with signing style, and for many members of Hail Creek it is a birthright. Backup singer Chenoa Velarde told Tempo, "The way I was raised with my family, with my grandparents, we were raised around powwows and the drum. So, I naturally saw my grandmas and my aunties and my older sisters singing behind the drum, and I really didn't know what it meant until I was old enough to understand how to carry the tune."
Jaro Jackson and Chenoa Velarde have two sons and are passing the tradition of the drum on to them. "I'm fortunate enough to have a partner who does the same, has the same passion, so throughout our life together we've lived in Durango, Colorado, where I was in school, but summers were off, so, we would travel a lot with our little boys and they are always around the drum, the same way I and Jaro were raised," said Jackson.
Though you won't see Hail Creek on any of the pop charts, the name is known far and wide in the powwow realm. "When you set up at powwows you have to be ready for a lot of different categories, so you have to adapt and learn," said Faron Lujan.
Traveling coast to coast and into the far reaches of Canada, singing with other drum groups from near and distant tribes, have all contributed to the evolution of Hail Creek. Jackson added. "As Faron mentioned, we came a long way since we started singing together around 2004. In the powwow circuit, we weren't really well known as a drum group and we've evolved that to today, where you go to these powwow circles and they'll say 'Hail Creek Singers,' they'll [the people] know that's us from Taos Pueblo."
Another contributing factor to the drum group's identity is the use of female backup singers - who are all related! Tempo asked Velarde what it feels like singing next to her mentors and she said, "It feels empowering knowing that I can carry a tradition on because I grew up with their stories about backup singing. I feel proud and strong and only hope to keep that going."
Recently, Hail Creek has been getting involved with social distancing support by way of online streaming sessions. Faron Lujan said, "COVID-19 has put a lot of people's life and the way they live to think different, so, everyone's going to their computers and their phones to keep in touch with each other and so, that's how it's going nowadays and we too have to adapt that way."
The folks at Virtual Rounddance, Fawn Wood and Dallas Waskahat, reached out to Hail Creek to perform and share their style. Virtual Rounddance is a social media page on Facebook which, according to the page, is "a place to showcase and celebrate Indigenous music and arts from all over Turtle Island."
You can also find Hail Creek performing on another Facebook page called Social Distance Pow Wow, run by Whitney Rencountre.
Locally the group has had the opportunity to open for the Kongos, when they played at Taos Plaza, and that same year, 2014, opened Solarfest at Kit Carson Park. Last year the group was able to perform for Seco Live Inc. at Arroyo Seco, and during this pandemic, Hail Creek performed for Seco Live's Stay at Home series.
During that performance Hail Creek pulled in over 7,000 views. The group is delighted with the turnout and support they have been receiving while doing these social distance sessions. "Again, another platform," Faron Lujan said, "is to get out there more, you know 7,000 viewers from a small place like Seco is a pretty good feed for us I think - and for us it's always about sharing our music."
Taos' humble drum group, Hail Creek continues their journey through the powwow with only hopes to share to their music. Velarde said, "I hope to be someone who encourages the younger generation to keep the zen of singing going. It is truly therapy."
Jackson added, "As far as goals and aspirations, I always want to keep singing. I always wanna keep sharing that with my family and friends, and our community as well."
In the world of powwow, the drum is the center of the cosmos. Referred to as "the grandpa," the drum is highly revered. Drum groups are expected to protect and care for their drum as if it truly was their elder. For Hail Creek it is. Jackson said, "We take care of the drum and it takes care of us."
Hail Creek would like to thank all of their friends and relatives who have sung with them through Native Country.