Indigenous: A Live Blues Explosion with Mato Nanji

Posted Sep 2, 1999 at 12:00am
Mato Nanji is not one to brag. In fact, the lead singer/guitarist of the hard-driving blues band Indigenous is so soft-spoken that it's hard to tell he's backstage at the B.B. King Blues Festival, just hours away from opening up for the likes of Kenny Wayne Shepherd and the King himself.

But when Nanji, 25, takes the stage with his brother Pte (bass), sister Wanbdi (drums) and cousin Horse (percussion), the stage explodes with a raw blues energy rarely found in the neo-blues revival. Members of the Nakota Nation in South Dakota, the quartet's youthful exuberance and incessant energy has made them the first Native American band to chart in the top 10 in U.S. radio. In support of their debut album, Things We Do (Pachyderm), Indigenous has created quite a buzz throughout the blues and rock communities.

There sure is a lot of energy that you put into your live performance.

We don't have a set list. We just go out there and jam. There's never a certain set of rules that we follow, so that's probably the reason why it is the way it is. People are nervous about what's going to happen next! There's a lot of energy there.

Tell me a bit about your guitar background. Who are your influences?

My dad is my biggest influence. He's the one who taught me everything. After that, probably Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Hendrix, Santana. I listen to a lot of blues like Albert King, Freddie King, Buddy Guy.

What was the discussion like with your father when he told you that you were ready to perform out in public?

He made the decision. It was a pretty simple thing. He just told us to go book a show. He helped us, practiced with us and wanted us to be comfortable. Him and my mom helped us through the first five or six shows, as he played guitar and my mom sang.

How long had you been rehearsing before you performed?

It was about two years. We just started practicing, learning different songs, writing our own songs. We just picked up whatever we could from various musicians.

You must have really thrown the South Dakota blues scene for a loop when you emerged. I haven't heard of very many bands coming out of South Dakota lately.

I don't think that there are too many. There's a lot of bands, but a lot of them do covers. I don't think they're into the kind of music that we're doing.

What's it been like touring with B.B.?

We've done two or three weeks with him so far. We began at the beginning of August. It's awesome, playing with all these different bands.

Have there been any good jam sessions?

Not yet, bet we've talked about doing something.

When the band was really getting going, did your reservation get behind you guys?

At first, they didn't really notice. But once we started getting booked all over the place, we got more support. We do have a lot of family and friends behind us.

Sibling rivalry? It doesn't sound like it.

Everybody is easy-going, and we all like playing together. There are disagreements here and there, but nothing horrible.

It's early in your career, but what's the dream Indigenous show?

Actually, we're on one of our dream gigs, being on tour with B.B. King. And we'll be doing it until Oct. 4.

Any plans following the B.B. tour?

We're planning on doing the next record in the fall. We have something like 12 to 15 songs already written.

For more information in Indigenous, check out their Web site at

Written by Jason Koransky for News