Chances are audiences recognize the music track referenced in the title of Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s riveting new documentary “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.” This classic Link Wray riff is famous for both introducing the “power chord” and being the only instrumental track to face a ban out of fear that it would incite gang violence. But how many people are aware of Wray’s Native American heritage and the ways in which Shawnee music traditions influenced his musical process? “Rumble” sets out to give him and other American Indians who affected rock music in America in huge ways their due.
The film, which won a special jury prize at Sundance, also shines the spotlight on blues player Charlie Patton, improvisational jazz artist Mildred Bailey, electric guitarist extraordinaire Jimi Hendrix, “Come and Get Your Love” performers Redbone, heavy metal drummer Randy Castillo, and Black Eyed Peas member Taboo. And it takes audiences to everyday Indian neighborhoods throughout the southeast United States including New Orleans in the midst of Mardi Gras to unearth the iconic sounds of Indian music that have woven themselves into a vast array of musical genres.
“Rumble” charts an ambitious trajectory through history as American Indians contribute to jazz, blues, rock, and heavy metal. The film ends, fittingly, with a demonstration at Standing Rock. Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Bury my Heart in Wounded Knee” rocks out over the footage. A perfect reminder of how integral music is to the native culture, in all aspects of life. And a tribute to how these marginalized people will keep pushing forward, telling the stories that deserve to be heard, with the persistence of a beating drum.
Music-centered films have a strong track record in the Documentary Feature race at the Oscars. Recent winners “Amy,” “20 Feet From Stardom,” and “Searching for Sugar Man” all showcased the achievements and contributions of stellar musicians. While “Rumble” does not focus on a single artist or group, it does posses a significant reverence for its subjects The stories and history were largely untold until this documentary and it gives voice to generations of deserving Native American artists.
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