It was sometime in the early 1990s when the rest of the world discovered, much the way Columbus discovered America, that there was more to traditional Native American music than just drums. However, they quickly made up for lost time and since then the cedar flute, sometimes known as a love flute as it had been primarily used by young men for wooing young women, has become annoyingly ubiquitous on the shelves of new age emporiums.
Carved from cedar the design of these flutes sounds deceptively simple as they consist of six holes, a thumb width apart, punched into a hollowed and shaped tube that's blown into like a recorder. A palm's width from the mouth hole the passage is blocked by a piece of wood and air flowing over it is controlled by an adjustable piece lashed to the surface of the flute called a slide. The air comes up one side of the block and is then forced down the other by the slide giving the instrument its familiar breathy quality. With no thumb hole, or octave hole, on the back of the instrument, the range of these flutes is dictated by the performer's breath control and the length of the flute's body.
Like many utilitarian instruments it would appear that the scope for using the native flute is quite limited. Judging by most of what you hear played, it's probably difficult for most people to believe that the flute is actually quite versatile and can be used to create a variety of sounds, and to great effect in different genres. On his most recent release, Pistola, rock and roller Willie DeVille did a great job of incorporating a cedar flute into one of his songs by improvising an accompaniment to the track and then cutting and pasting pieces from what he recorded into the song . Still, that's only one of the few times I've heard anyone use a cedar flute without trying to be more spiritual than thou.
So, when I heard that the latest release from Kevin Locke, Earth Gift on the Ixtlan Artists Group label, was supposed to be different from what one normally hears when it comes to flute playing, I was intrigued and hopeful. Locke is a Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux and, according to his biography, he was given as traditional as is possible in this day and age upbringing. Anybody can claim this, but not many people go on to become hoop dancers and create dance ensembles that tour the world to international renown, so I had hopes that, in spite of its new age sounding title, Earth Gift would genuinely explore the cedar flute's potential.