I just Happen to be Native American
An interview with Gabriel Ayala. The World's First Official and Largest Awards Show for Native American Music Initiatives was founded in 1998. NAMA Hall of Fame's first nominees such as Ritchie Valens (Yakui), Robert Mirabal, Buddy Red Bow (Lakota), Hank Williams (Chocktaw), Crystal Gayle (Cherokee),Doc Tate Nevaquaya (Commanche), Redbone (Intertribal), Apache Spirit and so on. Today, Gabriel is one of them. Gabriel said: "It is not about the fame but music."
Annick Elziere: I am honored and privileged to be talking with Gabriel Ayala, music composer and the first Native American classical guitarist. Gabriel, on October, 2011, you received “Artist of the year.” Congratulations!
Gabriel Ayala: Lios em Chania(hello), yes it was an incredible honor and still excited to have received this award for my musical ability.
Annick Elziere: Your music is original. It is like breath of fresh air. You are collecting award after award and that does not surprise me because you are very good. The 13th Annual Nammy was a big day in your life, I’m sure. What is the difference between a ‘Nammy’ and a ‘Grammy’?
Gabriel Ayala: Nammys are for Native American Musicians only.
Annick Elziere: Do you feel overwhelmed by the idea that you may become as famous as Jimi Hendrix (Cherokee), Elvis Presley (Cherokee) and Willie Nelson (Cherokee)?
Gabriel Ayala: As a Musician, I was never after the fame but just hoped to play music for the rest of my life. The notoriety and awards and just bonuses along this journey of life.
Annick Elziere: You are a passionate guitar player sharing the joy that you have of making music a true gift to the ears. Are you a perfectionist?
In 2003, you released your debut CD and you were nominated for the Native American Music Awards, known as the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) for “Best Independent Recording” and in 2004, you performed at the “Gathering of Nations” for over 30,000 people in attendance. In 2007, you performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts and at the NMAI (National Museum for the American Indian) in Washington DC. In 2010, you were among the 12 NAMMY’S winners and were nominated for Remembrance, Best World Music Recording and then again in 2011, you became the Artist of the Year. It is very obvious that people love your music.
Gabriel Ayala: I don't believe there is anything that is truly perfect but I try to be as precise as possible.
Annick Elziere: Gabriel, you are from the Pascua Yaqui tribe of Southern, Arizona. A tribe descending from the ancient Toltecs of Northern Mexico. The Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described the Toltec culture emanating from Tollan (Nahuatl for Tula) as the epitome of civilization, indeed in the Nahuatl language the word "Toltec" came to take on the meaning of "artisan". For non-Yaquis it is difficult to fully grasp the blend of ancient Yaqui beliefs and the religion taught to them by Jesuit (Catholic religious order) priests in the 1500s, but they successfully melded the two into a unique belief system that includes their beloved deer dancer. Worldwide, the Yaquis may be best known for these men highly trained in an ancient religious ceremony in which the dancer wears a headdress depicting a deer's head and whose steps imitate movements of a deer. The deer dancer is prominent in the Pascua Yaqui logo and Tribal symbol. Flowers are believed to be powerful weapons against evil and are a prevailing symbol seen in elaborately embroidered floral designs on traditional Yaqui clothing. What is the population of the Yaqui tribe, today? Can you tell us more about the Pascua Yaqui tribe? Did you perform the deer dance?
Gabriel Ayala: There are over 10,000 enrolled members in my tribe. No, I do not perform the Deer Dance. For me as a musician I do not want to sell my culture to have a career. I'm a Classical Musician that happens to be Native American and not the other way around.
Annick Elziere: I agree with you. None of us have decided to be a Native American, an African American or a French person as I am. It happens. Another reason why, we must be all equals. Happiness is the goal. When you were a teenager, you first started playing Classical Guitar. Are your parents, musicians and why choose guitar and not percussion or the flute, like so many Native American musicians. I have listened to your work and your guitar playing is unique. When I listen to your performances with others, I hear the guitars talking to each other. It is very creative, harmonious and powerful. We can feel the heart beat, the one that should vibrate the whole planet.
Gabriel Ayala: No, my parents were not musicians. I was actually raised by my Grandmother. The guitar was the best way I could express myself and still feel this way.
Annick Elziere: You received your Master of Music at the University of Arizona. I’m sure you had to be disciplined and not be tempted to just play some music. Was it very difficult?
Gabriel Ayala: It came very natural for me. I have always been so engulfed in music that it is my life so therefore the studies were exciting for me but I did practice tons.
Annick Elziere: Do you have a personal message that you would like to share with our readers who are searching for words of encouragement to follow their passion in music or any art?
Gabriel Ayala: I tell youth that the most important thing in life is to have perseverance. Just believe in yourself and all will fall into place.
Annick Elziere: Believe in yourself is not an easy thing to do when we are surrounded by negative people. Your appreciation for music and the arts is very transparent no matter how large your audience is. I thank you for that. That shows that music comes first which is why you are able to bring it to another level, one that touches the hearts. It is not commercial and about being popular. It is about quality. Your work brings serenity, compassion and energy at the same time.
I would like to share a very special quote with you and maybe you heard about it, already. The quote* says: “We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high; make it not, therefore, as wings to self and passion. Truly, We are loath to see you numbered with the foolish” Music is obviously an instrument of peace making musicians peacemakers. It is a gift from above. Do you believe that music will unite the world?
Gabriel Ayala: I believe that Music can bring so much healing as long as people are willing to listen with their hearts.
Annick Elziere: That is why the Arts are so important in our lives. It is life. It is the spirit. It is human. You have been creative and developed a new music style that is extremely delightful. Jazz and Flamenco are perfect together. “Shades of Blue”, your latest CD is there to prove it. What inspired you to mix the two music?
Gabriel Ayala: I had an affinity for both genres and wanted to create something different that would inspire me to compose new music.
Annick Elziere: New creation brings change. As a music teacher and a strong advocate for universal education while supporting a drug free alcohol and tobacco life style. Can you tell us more about your involvement with youngsters? Are you still working with them, today?
Gabriel Ayala: I try to work with youth every moment I have but as I travel so much it gets more difficult. I do want to be able to give back to our next generation.
Annick Elziere: Actually, half of the now 7 billion on this planet are under 25 years old. The adults have made their bed in a good way or not but we cannot afford to abandon our Youth to the point that they lose their identity and become so hopeless. Our governments should focus on seniors and youth more than anything else. You were also named Tucson Citizen of the month of September 2009 (09/09). The one, the only one among 520,000 people living in Tucson, Arizona. What made it happen next to your talent? Were you surprised about it? How did your family perceive and support your successes?
Gabriel Ayala: I was very humbled to know this and receive that title. Again, I don't do it for the fame, the glam or anything else but "for Love of the Music". My family has always been proud of me but to them, I'm just family. I'm not some famous guy who travels all around the world.
Annick Elziere: It was a real delight speaking with you, Gabriel. We all wish you many more performances, local and global with much success. Thank you for your time
Gabriel Ayala: Annick, Thank you so much for your time and support in the arts. Continued blessings to you for all you do for mankind and the healing they all need.
Tips and Techniques by Gabriel: Here you will find tips and techniques from Gabriel Ayala to assist you in becoming a better performer. For information on lessons please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit Gabriel Ayala's website: ayalaguitarist.com/
Quote*: This is a quote taken from the Kitáb-i-Aqdas book written in 1873 by Bahá'u'lláh (messenger from God). The work was written in Arabic and referred to as "the Mother-Book" of the Bahá'í teachings, and the "Charter of the future world civilization".