Robert Mirabal

Sallie R. Wagner Indigenous American Artist/Scholar Fellowship

2004

Robert MirabalRobert MirabalPhoto by Katrina Lasko
Robert MirabalPhoto by Katrina Lasko

Thanks to the generous support of Sallie R. Wagner, the IARC adds a fourth Artist Fellowship to its program. Robert Mirabal, from Taos Pueblo, is the first indigenous artist to receive the Sallie R. Wagner Indigenous American Artist/Scholar Fellowship for 2004–05.

One of the leaders of the Native American musical renaissance, Robert says, “My culture doesn’t allow me to record anything traditional, but my music is infused with all the ceremonial music that I've heard all my life....what I create comes out of my body and soul, in a desire to take care of the spirits of the earth.”

Robert has always resided in Taos Pueblo as a strong community member, and he lives a committed traditional life. Because the people of Taos pay heed to ancient cultural practices and norms, art forms such as music are a standard part of a person’s life. Music becomes an expression of the people and their culture. This cultural expression has led Robert to listen to and be influenced by a non-Western, non-chromatic scale of sound, sounds rooted in a culture and its relationship with the earth. His music is a collaboration of beats, percussion, electric and synthesized grooves, the Native American flute, and traditional vocals sung in his language. He calls his music “the mother tones.”

While attending the Indian School at Taos Pueblo, Robert learned the fundamentals of clarinet, saxophone, piano, and drums...anything, he says, that he could get his hands on. At age 18, he began playing the flute, and that instrument possessed him. His grandmother gave him money to buy his first flute and also helped him make his first recording more than a decade ago. He has performed on stage with symphonies, in films, and on television. He has conducted residencies at universities and colleges, among them Dartmouth and Cambridge. At the Native American Music Awards in 2001, Robert was awarded Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Best Album of the Year. In 2002 he was presented the award for Best Music Video. He is the first Native American to receive the New York Dance and Performance “Bessie Award” for his 1992 dance score Land.

Robert has also written and published two books of stories, prose, and songs—A Skeleton of a Bridge and Indians Indians—about his tribal roots. They are heartfelt and humorous stories, songs, and music about the cultures that surround him. “Stories make people interested in who you are and where you come from.... the basic rhythm comes from the heartbeat. You speed it up or slow it down and add to it to make it fit the story. I bring you in and give you a peek at my world.like if you came in and had a bowl of chili with me.”

While Robert is at SAR, he will be writing his autobiography based on his life around the flute and how it has inspired and influenced his world. He will create music within the book from the chapters and stories and then present the result as a concert “to inspire and bridge the questions, or try to bridge the questions, of who we are today [as Native Americans] and where we are going. But mainly to inspire creative thinking and possibilities through music, art, and love.”

IARC at the School for Advanced Research is pleased to welcome this talented musician and writer as the Sallie R. Wagner Indigenous American Artist/Scholar Fellow for 2004–05.


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