Members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe during the October 2020 filming of the "Biko" video re-released by Peter Gabriel in December 2020. Photo courtesy of Kailauni Harry
The song "Biko" was first recorded by rock icon Peter Gabriel in 1980. It was a protest song honoring anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko, who died in police custody three years prior.
Forty years later, Gabriel has re-recorded the song with the help of more than two dozen artists, including dancers and drummers from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe based in Northern Nevada.
"For us to be included in this project, it's such an honor," said tribal Chairwoman Janet Davis. "This song is still very relevant. People all around the world are still oppressed and the racism that once was hidden has come back to the surface. We have a long way to go."
A group of drummers from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe sing and play for a Peter Gabriel music video, "Biko", in October 2020. Courtesy of Playing for Change
The video features dancers dressed in traditional Paiute regalia stepping to the beat of the drum, being pounded by a local drum group. The scenes were filmed at the powwow grounds at Big Bend Ranch in Wadsworth, about 30 minutes east of Reno.
Internationally recognized artists such as Beninese vocalist and activist Angelique Kidjo, Silkroad cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and bass legend Meshell Ndegeocello also make appearances in the video.
Dayann Harrison, who has been dancing since before she can remember, said she was in awe of the video. It seamlessly weaved together so many different types of dance and song, from Japanese drumming to bagpipe to her own traditional Paiute style of dancing.
"It made me feel really proud. There's a lot of focus on the larger tribes in the country, not just in the news but in history books," said Harrison, who is seen dancing in a teal and purple dress. "This is a reminder that we're still here."
For Wakan Waci Blindman, a drummer featured in the video, he had no idea the video would be seen by so many. On YouTube, it has close to 600,000 views.
"We're kinda way out here. There's a lot of people that it would have been easier to get to," said Blindman.
Blindman, who has been playing the drum since he was about 12, learned about the opportunity through a friend who'd seen a casting call from a Los Angeles group called Playing for Change. The group, which filmed the video, enlists musicians to shed light on global and national human rights issues.
He signed up his drum group, Echo Sky, and a film crew from Southern California visited in October for about an hour of filming. Neither Blindman nor most of the tribal members had heard the song before, but they learned the beat quickly and played and danced to a recording, which is seen in the video.
Blindman's mother and 5-year-old daughter are seen dancing in the video. Music is a binding cultural thread in the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Blindman said, and is for all members, no matter how young or old. The drum, he said, is the heartbeat of that music, of Mother Earth.
The video, originally released on National Human Rights Day in December, was promoted this month in honor of Black History month, according to Playing for Change's website. The segment filmed on Pyramid Lake Paiute land was ironically filmed on Indigenous Peoples Day, otherwise known as Columbus Day, Blindman said.
Members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe were featured drumming and dancing in a recently released Peter Gabriel video that re-recorded the 1980 song, "Biko". The tribal members participated in filming in October 2020. Courtesy of Kailauni Harry
"The fact that this is being played around the world, and the world will see us, I didn't think it'd be so big," said Blindman. "It means the world."
Members featured in the music video included:
Wakan Waci Blindman Elijah Williams Tyrel Johnson Miyo One Arrow Jermaine Bell
Hank Johnson Dayann Harrison Billie Jean Guerrero Norah Harry Wicahpi Blindman