DDAT blends jazz, rap and Native American culture
How does a band get a name like DDAT?
It all started with founder and trumpet player Delbert Anderson, who originally formed the group in 2013 as a jazz trio called the Delbert Anderson Trio, or DAT.
But the band has continued to evolve. First, the group was joined by rapper Def-i, prompting the name change to DDAT. The new name is still in use after his departure last year.
Since then, another frontman and rapper, James Pakootas, also has come and gone.
But even with the lineup changes, DDAT continues to span genres to produce a sound all its own, spanning jazz and hip-hop, with strong Native American influences.
You can experience the unique sound of DDAT at the band’s concert Saturday, Sept. 24, in Weill Hall at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park. The group will sit in with the Sonoma State University Symphony Orchestra, led by orchestra director Alexander Kahn, in a tribute to Native American composers.
“One of our projects is original songs arranged for DDAT, to be accompanied by an orchestra,” Anderson said.
The concert will include two original pieces by Lakota Sioux composer Franklin Piland, developed in collaboration with DDAT: the “DDAT Suite” and the world premiere of Piland’s “IKTOMI.”
The band started planning this program with Sonoma State and the Green Music Center after meeting their representatives at a music education conference in New York, said Anderson, who works with student musicians at San Juan College in Farmington, New Mexico.
The Green Music Center concert originally was scheduled for last November but was delayed.
“I got COVID, so we had to postpone three days before we were supposed to go,” Anderson said by phone recently.
The Sept. 24 performance will follow a weeklong residency for DDAT at the university. The band will work with jazz and first-year music students and rehearse with the Sonoma State University Symphony Orchestra to prepare for their performance together.
The trio also will visit a music class for a demonstration and discussion, connect with a communications class on public strategies for the entertainment industry and perform at three Cotati-Rohnert Park elementary schools.
Composer Piland will join them for the residency activities and also will work with the university composition students. It’s all part of the band’s ongoing effort to expand the public’s understanding of Native American music and culture.
Anderson draws influences from his own Native American background. He is a member of the Navajo tribe and grew up on the Shiprock reservation in New Mexico. He started his music career in 2010 after attending Eastern New Mexico University in Portales.
“The group has definitely evolved since we started,” Anderson said. “We didn’t find our style right off, but we had a good idea of the sound we wanted to get out. Now, it’s a combination of Indigenous sounds from my culture and newer styles.”
In his music, Anderson looks to the traditional songs of the Diné, the name Navajos prefer for their nation, meaning “The People” or “Children of the Holy People.”
“I did research. In the Diné, we have all different songs — for work, for dancing, for spring, for every occasion. Diné spinning songs are specifically made to create new songs,” Anderson said. “They’re usually performed with a dance circle. It’s a great way to include my culture in our music.”
Out of respect for tradition, Anderson said he approached tribal elders for their thoughts on his use of ancient themes in new music.
“I found their reaction shocking, because they were all open to it,” Anderson said. “Outsiders tend to think there are cut-and-dried rituals in our culture. When I raised the idea that there might be conflicts over appropriation of the tradition, the elders sort of laughed at that. Anything that represents our culture in a positive way, they’re all for it.”
The elders said the traditional songs are just stories, and there always will be new stories.
“We’re about treating people the right way, greeting one another and proper manners for the tribe,” Anderson said.
The other two members of DDAT come not from Native American cultures but primarily from the jazz world.
Bassist Michael McCluhan, originally from New York, counts Charles Mingus among his influences. Drummer Nicholas Lucero, born in Albuquerque and raised in southern Colorado, draws inspiration from the music of Chick Corea and John Coltrane.
The band’s style has changed over time, Anderson said.
“We tried playing jazz standards for the first two or three days, but we knew that wasn’t going to work. We sounded just like every other jazz combo,” he recalled.
So they turned to their individual interests, including but not limited to Anderson’s Native American heritage.
“Our drummer was into Latin funk, and our bassist had this Grateful Dead jamming-style thing going on,” Anderson said.
“In 2015, we started trying to work with rap and spoken word,” he said. “We immediately got a lot of attention with that and the Indigenous tribal sounds.”
The trio doesn’t have a spoken-word performer as a member at the moment, but their sound is still evolving, Anderson said.
“We still connect with poets, rappers and spoken-word artists,” Anderson said. “It allows us to work with people in the communities we visit. We can bring them up onstage with us.”
Since February, DDAT has been busy with multiple tours and new projects, he added. And they continue to surprise audiences.
“We always get called jazz or hip-hop or funk. The music is not really any of those,” Anderson said.
“Then people come to see the show and they say, ‘No, it’s not any of those,’” he said. “The marketing has a been difficult, but we’ve really paved our own path. We pay attention to how we mix these genres. It’s really for everybody.”
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat
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